Monday 02 August 2010 by Erika

Photo of reusable bamboo nappies drying on a washing line

My big sister has always been an eco-warrior, so when I had my son, she was determined to bring me round to her way of thinking.

When I found out that my baby could get through over 5000 nappies before he is potty-trained, I couldn’t help but think about the impact I was going to have on the environment.

There were two obvious options available to me to try and bring up baby the eco-way. I could choose to use eco-disposable nappies or reusable nappies. I did my research on both before I made a decision, and found out some pros and cons to be wary of.

Eco-disposable nappies

Pros

  • Disposable nappies are much less bulky than they used to be, thanks to the super-absorbent gel used to soak up liquid.
  • They're also more biodegradable than they used to be. A used nappy is up to 80% biodegradable.
  • They're convenient; you can throw them away after each use.

Cons

  • The super-absorbent gel in the nappies is not biodegradable as it's made of plastic.
  • Disposable nappies that end up rotting in landfill sites give off greenhouse gases, having a negative impact on global warming.

Reusable nappies

Pros

  • A lot less waste is sent to landfill sites.
  • They're cheaper to buy over time, although the cost of energy for washing and drying should be considered.
  • You can use them if you have any more children, potentially saving you a lot of money in the future.

Cons

  • You'll need to do a huge amount of washing and drying. Using a tumble dryer will instantly negate any positive effect you've had on the environment!

From reading around about reusable and eco-disposable nappies, I was surprised to find that in some cases, reusable nappies can actually end up creating a bigger carbon footprint than disposables, once you take washing and tumble drying into account. So, there’s not a clean cut option about which nappies are more environmentally friendly.

Initially, I decided to try using cloth nappies, as I’d hoped I’d be able to do all the drying without the help of my energy guzzling tumble dryer. I started by trying a brand called ‘Little Lambs’ that had been recommended to me.

We went with the bamboo nappy option, as they were made from natural materials and were supposed to be more absorbent, but you can also choose from cotton or microfibre nappies. Unfortunately, I found that I was going through nappies so fast that I couldn’t dry them quickly enough. I caved in and started to use my tumble dryer, which proceeded to shrink the nappies so they no longer fit!

At this point, I moved over to eco-disposable nappies as it seemed like the most convenient option. I would quickly point out though, that if you can use reusable nappies and dry them naturally, they’re still more environmentally friendly and also a cheaper option.

Many reusable nappy suppliers will let you buy a trial pack, so before you fully invest, you can always give it a try. Despite my own switch to eco-disposable nappies, I would highly recommend that giving reusables a go!

Photo credit: Richard Fawcett on Flickr

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