Are reusable nappies really better for the environment?
For a long time this has been a widely asked question, but the latest research from DEFRA finally backs up what reusable nappy enthusiasts have known for the longest time - yes! Reusable nappes ARE better for the environment than disposables!
Early 2023, DEFRA released their research regarding the life cycle analysis of nappies, both reusable and disposable, and their impact on the environment. Reusable nappies have come a long way since the last LCA back in 2008, and this time they've really done their research! They have taken into account the responses from real cloth nappy parents, from a range of sources including Bambino Mio and Nappy Alliance. These include preferred drying methods, liner usage, and wash temperatures to give an accurate representation of the average environmental impact of reusable nappies.
Key Facts of The Life Cycle Analysis
Assuming 2.5 years of use:
- The environmental impact of production/transport is 90% lower for reusable nappies than disposable nappies. Reusable nappies produce 36.21kg of CO2 compared to 294.76kg of CO2 for disposables.
- The environmental impact of disposal is also 90% lower for reusable nappies than disposable nappies. Reusable nappies produce 15.02kg of CO2 compared to 149.24kg of CO2 for disposables.
- Disposable nappies use 40 times as many raw materials as reusable nappies. Just 3.22kg of raw materials are used for reusable nappies vs 128.36kg for disposable nappies.
- Overall, reusable nappies use 24.6% less CO2 than disposable nappies. This includes materials, transport, washing and drying!
- It also goes without saying that reusable the same nappies on additional children will lessen the environmental impact of reusable nappies even further!
How do different nappy types compare?
There will be a small amount of variation in nappy types of both reusable and disposable nappies. For example, reusable prefolds with a wrap are likely to have slightly less of an impact then all in one nappies. Simply because the wrap can be reused multiple times before washing, allowing you to fit more nappies in per wash.
The same variation applies to disposable nappies, whilst 'eco' disposables may have slightly less of an impact on CO2 in terms of the raw materials used, production, transportation and disposal methods remain the same. No disposable nappy is compostable or recyclable, but sadly they often get confused as such which can contaminate recycling and require it to be incinerated or placed in landfill.
How do costs compare? Is it more expensive to use reusables?
This has become an increasingly common question amongst parents due to rising energy bills in the UK. So much so, that we have created an entire blog post on the cost of reusable vs disposable nappies. I can confidently say that reusable nappies are almost always cheaper than disposable nappies, meaning you can help the environment whilst saving money!
Where can I read the full report?
Read the full report Life Cycle Analysis of Nappies/Absorbent Hygiene Products 2021/23 on DEFRA's website today.