Disposable versus Cloth Nappies
There are some basic figures you are probably aware of when thinking about disposable nappies waste. It is estimated that Australians use around 3.75 million disposable nappies every day. That means our landfill is packed with disposable nappies, as the average break downtime is over 500 years (considering traditional non-biodegradable nappies).
But what about the lifecycle of disposable and cloth nappies? Which one uses more water or land area to produce?
There is a recent study that assesses disposable and cloth nappies lifecycle in Australia*. The study, published by the University of Queensland, takes into consideration water resource reduction, non-renewable energy reduction, solid waste and land area for resource production.
It was found that home-washed reusable nappies were more efficient in terms of energy and land usage, comparable water waste and produced similar or less solid waste compared to commercially washed nappies and disposables. The study specifies that to achieve those results, we must wash in cold water, front-load washing machine and line-dry the nappies. The study also recommends using disposable and commercially washed less frequently as a way of reducing their environmental impact.
A report for the UK Environment Agency published in 2008** calculates and compares the environmental impact of disposable and reusable nappies for a two and a half years use. Not surprisingly, the impact of reusable nappies is highly dependent on the way they are washed and dried.
For example, if a consumer tumble-dried all the reusable nappies instead of just ¼ of the nappies, it would produce a global warming impact 43% higher. In contrast, washing nappies in a fuller load, outdoor line dry only, and reuse nappies on a second child, would reduce the global warming impact by 40%.
The report shows that washing in a 60 degrees Celsius and tumble-drying only ¼ of reusable nappies, it would produce 570kg of carbon dioxide equivalents compared to 550kg from disposable nappies. It seems clear that cloth nappies can be more eco-friendly if you carefully wash them, considering the tumble-drying and hot water energy consumption.
As you can see, there is no easy answer to complex questions. In these times of unprecedented complex problems, remind yourself you are doing your best. To help you with that, see our instructions on how wash cloth nappies on the link below.
See also: How to wash cloth nappies in 5 easy steps.
*O'Brien at all, Life Cycle Assessment: Reusable and Disposable Nappies in Australia, The University of Queensland.
**Aumonier at all, An Updated Lifecycle Assessment Study for Disposable and Reusable Nappies, Environment Agency, 2008.