Are reusable nappies better for the environment? Reusable Nappies vs Disposable.

Are reusable nappies better for the environment? Reusable Nappies vs Disposable.

So you've heard of reusable nappies, but you're just not buying the benefits - it can't be AS good for the environment as people claim, surely? Well you're in luck! Because I'm going to walk you through all the common thoughts, myths and misconceptions that we hear all the time as reusable nappy specialists! If you're a skeptic, a convert, or somewhere on the fence then keep reading to find out which type of nappy is actually better.

Water Consumption Reusable vs Disposable

A common question is how can reusable nappies be at all eco friendly with ALL of that water being used to wash them?! And it's totally understandable - I mean, no water goes into a disposable, right?! But sadly that's far from the truth!

The manufacturing process of disposables is incredibly water-intensive, with one week of disposables requiring on average 1,550 litres of water to be produced. (1)

Whereas the most water-intensive cycle on my 10kg washing machine uses around 100 litres per rinse & wash. On average you'll wash your nappies every 3 days, so lets say that's 5 washes a fortnight, or 2.5 washed a week. So reusables use just 250 litres of water to wash per week! It's worth noting that I have a large 10kg washing machine, so an average 7 or 8kg machine will likely use less water than this. Because my washing machine is so large, I always top up with kids clothes so that I'm not wasting valuable machine space, meaning in reality I'm probably using less water than this for my nappies as I'm cleaning my clothes at the same time.

Not to mention that our household waste water is easily treated and made safe to re-enter our waterways - with the waste and detergent removed as it would be anyway. However, the waste water from the materials used to produce disposable nappies are incredibly dirty, containing chlorine and carcinogenic pollutants which are polluting our seas every single day.

(1) Based on figures provided to the Environment Agency by the disposable nappy industry.

"What do I do with the poo? - The BIGGEST reusable nappy question.

Nappy Rash - Reusable vs Disposable

Reusables are made with mostly natural materials such as cotton, hemp and bamboo. There are naturally very gentle fibres that are identical to the comfortable clothes such as t shirts and jogging bottoms that you probably wear on a daily basis. Reusable nappy materials are naturally breathable and soft against your baby's skin. The outer layer is made from PUL, it's an incredibly thin and breathable yet water resistant laminated fabric, it's very flexible too.

Disposable nappies are made with a plastic outer and a water absorbent polymer (plastic) gel inner, there's little-to-no breathability with these nappies. Nappy rash is highly likely to occur in disposables for a few reasons - firstly, the materials aren't breathable so they get 'sweaty' which promotes thrush. Secondly, the chemicals in the polymer inner can be harsh on a baby's skin and cause rashes.

Many assume that reusable nappies must be warmer and less breathable than disposables because they can be a little thicker. The best comparison would be a pair of wool or cotton winter gloves, compared to a pair of disposable plastic or latex gloves. Winter gloves are thicker, and they keep you warm in winter, but it you wore them in warmer weather your hands would stay dry and wouldn't get too hot as the fibres are breathable. Disposable gloves will make your hands sweat in almost any climate, because they have zero breathability.

Babies who wear reusables are much less likely to have nappy rash than those in disposables. Many babies are actually allergic to disposable nappies and wipes too, which can be very uncomfortable for them, but sadly parents don't always realise this as there isn't much advice out there for this.

READ NEXT: Everything you need to get started with reusable nappies

Nappy leaks - Reusable vs Disposable

Let me guess, all those newborn blowouts and throw ups have you changing more outfits daily than you can even count. What if I told you that in 3 years and two babies, I have never experienced a poop explosion? Genuinely! Reusable nappies have such better containment, the super soft back, leg and sometimes even tummy elastics mean that all poop is stopped in it's tracks. This means you're washing way less outfits per week, counteracting the nappy wash! No midday baths or ruined mustard poop-stained outfits, just full containment in every situation. This also means you're reducing baby clothes washing, which counteracts the additional nappy wash!

We're not sure where the rumour of wee leaks began, probably from the days before proper PUL nappy wraps. But our experience is that cloth is equal, if not better, than disposables at containing wees in the daytime, and definitely better at night time. With a disposable it they don't work, then there's not much to be done. This can be particularly frustrating when baby starts sleeping through the night and they are waking up soaked every morning. With cloth nappies you can easily adjust the fit, increase absorbency, add a liner, and tweak the nappy until you have the perfect fit for your little one. There are specific night-time reusable nappies which have extra absorbency and will last 10-12 hours at night time.

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Surely the energy used to wash them can't be eco-friendly?

It' always worth remembering that there is pre- and post-consumer energy to be considered in every manufacturing process. By that, we mean that energy is used to produce and dispose of the nappies before and after you have brought them home and thrown them in the bin. Whilst it's hard to find official, up-to-date statistics on this, it would seem the general consensus is that disposables use 5 times as much energy as reusables in their complete lifecycle.

Not to mention, that as a consumer you can also choose where your electricity comes from, such as by installing solar panels or switching to a renewable electricity supplier to further help the environment - but this isn't essential! I couldn't find anything to suggest that disposable nappy companies use renewable electricity to manufacture their nappies. 

And don't worry, I have gone into detail about the household energy costs of cloth nappies below!

The cost of reusable vs disposable nappies

I have a full blog post going into detail on reusable nappies vs disposable cost comparison which I have linked below. Its seriously worth a read and explains everything in detail including how to calculate your own costs! Reusable nappies are still cheaper than disposables, and probably always will be. The main thing to consider is that as energy prices rise, so will the cost of manufacturing disposables, and therefore the cost of buying them in the supermarkets will also rise accordingly. 

READ NEXT: How will energy prices affect reusable nappy costs?

Click above for the full article, it's a good one!

In Conclusion

It's pretty clear that reusables win all-around, and once adjusted to, they're really no more work each week than popping to the shops for a pack of disposable nappies. Fancy learning more about reusables and what you need to get started? Head over to our advice blog to become a cloth nappy expert!

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