This is a debate which is ongoing: is it better to use cloth nappies (diapers) which can be washed and reused time and time again, or is it so much easier to use disposable nappies? This video touches upon key issues: impact on the environment, convenience for the mother and financial cost. For more information on the debate, read on.

Standard disposable nappies take a significant toll on the environment. It is estimated it may take up to 200 years for them to decompose. Wikipedia states that an estimated 27.4 billion disposables are deposited in landfill sites each year in the US, resulting in around 3.4 million tonnes of waste (which does not readily degrade). That is in the US alone. What about nappies from the rest of the world? Disposables also emit methane gas as they degrade. Not good news for our planet. To avoid making this a really lengthy article, I suggest you research the biodegradation (or not) of plastics. In short do not buy any nappy that has plastic elements, and do not buy plastic pants – please.

The Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) provides the following statistics: “The production of disposables uses 3.5 times more energy, 8.3 times more non-renewable resources, and 90 times more renewable resources than real nappies. They produce 2.3 times more waste water and 60 times more solid waste than real nappies.”

WEN goes on to say: “Tributyltin (TBT), a toxic chemical compound known to disrupt sex hormones, has been found in disposable nappies on sale in the UK. TBT shouldn’t be in any household product, let alone something that is being worn next to babies’ skin.”

There are a number of more environmenatlly friendly disposable diapers available. Brands inlcude: gnappies, Nature baby care, Beamingbaby. All of these brands use less chemicals than conventional nappies (better for both baby and planet) and are between 50 to 80% biodegradable. Of course you must still considers what happens to the other 30 to 50%, but they are a considerable improvement on conventional diapers.

Another disadvantage is cost. It is estimated that the average baby will use between $2,000 to $3,000 worth of disposable diapers before it is potty trained.

Reusable Cloth Nappies

Libero baby diapers with eco-label Svanen - SCA

By SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget from

So over to cloth nappies. The obvious disadvantage is the time and effort required to wash and clean the nappies. Consider too the impact of the detergent used to clean the nappies – make sure its environmentally friendly. Remember washing and cleaning reusables requires energy – electricity and water. However the environmental impact from this would be less signficant than the production and disposal of throw-away nappies.

Also review what materials are being used to make the nappy: Wikipedia says: “Conventional cotton is one of the most chemically-dependent crops, sucking up 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of insecticides on 3% of our arable land; that’s more than any other crop per unit.” This effect can be mitigated by using other materials, such as bamboo and hemp. So buy nappies made from organic cotton which doesn’t hit heavy on the pesticide front, or better still hemp or bamboo.

The purchase cost of qood quality, eco-cloth nappies will be clearly higher than disposables or standard cotton nappies, but obviously that cost is a one-off which will last your baby through til s/he’s using the potty. Many people resell reusable cloth nappies or pass them on to other families once their offspring no longer need them. They can also be recycled via Freecyle and charity shops or donated to your local mother and baby group.

The debate about disposable versus reusable diapers will probably continue long into the future. What is inspiring is that this debate exists because people are more aware and caring about the health of the planet as well as the health of their families. Each one of us must choose whether to trash the planet or make the world a better, healthier place. This in a nutshell is what organic living is all about.

Filed under: Organic Baby Products

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