A collection of reusable nappies in a variety of pastel colours

Ditch Disposable Nappies

Saving the environment one nappy at a time.
A collection of reusable nappies in a variety of pastel colours


Ditch Disposable Nappies

 

Each day in the UK alone, eight million disposable nappies are thrown away and sent to landfill where they take up to 500 years to degrade. Here they emit harmful greenhouse gases in the form of methane, which contributes to climate change.

  1. 1. Number Crunching
  2. 2. Ditch the disposable nappy
  3. 3. Biodegradable disposables
  4. 4. Washable cloth nappies
  5. 5. Reduce the impact of washing nappies
  6. 6. What’s the cost? & Second-hand suppliers

Each day in the UK alone, eight million disposable nappies are thrown away and sent to landfill where they take up to 500 years to degrade. Here they emit harmful greenhouse gases in the form of methane, which contributes to climate change.

  1. 1. Number Crunching
  2. 2. Ditch the disposable nappy
  3. 3. Biodegradable disposables
  4. 4. Washable cloth nappies
  5. 5. Reduce impact when washing
  6. 6. What’s the cost? & Second-hand suppliers

Number Crunching

It makes no sustainable sense

Before we jump in and compare nappy options, let’s calculate how many nappies an average baby gets through. Babies are typically in nappies for their first 2-3 years, where at first, they’ll go through an average of 12 nappies per day. As they get older this number will diminish to 4 – 6 per day. Therefore, if we take 8 nappies per day as a mean average, that equates to 2,920 nappies per year or 7300 nappies in 2.5 years!

A disposable nappy being put out in the trash

Number Crunching

It makes no sustainable sense

Before we jump in and compare nappy options, let’s calculate how many nappies an average baby gets through. Babies are typically in nappies for their first 2-3 years, where at first, they’ll go through an average of 12 nappies per day. As they get older this number will diminish to 4 – 6 per day. Therefore, if we take 8 nappies per day as a mean average, that equates to 2,920 nappies per year or 7300 nappies in 2.5 years!

A disposable nappy being put out in the trash

Ditch The Disposable Nappy

In a world where the use of plastic straws is a social crime, why is nobody talking about disposable nappies?

Each day in the UK alone, eight million disposable nappies are thrown away and sent to landfill where they take up to 500 years to degrade. Here they emit harmful greenhouse gases in the form of methane, which contributes to climate change. Unfortunately, there aren’t yet any widely available recycling options for disposable nappies. Not to mention all the disposable wipes, packaging waste, and garbage bags used in nappy changing.

A dirty disposal landfill site adjacent to a beautiful forest
A dirty disposal landfill site adjacent to a beautiful forest

Ditch The Disposable Nappy

In a world where the use of plastic straws is a social crime, why is nobody talking about disposable nappies?

Each day in the UK alone, eight million disposable nappies are thrown away and sent to landfill where they take up to 500 years to degrade. Here they emit harmful greenhouse gases in the form of methane, which contributes to climate change. Unfortunately, there aren’t yet any widely available recycling options for disposable nappies. Not to mention all the disposable wipes, packaging waste, and garbage bags used in nappy changing.

What’s more, one must consider the detrimental environmental impact in the manufacturing of throw away diapers. A disposable nappy is made of wood pulp, which uses gallons of water and creates additional waste that needs to be treated on-site. Furthermore, disposable nappies contain chemicals such as sodium polyacrylate as an absorbent and dying agents to make them white. The former has been linked to toxic shock syndrome and the latter to skin irritations.

A baby dressed in a pink reusable cotton nappy next to its teddy bear

Reusable nappies are both better for babies and the environment. It's a win-win.

Biodegradable Disposables

Bamboo is the new plastic

Biodegradable disposable nappies are made from different materials, like bamboo, fabrics and paper pulp. They use a non-chemical absorption method. When you throw them away, they decompose more quickly than ordinary disposable nappies.

These nappies are better for the environment than ordinary disposable nappies, but they can be more expensive and are notorious for blocking up toilets – people assume biodegradable means flushable.

A happy baby on their back dressed in a fabric nappy
A pile of washable cloth nappies in a variety of colours

Washable Cloth Nappies

Cloth nappies are 40% less harmful to the environment than disposables and they can be used over and over. 

WRAP (the Government’s Waste & Resources Action Programme) have calculated that households which use cloth nappies reduce their household waste by up to half compared to those continuing to use disposables.

However, even cloth nappies, and depending on the material, have a ranging environmental impact. The biggest concern is the water usage, use of detergents, and energy for rinsing, washing and drying cloth nappies. Secondly, if your washable nappies are made from synthetic microfleeces, microsuedes, or microfibers, one must consider that when washing such synthetics, tiny plastic strands are released into our waterways. – Up to 700,000 fibres can be released in a single domestic wash!

For the most environmentally friendly nappies, you’ll want to look for organic cotton and other unbleached natural fibres such as bamboo and hemp. Both are more absorbent than synthetic washable nappies, don’t release plastic microfibres, help your child’s skin to breathe naturally as they do not contain any chemicals or gels.

Reducing the environmental impact of your cloth nappies

  • Washing Nappies

Wash with biodegradable, phosphate-free detergents.

Invest in plenty of nappies to do a full load of washing before running out of clean ones.

Wash nappies on a cold-water cycle and drying them on a line in the sun outside.

Use a front-loading washing machine, which uses less water.

Use them on a second or third child.

 

What’s the cost and second-hand suppliers?

Washable nappies could save you up to £500 per child and this price will rise if the nappies are reused for subsequent children. An initial one-off outlay of £300-400 is required for the nappies, but after that you won’t need to pay out for disposable nappies as part of the weekly shop. There are a number of sites that specialise in selling second-hand washable nappies, to make even greater savings.

 

Five reusable nappies hanging on a washing line

Modern washable nappies come in a great range of colours and are designed to make a far more comfortable and natural alternative to single-use disposable nappies. Absorbent fabrics mean that there's no longer a need for super-absorbent chemicals next to baby's skin.

What’s more, one must consider the detrimental environmental impact in the manufacturing of throw away diapers. A disposable nappy is made of wood pulp, which uses gallons of water and creates additional waste that needs to be treated on-site. Furthermore, disposable nappies contain chemicals such as sodium polyacrylate as an absorbent and dying agents to make them white. The former has been linked to toxic shock syndrome and the latter to skin irritations.

A baby dressed in a pink reusable cotton nappy next to its teddy bear

Reusable nappies are both better for babies and the environment. It's a win-win.

Biodegradable Disposables

Bamboo is the new plastic

Biodegradable disposable nappies are made from different materials, like bamboo, fabrics and paper pulp. They use a non-chemical absorption method. When you throw them away, they decompose more quickly than ordinary disposable nappies.

A happy baby on their back dressed in a fabric nappy

These nappies are better for the environment than ordinary disposable nappies, but they can be more expensive and are notorious for blocking up toilets – people assume biodegradable means flushable.

Reducing the environmental impact of your cloth nappies

Cloth nappies are 40% less harmful to the environment than disposables and they can be used over and over. 

WRAP (the Government’s Waste & Resources Action Programme) have calculated that households which use cloth nappies reduce their household waste by up to half compared to those continuing to use disposables.

However, even cloth nappies, and depending on the material, have a ranging environmental impact. The biggest concern is the water usage, use of detergents, and energy for rinsing, washing and drying cloth nappies. Secondly, if your washable nappies are made from synthetic microfleeces, microsuedes, or microfibers, one must consider that when washing such synthetics, tiny plastic strands are released into our waterways. – Up to 700,000 fibres can be released in a single domestic wash!

A pile of washable cloth nappies in a variety of colours

For the most environmentally friendly nappies, you’ll want to look for organic cotton and other unbleached natural fibres such as bamboo and hemp. Both are more absorbent than synthetic washable nappies, don’t release plastic microfibres, help your child’s skin to breathe naturally as they do not contain any chemicals or gels.

