Sunday, April 22, 2007

Baby Diaper Horticulture

This is a very scientific article, based on my mucking-about this afternoon:

Title: Baby diaper components and container gardening.

Abstract: Baby diapers may contain the solution to all our garden woes! Enterprising companies label super-absorbent polymers as beneficial additives to keep soil moist in containers for up to 5 years. However, I found out that the commercial horticultural product (Soil Moist) may be an easier and cheaper way to obtain super-absorbent polymers compared to obtaining them from the small diapers I used in this experiment.

Introduction: Super-absorbent polymer gels are used for many commercial purposes, including protection of buildings from fire, fluid absorption in baby diapers, and retaining moisture in soils. I can't help but notice that baby diapers seem to absorb fantastic amounts of liquid. These gels are known to hold 30 times their weight in liquids. Apparently, diapers contain granules of sodium polyacrylate.

Recently, I was compelled by slick marketing that the answer to my parched patio containers was a product called "Soil Moist". Their product contains granules of one of these super-absorbent polymers, namely crosslinked polyacrylamide. My question? Am I being ripped off by buying this chemical as a horticultural product when I could just be putting baby diapers in with my potted petunias?

Materials and Methods: I dissected a number 1 size Pampers Swaddlers baby diaper, revealing some white cotton-like fluff and salt-like grains of clear material assumed to be the polymer. The deconstruction of the diaper was a little harder than I had anticipated. I wondered if the white fluff I was inhaling might someday cause "diaper lung"or if the white crystalline powder on the bathroom counter might raise suspicion that I have a drug problem.

After trying to separate the crystals from the fluff, I had about 2 grams of crystals (measured on the kitchen digital scale). The diapers came in a pack of 66 and cost about $20.00, which would be about $0.30 per diaper. I put the diaper crystals in a cup and then added 60 mL aliquots of water and then photographed the crystals after having absorbed the water. I added a total of 480 mL and the gel completely absorbed all the water. I didn't bother adding any more water after that for complex scientific reasons (the cup was full and couldn't hold any more).

I ordered a 200 g jar of "Soil Moist" online from Veseys for $11.95 CAD. The container says it contains a minimum of 90% polyacrylamide.

Results: After doing some really complex (for a weekend anyways) calculations: I figured that you would need about $30.00 worth of diapers to get 200 g of crystals. Therefore, it is cheaper to buy the Soil Moist product, if the two polymers are comparable in action. However, if the diapers were to contain 5 g of available polymer, the costs would be the same. I'm sure bigger diapers contain more. I guess we'll have to wait till the household's "littlest gardener" grows a bit.

Discussion: This very scientific study may have a few flaws:
1. Picking white crystals out of baby diapers with my fingernails may underestimate the amount of crystals in a diaper.
2. The polymer in diapers is not the same as the crystal in the plant product.
3. Further research (on the internet and maybe on some unsuspecting plants) would be needed to determine the effect of the diaper polymer on plants. However, I read that both are biodegradable and non-toxic.
4. Similar polymers are found in other products (i.e. those "magic gels" used in containers of cut flowers or lucky bamboo) and may be cheaper than using the diaper polymer. I'll have to go shopping to find out for sure.
5. Adult diapers probably have more polymer and maybe are a better value for the polymer-seeker. I don't have any adult diapers around, unfortunately, but if there are any diaper-wearing gardeners out there...go cut one open, for goodness sake!


Kandace said...

Ahhhh but the real question is do you have adult diaper BOXES around. This is hilarious! Let me know if you get published.

Gardenista said...

Hey, adult diaper boxes are a perfectly good storage option...and look especially appealing when you move your belongings in them in the back of a pickup truck...I was the coolest university student...

Anonymous said...

Baby diapers are definitely the cheaper option when you have whole truckloads of used diapers to get rid of (which is our case for the next couple years). And the gel comes with built-in nitrogen!


So, does this mean that the diapers are not really hurting the landfills?

Gardenista said...

I'm sure all the baby diapers are not great for the landfills, because there are probably some components that don't break down too quickly. On the other hand, all that polymer would be great for moisture retention (thus, the commercial garden product) so they could grow some really great plants at the landfill. Okay, just kidding...

Unknown said...

Those look interesting. Keep posting.