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.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

    Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

    £70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

    Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

    £23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

    Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

    £13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral