Reusable Nappies v Disposable Nappies – The Debate

Parents have been debating this subject for decades in the search for a definitive answer. While it is true that disposable nappies are the country’s biggest contributor to our council landfills (thus emitting large volumes of greenhouse gas),Reusable Nappies v Disposable Nappies – The Debate Articles reusable ones are packman carts subjected to energy intensive washing machine cycles. If the truth be told, neither are particularly good for the climate – but the reusable variety are thought to be around 10% less harmful. Then again, some might say, it’s probably a good idea to get your children out of nappies much sooner. What Difference Will it Make?

The governmental report claims a reusable nappy is guilty of causing 560kg of greenhouse gas over the infant’s first two-and-a-half years of life, whilst disposable nappies are responsible for 630kg (that is equal to a 1800 mile drive in a family car). Almost 6 million disposable nappies a day find their way into UK council landfills, this amounts to 2 billion a year, where they sit emitting methane gas into the environment. The nappies make up 2% of all UK household rubbish and cost the average council tax payer £67 million each year. The weight of these disposable nappies amount to the equivalent of 70,000 double-decker buses, enough buses when lined up end to end to reach from London to Edinburgh. Each year, the total weight of used disposables (400,000 tonnes) is equal to the weight of waste produced by the UK’s second city, Birmingham. It is thought that by choosing reusable nappies over the disposable variety a family can expect to save themselves a rather large bundle of cash, in fact, UK parents can expect to halve the amount of money they spend on nappies overall. Disposable Nappies v Reusables Advocates of the disposable nappy point to the Environment Agency’s (2005) report, Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies in the UK, which concluded that the reusable nappy was hardly any better for the environment than the disposable variety, mainly down to the extra energy demands needed to keep them clean and hygienic.

However, the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) has poured scorn on the research’s methods, they say the report is ‘seriously flawed’. WEN have claimed that if reusable cotton nappies are washed as recommended by the manufacturer at a temperature of between 50 and 60°C in an energy-efficient washing machine, their impact on the climate would be a lot less than disposables. Whether this argument holds water is yet to be seen. The Future for Nappies Disposable nappies are made up from a multitude of absorbent polymers, adhesives, polypropylene, elastics and plenty of pulp, which is produced from environmentally unfriendly logged forests. So, why don’t manufacturers produce eco-friendly disposable nappies? Well, over the last 15 years, we have seen a 40% drop in the volume of material used in the manufacture of disposables, but with the development and use of plastic absorbent gels in the nappies it has meant that they are even less biodegradable than before. On the other hand though, the reliance on cotton used in reusable nappies requires the farming of a high maintenance crop that is dependent on pesticides, fertiliser and water.

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