I had a question about the safety of super absorbent polymers last week. I’ve been asked this question before. So, I thought it was time to write a post about it in case anyone else was wondering.
What are super absorbent polymers?
Super absorbent polymers (SAPs) are substances that can hold a huge amount of liquid in relation to their size.
The US Department of Agriculture first developed SAPs back in the 60’s. They were trying to improve water conservation in soils. However, SAPs have a myriad of uses, and not just in the agricultural sector.
Today, a large range of products contain SAPs. Water retention products is just one. The largest demand for SAPs is in nappies and hygiene products, but you can even find SAPs in toys.
What do superabsorbent polymers do?
Because SAPs can hold so much liquid, they’re incredibly useful in hygiene products like nappies. They can hold between 50 and 500 times their own weight, depending on the liquid they absorb. In contrast, cotton and fluff pulp (from wood fibre) can hold just 20 times their own weight.
So a disposable nappy containing SAPs can absorb much more liquid than a nappy containing only fluff pulp. That means that nappies with SAP are thinner, more absorbent, and use less raw materials.
Without SAPs, nappies would be much bulkier. That means more volume going into landfill.
Nappies without SAPs don’t have the same ability to wick moisture away. With SAPs, baby’s bottom is drier, meaning less chance of nappy rash, and fewer nappy changes. Healthier bottoms, better for the environment, and lighter on your wallet.
Superabsorbers aren’t biodegradable. However, new research into nano fibres may mean that a biodegradable alternative will be available in the future. And even if current superabsorbers aren’t biodegradable, they keep so much volume out of landfill, it’s worth using them.
Are SAPs safe?
I’ve written about this before, in this post. There’s been a lot of research done in this area, and the conclusion is that they’re safe.
- The FDA allows SAPs to be added to food.
- This Material Safety Data Sheet shows that SAPs are considered non toxic.
- considered non toxic by the Cosmetic Ingredients Review panel
- the EU Ecolabel allows their use in hygiene products like nappies and feminine pads
SAPs are considered to be non toxic, non sensitizing, non irritant and non mutagenic.
All in all, superabsorbent polymers are a good thing. They’re non toxic and safe, and they help to keep nappies thinner, so there’s less landfill.