Digesting Diapers

Oyster mushrooms can turn disposable diapers into a profitable food staple


| January-February 2012



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Jason Raish / www.jasonraish.com

Normally, the only time dirty diapers and dinner appear in the same sentence is when the baby once again interrupts mealtime with an inconvenient call to action. But Alethia Vázquez-Morillas of Mexico City’s Autonomous Metropolitan University is fond of talking about how to feast on food—specifically, oyster mushrooms—grown on used diapers.  

According to Conservation (Fall 2011), oyster mushrooms thrive on cellulose, which is a primary constituent of disposable diapers. Cellulose takes centuries to biodegrade in the airless confines of a landfill, while oyster mushrooms can eat it up in two short months, after which, of course, people can eat up the mushrooms.  

It sounds like a dish made for the Food Network: Instead of trashing billions of disposable diapers every year, turn them into a profitable food staple. One snag is that the diapers must be steam-sterilized, reports Conservation: “Steaming kills any bacteria and other fungi that could outcompete the oyster mushrooms for living space on the diapers.” Sterilization is also a costly process that might prevent the intrepid diaper-mushroom entrepreneur from turning a profit. Still, we’d love to see someone throw together a mushroom-based delicacy and have Bizarre Foods’ host Andrew Zimmern take a big bite.

Cover-169-thumb.jpgHave something to say? Send a letter to editor@utne.com. This article first appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Utne Reader.

jolynn mitchell
6/18/2013 6:36:56 PM

This is a really old post that was just sent to me. Disposable diapers have VERY little cellulose in the way of woodfluff pulp. In fact, removing woodfluff and introducing more targetted SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer) is the way diaper companies are promoting themselves as 'greener'...taking weight out of the diapers. Most disposable diapers are made of Polyethylene and or Polypropylene. Instead of concering yourselves about sterilizing the plastic, why aren't we talking about getting rid of the plastic in disposable diapers?


lynn snyder
1/27/2012 9:02:50 PM

I bet they could be sterilized with solar energy.


debbie marsh
1/27/2012 7:44:31 PM

It seems to me a simpler way to sterilize would be to just microwave the diapers - any temp/time that would boil water would sterilize a baby's diaper.


tabitha alterman
1/27/2012 4:26:11 PM

What is the process of sterilization? Is it something people can do on a home scale?