Washable Cloth Nappies

  • Washing Nappies

Wash with biodegradable, phosphate-free detergents.

Invest in plenty of nappies to do a full load of washing before running out of clean ones.

Wash nappies on a cold-water cycle and drying them on a line in the sun outside.

Use a front-loading washing machine, which uses less water.

Use them on a second or third child.

 

What’s the cost and second-hand suppliers?

Washable nappies could save you up to £500 per child and this price will rise if the nappies are reused for subsequent children. An initial one-off outlay of £300-400 is required for the nappies, but after that you won’t need to pay out for disposable nappies as part of the weekly shop. There are a number of sites that specialise in selling second-hand washable nappies, to make even greater savings.

 

Five reusable nappies hanging on a washing line

Modern washable nappies come in a great range of colours and are designed to make a far more comfortable and natural alternative to single-use disposable nappies. Absorbent fabrics mean that there's no longer a need for super-absorbent chemicals next to baby's skin.

A baby in a washable nappy walking on the beach

Cut down on waste

3 billion disposable nappies that are thrown away each and every year in the UK, 90% of these are landfilled.


A baby in a washable nappy walking on the beach

Cut down on waste

3 billion disposable nappies that are thrown away each and every year in the UK, 90% of these are landfilled.

Sources & further reading

✅ for peer reviewed research

  1. 1. “The ‘Real Nappies for London’ Scheme 2007-2012: Key Findings to Drive a Future Waste Prevention Agenda Through Landfill Reduction” – Warner, Charles; Vick, Hilary; Phillips, Paul; Lappage, Andrew – The Journal of Solid Waste Technology and Management, – ingentaconnect.com ✅
  2.  
  3. 2. "A review of municipal solid waste composition in the United Kingdom ” -Stephen J. Burnley – Waste Management – sciencedirect.com
  4.  
  5. 3. “GOVERNING SUSTAINABLE WASTE MANAGEMENT ” -Kye Askins and Harriet Bulkeley – Durham University –nrl.northumbria.ac.uk
  6.  
  7. 4. "LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT: REUSABLE AND DISPOSABLE NAPPIES IN AUSTRALIA ” -Kate O’Brien, Rachel Olive, Yu-Chieh Hsu, Luke Morris, Richard Bell and Nick Kendall – Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering, The University of Queensland, Brisbane – semanticscholar.org
  8.  
  9. 5. "Nappies: cloth nappies and disposable nappies"raisingchildren.net.au
  10.  
  11. 6. “Real Nappies – the facts ”veolia.co.uk

Sources & further reading

✅ for peer reviewed research

  1. 1. “The ‘Real Nappies for London’ Scheme 2007-2012: Key Findings to Drive a Future Waste Prevention Agenda Through Landfill Reduction” – Warner, Charles; Vick, Hilary; Phillips, Paul; Lappage, Andrew – The Journal of Solid Waste Technology and Management, – ingentaconnect.com ✅
  2.  
  3. 2. "A review of municipal solid waste composition in the United Kingdom ” -Stephen J. Burnley – Waste Management – sciencedirect.com
  4.  
  5. 3. “GOVERNING SUSTAINABLE WASTE MANAGEMENT ” -Kye Askins and Harriet Bulkeley – Durham University –nrl.northumbria.ac.uk
  6.  
  7. 4. "LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT: REUSABLE AND DISPOSABLE NAPPIES IN AUSTRALIA ” -Kate O’Brien, Rachel Olive, Yu-Chieh Hsu, Luke Morris, Richard Bell and Nick Kendall – Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering, The University of Queensland, Brisbane – semanticscholar.org
  8.  
  9. 5. "Nappies: cloth nappies and disposable nappies"raisingchildren.net.au
  10.  
  11. 6. “Real Nappies – the facts ”veolia.co.uk