I often thought I would use cloth nappies instead of modern disposables not just to be cost effective but also for the impact it has on our planet. I'm not the only one, many parents choose cloth nappies because they're worried about the environment.
But it's not clear whether reusable nappies are the most ecological choice so I did a little research. Using cloth nappies means that much less waste is sent to landfill sites. Around 8 million nappies are thrown away every day in the UK and it is thought they could take hundreds of years to decompose. Cloth nappies, on the other hand, need to be washed and dried which uses a lot of energy.
A report for the Environment Agency published in 2008 compared the environmental impact of using disposable and cloth nappies over a period of two-and-a-half years. The Environment Agency worked out that using disposables would create approximately 550kg of carbon emissions.
For cloth nappies, the calculations are more complicated because so much depends on the way you wash and dry them. Assuming that you wash your nappies at 60 degrees C (the minimum temperature recommended by the Department of Health) and dry three out of four loads on a washing line, the rest being tumble dried, you would produce around 570kg of carbon emissions. Using the tumble dryer more often would push your carbon emissions even higher.
However, if you wash your nappies on a fuller load, use an energy efficient washing machine and always hang them out to dry you can reduce this figure considerably. And if you use your nappies on a second child, the carbon emissions associated with using cloth nappies fall even further – by as much as 40 per cent.
So cloth nappies can be more environmentally friendly than disposables but you have to think carefully about how you wash and dry them.