Tossing a dirty diaper seems simple enough: Chucking it anywhere that’s far away from you is clearly the most convenient option. Unfortunately, the most convenient option often conflicts with basic etiquette, which dictates that you consider other factors in the mix, like the environment and who will be around to smell that diaper later. Let’s sort this out.

It should be said that—although lots of new parents don’t realize this will even be an issue until they out and have to change a diaper on the fly and are suddenly faced with the choice of where to leave it—there’s no way around this question. If you have a baby, your life is a fluid and waste management center. Spit-up, drool, pee, poop: these are the mediums in which you now traffic, and you traffic in them heavily. And if you use disposable diapers, you’ll be tossing a lot of them out in public. You’ve seen them, probably, just tossed willy-nilly into the wild—on beaches, in various parking lots, out car windows, and apparently, a number of them are left in shopping carts.

There are three primary options for mothers in this scenario:

  1. Reabsorb the dirty diaper into your body
  2. Wear the dirty diaper as a demonstration of your internalized shame about motherhood
  3. Place it in the biohazard bag you were issued when you got your first period

All of those options are bad. So you’ve got to try the trash. Problem is, which trash?

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Over at Dear Prudence, letter-writer “Mommy Doodies” writes in the last question:

Dear Prudie,

What is proper etiquette for disposing of baby diapers in public? I am a first-time mom and have noticed that other mommies often have a small disposable garbage bag that they put the baby’s diaper in and often take these wrapped up diapers with them to dispose of later when in public. I have not been participating in this practice and often at people’s homes, shopping malls, restaurants, coffee shops, etc., dispose of the dirty diaper in the trash receptacles. Only when I was at the pediatrician’s office and they informed me that I was unable to dispose of the dirty diaper at the office that I thought perhaps I have been committing a faux pas.

—Mommy Doodies

A faux pas, indeed—you can’t just toss a dirty diaper into any old receptacle and hope for the best. Prudie answers:

First-time mom, please don’t make people want to evacuate a restaurant or mall because of your child’s evacuation. No one wants to go over to the milk and sugar station at your local coffee shop and get a whiff from the refuse bin of something freshly brewed by your kid. If your pediatrician is telling you to take your unwrapped waste elsewhere, you know you’re violating an unwritten code—and common sense. When traveling with a diapered child, it is necessary to have plastic bags to tightly seal the dirty diaper when disposing of it in a public place. And these should be the kind of receptacles where such waste would be appropriate—so restrooms or outdoor trash bins. If you’re visiting friends, wrap the diaper up and put it in your bag for later disposal, unless you’re visiting someone with small children and you can ask if there’s a place you can toss it.

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Come on, Prudie and “Mommy Doodies”—certainly men are changing some of these diapers, or they should be. But Prudie is right that a “suitable” receptacle is crucial, if I disagree with her on the point that restrooms are always okay. A restroom seems like a no-brainer—after all, it’s where most of us go to rid ourselves of bodily waste and change diapers—but I contend that if you haven’t wrapped that sucker properly and you leave it in the enclosed restroom trash can, you’re basically making every woman who enters that restroom until the thing gets cleared out fall to her knees weeping. And she just needed to touch up her eyeshadow.

In my opinion, here is how it goes down:

Best Choice:

Your home trash because it’s you; you’ll deal with it, or a diaper genie type contraption specifically designed to hold diapers with shit in them.

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Second Best Choice:

Putting the correctly wrapped diaper into any trash can that is far away from people as possible: Parks, beaches, a dumpster you’re passing by if you can pull this off discreetly, and so on. If you’re on an airplane, you’re fucked, and it’s going in that tiny tiny little bathroom trash thing. Triple wrap it and hope for the best, and rest assured you’ve done all you can. If you’re at a friend’s house (without diaper-aged kids, so no genie) then you either wrap it up and keep the trash on yourself or ask them if it’s OK to dispose of in their trash can, so they know to take out the trash ASAP. (Leaving it in a guest bathroom without letting them know is “insane.”)

Third Best:

Wrap it up tightly, place in some kind of smell reducing bag (like bags for dog shit, or the wet bags some people use for keeping cloth diapers from smelling until they can get them home to wash), and keep it on you for as long as it takes to get home or to a more suitable trash can.

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Your hot car is not the greatest option, but I suppose it’s better than keeping it on you while shopping, trailed by flies. And, one last point: Some people seem to think you’re supposed to try to dump out any solid waste into the toilet before disposing of a diaper, but I would argue that those people are insane.


Contact the author at tracy.moore@jezebel.com.

Image by Tara Jacoby.