Spend any amount of time in China and you are bound to see the ubiquitous Kai Dang Ku…open-crotched pants worn by babies everywhere. A week doesn’t pass by without seeing a tour bus full of westerners gawk at a child relieving themselves on the sidewalk, ignorant of passers-by.
Many see the practice as unsanitary and downright rude. In fact, recent split pant use in Hong Kong by mainland tourists has been dubbed “Piss Gate” by the media, sparking outrage, protests and tongue-in-cheek parodies (see video below for a good laugh). Granted, there is certainly a time and place to let nature take its course, but are the Chinese actually on to something, particularly from an environmental perspective?
Many mothers, doctors and pediatricians around the world have hailed the merits of split-pant use. They echo Chinese sentiment that split pants are more comfortable for babies and lead to very few incidents of diaper rash. Split pants even encourage earlier potty training. Where in the west most children are potty trained by the age of 2, in China babies are normally trained by between 4 and 6 months old!
With rising levels of disposable income, especially among middle-class families, Chinese parents are starting to question the centuries-old practice. Many are beginning to feel that it is unsanitary to let a child’s bum hang free and find it much easier to use a disposable diaper. I’m not entirely sure when the disposable diaper came into fashion in the west. My mother raised me with cloth diapers that she would hand wash. This was only 30 years ago, so I would venture to guess that Pampers and Huggies have only recently become household names.
While the comfort and happiness of a baby are important, so is having a planet that they can live in. Let’s take a look at some statistics around disposable diaper use:
A quick look at demographic trends in China is also useful:
Quick math exam –
If every Chinese parent converts from the split pant to disposable diaper use (which is, of course, a worst-case scenario), how many diapers will end up in Chinese landfills each year?
16 million babies X 3,796 diapers on average X 1 year = 60,736,000,000 diapers annually
For those of you keeping track, that’s:
The split pant not only serves a cultural purpose but a growing environmental one as well. It seems a cataclysmic error to move away from their use to an outmoded first-world mentality of extravagance, disposability and waste. I’m reminded, once again, of a quote I saw once in Chengdu that fits perfectly well here:
“Let’s endure a little inconvenience today for a much brighter tomorrow.”
On a lighter note, the guy in the video below might be on to something too. Enjoy.