Are Reusable Nappies More Environmentally Friendly?

reusable nappies

In an age where sustainability and the need to go plastic free is ever present in our lives, this question is often asked as people search to raise their babies in a more natural way.

The quick answer is yes, without a doubt. With an estimated 3 billion nappies hitting UK landfill annually, we now know that these nappies do not break down for up to 500 years. The fact that ‘disposable’ nappies are anything but disposable and your child’s nappies will still be in landfill when their great great great great great grandchildren are being nappied, is quite distressing.

Disposable nappies are a single use plastic item. Yes plastic, the outer wrap of a disposable nappy is a form of plastic, made from one cup of crude oil. We have all seen the dangers that plastic is doing to our countryside, our streams, our oceans and our wildlife. Nappies are part of this problem, so it seems a natural progression from reusable cups to switch to cloth nappies.

What About Biodegradable Nappies?

The sad fact is, many disposable nappies which claim to be green or degradable are just a green wash and do not meet up to the expectations. If you look closely at many supermarket ‘eco’ brands, they often claim they are eco friendly just based on the other plastic wrap, not the actual nappies themselves! Clever marketing covers this fact and many innocent consumers may be duped into buying these on false pretences.

The big issue with disposable nappies is their plastic cover, which makes them waterproof. At the time of writing, no disposable nappy company has managed to make this layer biodegradable or even degradable so even if the nappy layers might be made from recycled material and are degradable, this layer is not.

Human Waste

The proper way to deal with human waste is in the sewage treatment system. If you read a disposable nappy packaging, it does tell you that you must flush your baby's waste down the toilet before putting the nappy in the bin. I have yet to meet ANYONE who does this, which means that human waste is sitting in your bin, then in landfill, not being treated properly and ends up in our water systems. If you child is on antibiotics or has had vaccines, those live vaccines are making their way into nature, and that’s not good!

What About Carbon Emissions

There has been a lifecycle analysis which looked at this and it proved that washable nappies were 40% better than disposable nappies, provided you didn’t iron them, boil wash or tumble dry on high! Please don’t ever iron nappies… I’ve never met anyone that does.. But ya never know! However this analysis failed to take into consideration the raw materials used in making disposable nappies, the crude oil and also the carbon emissions used by transporting these materials and then the nappies to their end destination. Also, it never considered the impact the chemicals in disposable nappies make at landfill. The super absorbent gels absorb moisture around them, even at landfill. By removing the moisture from the waste around them, not only do they not decompose themselves, but they also stop the waste around them from decomposing…

So yes, reusable nappies are much more environmentally friendly than disposable nappies when all things are considered. They are part of a sustainable plastic free lifestyle that we all need to embrace!