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No, you don't have to start hoarding diapers

An explosion at a Japanese factory shut down production of an absorbency chemical used in disposable diapers. But for now, at least, it looks like the global diaper market can absorb the disruption.

An explosion at a Japanese chemical plant on Saturday has led to a flood of headlines today about a possible diaper shortage. Turns out the plant made something called super absorbent polymers that go into disposable diapers to make them more absorbent.

This is dramatic stuff, for those dependent on disposables. 

Luckily, that's not where we are headed.

Erin Lash is an analyst at Morningstar. She covers Proctor and Gamble, which makes Pampers and Luvs.

"A lot of these companies source chemicals and inputs from a numbers of different suppliers, so aren't dependent on one supplier for all of the inputs that are needed," she says. She doesn't see any reason for a mass run on diapers at the grocery store."

In a statement, P&G is also playing down the impact of the explosion on diaper supplies.

Our immediate thoughts are with the people and families affected. P&G has strong contingency plans and a robust global supply network to help us mitigate against supply challenges. Whilst the Himeji plant is an important facility, it is only one of Nippon Shokubai's several plants. Nippon Shokubai is also only one of several Global super-absorbers suppliers used by P&G and other diaper manufacturers. While we are still assessing the situation, we do not expect significant impact on most of our global business.

In other words, babies won't be left high and dry. Just dry. At least for now.

Pricie Hanna is managing partner at Price Hanna consultants, which works in the hygiene absorbent products area. (That means she knows a whole lot about disposable diapers.)

The factory in Japan makes about a fifth of the world's super absorbent polymer—that keeps diapers from leaking. Hanna says if it's unable to open soon, prices could go up for the companies that make disposable diapers and for parents who buy them.

She says some diaper makers could also be forced to substitute other less-absorbent--absorbents. Which is not really the direction the market wants to go. But, even then, Hanna predicts, "babies bottoms will absolutely stay covered."

Crisis averted.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
Log in to post3 Comments

Ditto on Krunch and Zilla's comments - this was a disappointing piece that needs to be redone in order to do the story, the people, and the audience justice.

Seriously? I listen to Markeplace everyday and I have to say this is the worst news coverage I've ever seen come out of Ryssdal's shop. No mention whatsoever of the cloth diaper market or of the more significant fact that the chemicals involved in this explosion are the same chemicals in kids diapers! And then deposited in America's landfills and the Pacific garage island! Adriene didn't even make notice of the tragedy associated with the explosion and dozen's injured or the man that lost his life. Poor form Marketplace. You can do better.

I understand the humor behind diaper hoarding.. but what a perfect opportunity to recognize the alternative world of cloth diapering! No need for the chemical plant and the babies' bottoms stay covered (as well as your bank account)! Best, L

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