Choosing nappies: washable vs disposable Environmental impact
Whether you choose to use disposable or reusable nappies, you can reduce your impact on the environment in several ways.
An updated government report published by the Environment Agency in October 2008 found that reusable nappies can be 40% better for the environment than disposable nappies - but only when parents take sensible steps to reduce the environmental impact of cleaning and drying them.
Washing nappies at home means you use extra energy and water to keep them clean – resources you don't need to use with disposables. If you wash at high temperatures and use a tumble-dryer this increases the energy used.
There are several ways in which you can minimise washable nappies' environmental impact.
- Invest in an energy-efficient washing machine – see our washing machine reviews for Best Buys.
- Where possible, line dry nappies rather than relying on the tumble dryer. If you have to tumble dry, make sure you're using an energy-efficient model.
- Consider buying used washable nappies – there’s a thriving trade of clean second-hand nappies between parents and businesses who specialise in ‘born again’ nappies.
- Make sure your nappies get passed on to other babies.
- Wash in full loads and use lower washing temperatures. There's no need to wash at 95 degrees – a 60 degree wash will usually get your nappies completely clean and fresh. Nappies that have only been wet can be washed at even lower temperatures.
- Choose greener nappy liners – if you use nappy liners in your washable nappies, try to choose washable, biodegradable or compostable versions such as those produced by Junior Joy and Eenee.
As each nappy can take more than 200 years to naturally degrade, it’s easy to see how the sheer number of disposable nappies thrown away presents serious problems to the environment, particularly when more than 90% of them end up in landfill.
The Environment Agency's study also highlighted that the manufacture of disposable nappies itself is another significant factor in terms of environmental impact.
Here are some tips to help you minimise the environmental impact of disposable nappies.
- Use a semi-disposable nappy system – Eenee Weenee pads are a semi-disposable nappy system that uses disposable thick pads inside a reusable outer nappy wrap. The nappy pads are made from biodegradable non-chlorine bleached pulp and can be flushed away. Pads that have only been wetted can also be composted.
- Choose eco-friendly nappy accessories – there's a wealth of eco-friendly baby accessories available on the high street to help make your nappy-changing routine greener. Choose those packaged in recycled materials if possible.
- There are greener disposable nappy options available - brands such as Nature Babycare offer nappies made from renewable and natural materials that are semi-biodegradable, and will therefore more quickly decompose.