Consuming Issues: We can throw out the great nappy debate

When a new baby arrives, they deliver more than joy and sleepless nights, they also bring increasingly large volumes of wee and poo. One of the dilemmas that greets a parent is whether to buy disposable or cloth nappies.

For years the Government, local authorities and green campaigners promoted re-usable cloth nappies. Washable ones were officially "a good thing" because of the problems caused by the disposing of disposables, which occupy between 2 and 3 per cent of landfill.

A saving of £500 per child could be had by buying cloth nappies, according to the Women's Environmental Network (WEN).

Despite the arguments, 95 per cent of parents opted for disposables, presumably because of their convenience; buy, wear, chuck into the bin. Many, though, had a nagging sense of shame about the mass of nappies being dumped in the ground. Until four years ago when a bombshell shattered the arguments for "green" nappies.

A £200,000 lifecycle assessment by the Environment Agency found there was little difference environmentally between disposals and re-usables. Experts analysed production, transportation, washing and disposal – and found that while producing disposables was resource-intensive, so was powering washing machines to launder re-usables. The 200-page report concluded there was "no significant difference between any of the environmental impacts".

Cynics smugly suggested that eco do-gooders were wasting their time. Campaigners were furious. They disputed the calculations about the efficiency of washing machines, wash temperature and the assumption some nappies would be ironed. WEN condemned the study as a "wasted opportunity" to tilt the debate in favour of re-usables once and for all.

Some detected the hand of the nappy companies Procter & Gamble (Pampers) and Kimberley Clark (Huggies) in the assumptions behind the calculations.

Stung by the criticism, the Environment Agency commissioned a follow-up report. The "updated lifecycle assessment" was slipped quietly onto the Agency's website in October without a press release. It found the average global warming impact for disposables was 550kg and for re-usables 570kg; again, hardly any difference.

However, for the first time the Agency acknowledged that 'eco' cloth nappies could be much greener, depending on how they were used. Placing cloth nappies in a full load, drying them outdoors and re-using them on a second child would cut their global warming impact by 40 per cent – 342kg compared with 550kg for disposables. On the other hand, washing nappies at 90C rather than 60C would cause 31 per cent more damage.

Usage was key. The report concluded: "The environmental impacts of using shaped reusable nappies can be higher or lower than using disposables, depending on how they are laundered."

The green groups were right, though, after all; carefully used re-usables do help the environment. But how much of a difference do they make? The maximum saving per child calculated by the Environment Agency is 208kg of carbon.

According to the offsetting company Climate Care, a return flight from London to Barcelona generates 260kg. And this gets to the nub of the issue; some of our lifestyle choices have a big impact.

The annual carbon footprint of the average Briton is just under 11 tons of CO2. Leisure and recreation – watching a football match or driving to the seaside – account for a fifth of this.

Walking, rather than taking the car, for a trip of under three miles saves 2kg. Not using a tumble drier saves 36kg a year. Mobile phone chargers emit between 35 and 70kg per person a year.

After five years we have finally got to the bottom of the great nappy debate: anyone using cloth nappies is doing their bit for the environment. But the difference is not so great compared with other more destructive lifestyle choices, like flying. You could make up for your nappies by staying at home one weekend.

Heroes & Villians

Hero: The EcoCamel shower head. By aerating water, it saves up to 60 per cent of hot water, thereby heating and water meter bills, and lowering your carbon footprint. The manufacturers estimate a family of four could save £240 a year if they’re on a water meter. It costs £25.

Villain: The power companies who have squeezed an extra £464m out of pre-payment customers in the past three years would be a strong candidate, normally. But this week there can only be one villain: me. I did not mention last week that an extra 100ml of tepid water should be added to the flour to make a dough. Though not essential, you should also add two teaspoons of sugar to the yeast. Doing these will make a better loaf. My apologies.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

    Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

    £280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform