How Cubans Recycle Disposable Diapers

Mercedes Gonzalez Amade

Mercedes González Amade

HAVANA TIMES — Becoming a mother is one of the greatest challenges a woman can take on. Today, faced with endless financial woes, women have to work miracles to give their children what’s best.

In Cuba, nearly all baby products are sold in hard currency stores, at prices that are exorbitant for anyone living on a basic salary of 250 Cuban pesos (the equivalent of 10 CUCs).

Today, many people are using disposable diapers, or Pampers. At first glance, they seem to be immensely practical for mothers, saving them time, energy and – most importantly – money. But things aren’t that simple.

These diapers are a good deal while the baby is still small. A package of extra-small diapers contains anywhere from 20 to 30 diapers. As you go up in size, however, the price increases and the quality of the diapers decreases.

If your child is anything like mine, who weighed as much as a four-month-old baby when he was only two months old, this will take a big bite out of your paycheck. Cuban women must therefore rely on their innate ingenuity: in order to save, they recycle.

Let me briefly explain how we do this.

First, you unfold the used diaper and remove the padding. Then, you wash the body of the diaper and hang it out to dry. Once the diaper has dried, you fold two cloth diapers in four and stuff them into the pocket where the padding, or “gut” (as we call it), once was. If the adhesive has worn off, we use two safety pins to keep the diaper on the baby.

You can do this as many times as you can wash and dry the diaper without destroying it. Sometimes, the much-needed “guts” are sold at stores, but, since they’re in such high demand, they run out quickly. The cloth replacement padding is easy to wash, if soiled.

I can confidently say this method is used by 90 % of Cuban women. Though it is reassuring to know one’s child is protected by the diaper, one must remember that, when the child begins to walk and talk, the diaper should be removed so that the baby begins to grow out of the habit and to gain control over his or her sphincter.

Unfortunately, not all mothers are of the same opinion, and I’ve seen kids as old as two walking around with the “disposable” diapers.

I also used them for my kid, but, when he turned nine months old, I made him wear cloth diapers or small jockeys. It took a lot of patience and effort, but Carlos stopped peeing himself at 10 months, so I was able to save a fair amount of money. Today, he is eleven. I still keep the cloth diapers he used back in the day.

34 thoughts on “How Cubans Recycle Disposable Diapers

  • Thank you for sharing about the situation in Cuba and also how you did early potty training. I teach Westerners about how to do elimination communication with their babies and realize it’s an even bigger problem in 3rd world countries. We are trying to do our part to reduce landfill and guess what? Babies are born capable sphincter control and communicating their need to go outside of their clothing. Thank you a million times over for doing what’s right for your baby and for the environment.

  • The customer.

    Strange suggesting people that cannot eat pay for a diaper service only millionaires can afford.

    We are American and re-use our disposable diapers.

  • Which “they”? Owner of the business or customer?

  • How are they suppose to pay for this?

  • Only in the usa No excuse for this

  • I would rather say they are a boycotted country with limited access to the market.

  • Cloth inserts in a plastic liner recycled from a disposable nappies. Man I wish my wife was that smart! Not spending shed loads on expensive cloth nappy covers!

  • I also loved your emphasis on elimination communication aka baby potty training. Few people in North America understand what it is like in these developing countries where there are NO cloth diapers, very little access to clean water (or sometimes any water), and where women are raising families on the equivalent of a dollar a day. In these situations, children and parents work together to get kids out of diapers as soon as possible. When my grandma was raising her kids in the U.S., the average age of being totally potty trained was about 18 months. Now, it is more than three years. Having your kids in diapers longer is a LOT of extra waste, expense, and work. Thanks for sharing. –

  • Fantastic! I have written about my experiences with cloth diapers in Guatemala: the woman love them. They simply aren’t available in most of the world and the disposable diapers available in most of the developing world are so awful it is almost amusing (although at the relative expense, labour, and garbage it ends up just being sad. I’d be super interested in your thoughts Mercedes:

  • to all of those who asked. Read the article. They don’t sell many cloth diapers or diaper covers there and if, they are very expensive or sold out quickly. They don’t really have access to items from somewhere else in Cuba. They have to live with the stuff they have and they can afford.

  • That was mean.

  • Wait, did we read the same article? Where do you get that she’s bragging and missing the bigger picture? To me it seemed like an article explaining the poverty in her country. She didn’t focus on potty training much at all. If you read some of the other replies here, you’ll see that people don’t have a WalMart down the street to pick up towels or even t-shirts. Where would they get diaper covers from? II can’t go down to my store to buy simple diaper covers and I live in the middle of California. Even recycled covers made out of fleece and wool would most likely be hard to come by in Cuba.

  • There is a very viable option – wool makes a great diaper cover!

  • Seems really silly to not just put a towel on your babies bum….I do this anyway and reusable covers do NOT wear out quickly – lol, what? Come on now, even a very modestly priced one can last through multiple children. I have several I use for my daughter that have been through other children before her and are in wonderful condition and will likely be able to be used by another child after her – all for about 8.00. I get that these women may not be able to order off the internet or be able to get a hold of these covers, but why are we sending disposable diapers to these people when cloth and a re-usable cover would last so much longer and be more sanitary?

  • I would happily donate my cloth diapers that we no longer need to a mom in Cuba if she is willing to share with other mothers. I have plenty. I just need some kind of contact info so that we can communicate privately and I can get them shipped out immediately. I also have plenty of material left that I can make more and continue shipping to them on a semi-regular basis.

  • That’s what I was thinking… What about wool? Certainly people knit in Cuba… ???

  • Kids have been using cloth for toileting since the dawn of time. I dont care about embargos or communism, do they not know how to sew? It is not that hard if you can get flats to fashion a diaper from that an pin it. What did mothers do hundred of years ago? We are so stuck on modern conveniences it is pathetic.

  • it’s just the cover to disposables and why does everyone complain when we are happy to leave our children in chemicals that can harm their reproductive systems disposables are nasty even when not used ahhh to be so ignorant …… but yes I did use them 10 years ago and wish I hadn’t .It still amazes me that Americans think that everything they pick up at walmart can be had everywhere else and for cheap, diaper covers may not be online for next day shipping in a communist country.

  • I just wanted to add that I read the comments about the issue is that they cannot import the commonly used reusable diaper covers into the country. I don’t know much about Cuba’s livestock options but I would imagine that they have access to wool to make clothes, right? Wool covers are great for cloth diapering since the lanolin will make them waterproof yet breathable

  • This practice looks completely sanitary to me as they are removing the chemical laden stuffing which traps the urine in the first place. I would imagine though that their semi-reusable plastic cover they created isn’t very good to stand up against blowouts like reusable covers are. If truly poor, I could see doing this to start out but then investing the money saved on that next pack of diapers into a couple reusable covers, and then do it again the next time it would have been diaper pack buying time, to get myself 4-5 durable reusable covers and then just cloth diaper and not have to buy anymore disposables.

    I do find the author’s comments on potty training intriguing and wonder if that is the norm in some other countries. Here in the US they might be shocked to find that it is not uncommon for children to be in diapers at 3. It would take more work in this busy culture, perhaps too much for some households that wouldn’t be able to have the consistency needed, but I think they have a point with “early” potty training as not early at all but rather the rest of us are doing it too late. Elimination Communication has been proven to work, it would seem that might be more of what was intended for raising children.

    My son is 18 mos old and still in diapers (cloth), but perhaps I should step it up and offer at least some EC methods to help him with his sphincter control.

  • To commenters wondering why women don’t just use reusable covers, reusable covers are more expensive. For the price of 1 or 2 reusable covers, you can get 20 or 30. Even if they don’t last as many washes, it’s possible a single pack of diapers could last you for a couple of months, making it less expensive.

    Also, there is nothing unsanitary about this. What makes reusing disposable diapers unsanitary is 1) the presence of urine and feces on the part of the diaper that touches the skin, 2) the presence of urine and feces in the chemicals inside the diaper that the diaper retains and that makes disposable diapers so absorbent. If you remove the chemical padding, though, and wash the outside of the diaper, you’ve removed all the urine and feces, and it’s completely sanitary.

    Honestly, I don’t understand the upset about this or about early potty training. This is a clever, inexpensive and relatively safe use of disposable diapers, and around the world, Western countries are outliers for late potty training. Large portions of the world potty train while children are still in infancy, and for families where there is not always the time or the money for extended diapering, often there are significant health benefits to the child–fewer UTIs and other infections–for not being kept in dirty nappies for an extra year or two. We should be very careful about applying our cultural standards and expectations to other people.

