January 28, 2019

Japan seeks innovative solution to dispose of adult diapers

Japan seeks innovative solution to dispose of adult diapers

In their IZA World of Labor article, The labor market in Japan, 2000–2016, Daiji Kawaguchi and Hiroaki Mori outline the reasons for Japan’s rapid population aging and argue that it, “has brought substantial changes to individuals in the labor market, most notable among women, by augmenting labor demand in the healthcare services industry.” They write that in the early 2000s, the female employment rate surged because of a growing labor demand in the healthcare industry.

Recently, in an effort to significantly lighten carers’ workloads, plans to reinvent the adult diaper have been announced. The Ministry of Land and Infrastructure have a development strategy to create the first flushable adult diaper, with a prototype potentially becoming available this year.

In 2011, Japan’s largest maker of diapers, Unicharm, reported that adult diaper sales surpassed those for babies. Meanwhile, a market-research company, Euromonitor, estimated that the size of Japan’s “adult incontinence” market was approximately $1.8 billion. The disposal of adult diapers is fast becoming a problem. An employee of the care industry in Japan reported that it typically takes only 20 elderly residents to produce three 90-liter garbage bags of diapers every day.

Of multiple plans being considered, the ministry believes that a machine to separate the diaper from its contents, so that only the excrement is flushed away and the diaper can be thrown away in a bin, is the most viable. “If the plan is realized, the burdens on those working at nursing-care facilities will be reduced,” says Masayuki Muraoka, an employee at the ministry.

Kawaguchi and Mori emphasize the impact that rapid population aging has on the structure of the labor market in Japan: “Through an expanding healthcare services industry…female labor force participation is increasing and more than one in five female workers are currently employed in the healthcare services industry.”

Consequently, this has also led to growing demand for childcare services. “Given that the markets for healthcare and childcare services are publicly run or heavily regulated, comprehensive policy designs, including pricing of the services and training of childcare workers, are necessary.” The authors therefore suggest that policymakers should, “design healthcare and childcare programs in light of their potentially positive welfare effects."

Read more articles about the aging workforce.