Are you considering whether to use more eco-friendly nappies? If so, you are not alone.
With disposable nappies accounting for around 400,000 tonnes of waste in the UK every year, it’s no wonder that many parents are now looking to more environmentally friendly nappies than standard disposables.
But even then the choice of which nappy is best for the environment is far from clear. For example, did you know that resuable nappies can create more carbon emissions than disposables? Or that nappies that are more biodegradable than others will release more greenhouse gas into the environment?
Pros and cons of eco-friendly nappy options
To help you consider this conundrum with more clarity, we’ve highlighted some of the pros and cons of the ‘eco-friendly’ nappy options open to you.
When it comes to reducing landfill, there are no two ways about it – resuable nappies will always cause significantly less waste for landfill than either standard disposable nappies or biodegradable alternatives.
Modern incinerators and filtration systems
That said, if you live in one of the many areas that incinerate waste, you won’t need to feel guilty about the landfill issue, especially now incinerators contain filtration systems to minimise the release of bad chemicals into the atmosphere.
In fact, according to BBC News, John Ferguson, manager of The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said new technology means today’s incinerators bear no relation to those of the past, with it taking a modern incinerator 120 years to emit as much dioxin as the Millennium firework exhibition did in London.
That said, some of us just think it is better to use fewer resources and create less waste in the first place. But, whilst in principle this is a good idea, there is another problem with reusables and the environment.
According to Dan Welch, Research Associate at the Sustainable Consumption Institute, a report for the Environment Agency in 2008 found that using resuables can actually create more carbon emissions than disposables.
Comparing the environmental impact of the two types of nappy over a two-and-a-half-year period, it found that whilst using disposables creates around 550kg of carbon emissions, using reusables could create up to 570kg because of how they are washed and dried.
The figure was based on washing the nappies at 60°C, drying three out of four loads of washing on a line and tumbling drying the rest, so if you can reduce the wash temperature and the amount of tumble drying you do you will be able to reduce that figure. It is really down to you to decide whether the you can commit to a low energy usage approach to cleaning reusables.
Can nappies be fully biodegradable?
The first thing you need to know when it comes to these types of eco-friendly nappies is that there is currently no such thing as a completely biodegradable disposable nappy. Not only do they contain super absorbent gels called SAPs to lock away wee, they also have elastic around the legs (and sometime the waist) and Velcro tabs for securing the nappy in place.
Of course, there are some companies that claim that the majority of the material in their nappies is biodegradable and will degrade over only three to four years. So surely these are the best option to go for? Well, maybe not.
According to climate change expert, Chris Goodall, because biodegradable waste generates methane, it actually does more harm to the climate than non-biodegradable waste.
In fact, according to the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, Methane is the second most significant greenhouse gas affecting climate change in the UK after Carbon Dioxide, with landfilling of wastes being one of main sources responsible for emitting the gas.
In other words, a nappy that contains more biodegradable material will speed up methane release from over hundreds of years to just a handful.
What’s more, the more biodegradable material it contains, the more methane it will release in that time.
So what is the solution to finding a disposable nappy that does minimum damage to the environment?
What should I do? A balanced approach with eco-friendly nappies
Whilst it is obviously important that a nappy biodegrades, looking for an eco-nappy that does not claim to biodegrade quickly and almost entirely will ensure you are buying a product that isn’t likely to pump a load of methane into the atmosphere in the time it takes your child to reach junior school.
You can also make sure that any eco-nappies you buy are manufactured with the environment in mind to start with.
For example, 95% of all product waste created during the manufacturing of Bambo Nature eco-friendly nappies is recycled by being put back into the production process and used to make the final product, whilst the remaining 5% is burnt in local communities as fuel. This focus on eco-friendly production has led to Bambo Nature nappies being certified with the Nordic Swan Eco-Label.
What’s more, all of the fluff that is used in Bambo biodegradable eco-nappies is sourced from sustainable forestry and is FSC certified. The fluff is biodegradable, although the nappies do use a small amount of SAP (super absorbent polymers) to ensure a high level of absorbency.
In the end, using disposable eco-friendly nappies that partly biodegradable and are manufactured to minimise waste and sustain forests, checks a lot of boxes when it comes to choosing a product that cares for the environment, as well as your baby.
However, every parent will have a different take on which eco-credentials matter most to them, so for some the low-waste route of reusable nappies will always be the most appealing.
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