  • They are removing the chemicals and padding from the diaper that holds in moisture (urine and moisture from feces) and then washing the rest of the diaper, removing urine and waste, which means this is as sanitary as any other method of cloth diapering. It’s only unsanitary to reuse disposables when you put them back on with the diaper still dirty or containing urine and feces.

  • There’s a variety of reasons, the #1 being that they are a communist country with limited access to items made elsewhere.

  • You obviously are not aware of the embargo, and the fact that Cubans can’t just pop out to walmart and pick this stuff up. It’s simply not available there, and if it were it would probably cost a month’s salary. Every time we go to Cuba we bring stuff for the people that they can’t buy. It never occurred to me to bring diaper covers, but that’ll be next trip.

  • Where her tenacity must be admired if amwerikkka would take its foot off of my country then she and thousands of other mothers would not have to come to this level.. This is an unclean process and i agree with Moses However i wonder where the real blame goes NOT ON THE MOTHER and not on Cuba

  • I’m pretty amazed the author of this article is SO worried about kids being potty trained before they are 2. Not the fact that these women are so poor that they reuse disposable diapers exposing their poor babies to dangerous bacteria and infections. This article should be used to help educate Cuban mothers and all mothers that there are other options which ARE cost effective and safe for your baby and the planet. I think the author could have made such an impact on these women and helped them tremendously if she had taken a step back from bragging about her potty trained 10 month-old and taken a look at the bigger picture.

  • I cloth diaper! can Cuban women not get a hold of cloth diapers? I feel like reusing disposables cannot be sanitary. unfortunately, a lot of people are doing this even low income families in the USA. This is why cloth diapering education is so imperative! it is so easy and saves people lots of money. Also, some children may not be ready to potty train at 2 years old. Every child is different. I do however admire how many countries use elimination communication traditionally, but as a working mother that just wasn’t feasible for me.

  • There are many other, more sanitary options for cloth diapering. Waterproof covers are reasonably priced and a mother can get by with just a few. I only had three covers and cloth diapered a newborn full time. You can also make covers out of fleece or wool. Fleece covers can be made from old blankets or sweaters. For the cloth part, you can use flour sack towels, old towels or dishcloths, old t-shirts, or receiving blankets. Anything 100% cotton will be absorbent. If you want more information on cloth diapering for very little cost, do a Google search. There is a ton of information out there!

  • Is there a reason they don’t have reusable, washable diaper covers there? I cloth diaper in the USA and there are many affordable and durable covers for purchase.

  • Have you considered using a cloth nappy with a good waterproof cover? Google Modern Cloth Nappies or MCN’s. Reusing disgustables is just disgusting sorry

  • why would you not use a reusable diaper cover?? Then it wouldn’t wear out and have to be replaced?

  • Why not just use cloth diapers? If you’re going to be washing and reusing them anyway? Cloth diapers can last years (and multiple kids).

  • When my oldest children were in diapers, we used a diaper service that picked up dirty diapers and replaced them with clean ones. We chose this route over using disposables out of the desire to protect our landfills. (We went through a ‘green’ phase is those days) Would the Castros permit an enterprising Cuban to be licensed to start a diaper service in Cuba? Is it on the list of the 178 approved businesses? I must say that reusing ‘used’ disposable diapers seems pretty disgusting to me and can’t be too hygienic even after washing. It would have never worked with some of the toxic loads my boys filled their diapers with. On more than one occasion I suggested the idea of a diaper service business to friends in Cuba. In the ‘States where labor and transportation costs are incredibly high, the use of a diaper service is nearly double what it costs to use disposables. However, in Cuba, given low labor costs and by using a bicycle instead of a delivery van to make the pickups and deliveries, the costs of picking up dirty diapers, washing them and then delivering the cleaned diapers to replace more dirty diapers should very low. Obviously, you need a washing machine. The only costs to start the business is buying a large number of diapers, a lot of detergent and a dependable bicycle. Like any business, there is a need to let the market know that you exist and the slow but steady effort to grow the business. Surely there must be a more economical and hygienic idea than reusing disposables. Yuk!!!

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