Nappy clash leaves consumers confused

A study comparing the environmental cost of reusable and disposable nappies has been condemned as flawed by the Women's Environmental Network.

The results of the research, commissioned by the Environment Agency, were released on Thursday and rather than putting the great nappy debate to bed for once and for all appear to have reawoken it – and sparked a tantrum.

The study evaluated the environmental impact of every stage in the life of both types of nappies and concluded there was very little difference overall.

Tricia Henton, director of environmental protection at the Environment Agency said: “This study was carried out to establish the true environmental impacts of using disposable and reusable nappies.

“Although there is no substantial difference between the environmental impacts of the systems studied, it does show where each system can be improved.

“We hope manufacturers of disposable nappies will use this study to improve the environmental performance of their products, particularly the quantities going to landfill.

“Similarly, if parents using reusables want to improve their impact on the environment they will need to look more closely at how they launder nappies, for instance, can the nappies be washed in a bigger load at a lower temperature?

“The type of nappy that parents buy is a matter of personal choice, but it is important that they can make an informed choice.

“Studies like this help to inform people about the impact that their actions have on the environment. Life cycle thinking plays an important role in informing the environmental debate.”

The study looked at a number of factors including the energy and material used in the manufacture of the nappy, the frequency of changes required and how reusable nappies are washed.

But the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) has condemned the study as ‘seriously flawed’ and claims the EA has missed the point of its findings.

The network argues the findings can be interpreted in a different way and shows cloth nappies have the same impact on climate change as disposables but create less waste.

“This lifecycle analysis is a wasted opportunity to put the long-standing
debate about nappies and the environment to rest,” said WEN’s Ann Link.
“It says what most other studies have: that both systems use similar amounts of energy but the disposable system uses more materials and puts more into

“But it has missed the point of its own findings. Even in its current flawed state it shows that parents who use cloth nappies can save waste confident in the knowledge that washing them will cause no more global warming than disposable nappies.

“The biggest impacts it identifies are all to do with energy production and
use – fossil fuel use, global warming and acidification – yet if parents use 24 nappies and follow manufacturers’ instructions to wash at 60 degrees centigrade using an A rated washing machine they will have approximately 24% less impact on global warming than the report says.”

Elizabeth Hartigan, co-ordinator of WEN’s real nappy project, added: “Using
real nappies puts parents in control.

“With a good washing routine parents can minimise the environmental impact of their babies’ nappies, reduce waste and save themselves money.”

by Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie