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To be surprised that washable nappies aren't that green - and haven't been for years?

149 replies

ScaredyDog · 15/05/2011 23:26


Yes it's the Daily Fail, but according to the article the green credentials of washable nappies were discounted by the Environment Agency in 2007.

Apparently there is "no significant difference between the environmental impacts of disposable, home use reusable and commercial laundry systems."

I'll be honest - it's always puzzled me how washable nappies could be considered to be friendlier to the environment because of the use of washing machines and chemicals to clean them.

OP posts:

PumpkinSnatch · 15/05/2011 23:29

I saw something similar in the Guardian a while ago but I think if you don't boil wash (which isn't necessary after they've been in solution) then they are greener. And definitely a lot cheaper - which is the main reason I use them.


OldLadyKnowsNothing · 15/05/2011 23:33

I remember these arguments from when DS1 was a baby.

He's 24.

However... this looks hopeful.


MuddlingMackem · 15/05/2011 23:35

I couldn't see a link to the actual report, but if it's talking about the one I remember reading it was rubbish.

That report assumed all cloth nappy users boil wash every time (60 degrees does fine) and that they would be ironed! Who the hell is going to bother ironing nappies? Most people don't tumble dry them. The biggest black mark against them was the environmental effects of their manufacture, but as they are generally used for more than one child, those effects are diluted, which of course is not the case for disposables.

And environmental aspects aside, even if you don't give a stuff about green issues you might about your bank balance, and cloth nappies if done on a basic scale are much, much better for that than disposables.


DitaVonCheese · 16/05/2011 00:18

"In 2005, an Environment Agency report which came out claiming that there is no overall environmental difference between cloth nappies and disposables. This quote has been much used by the disposables industry and the media, although the word overall tends to be omitted.

There are two major points to be made about this report.

Firstly, the sample of disposables users was 2000, whereas the sample of cloth nappy users was only 32. Of those 32, some were not relevant in answering some of the questions. So cloth nappy usage statistics have been extrapolated from no more than 32 and in some cases as few as 2 responses. Hardly statistically valid! So the data extracted must be used with extreme caution.

Secondly, the report did draw one very useful conclusion, which the media and the disposables industry have chosen to ignore, as far as telling consumers is concerned: the overall environmental impacts of the two nappy systems are different - with disposables it is largely waste and landfill; with cloth nappies it is largely energy, water and detergents.

And the main conclusion of the report was that the onus is on the disposables manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of their product, whereas it is on the users to reduce the environmental impact of cloth nappies. No one is forcing you to boil wash, to tumble dry or to iron. Take those out of the equation, and cloth nappy environmental impact goes right down. And, luckily, the kind of people who typically choose cloth nappies are exactly the kind of people who would be aware of their environmental obligations in this regard.

The environmental costs of using cotton nappies can be substantially minimised by the parent in their decisions on whether to soak, how frequently to wash, whether to tumble dry etc. Parents have very little control over the environmental costs of disposables."

From The Nappy Lady


izzywhizzyletsgetbusy · 16/05/2011 02:33

I used shaped terry nappies and never boiled or ironed them, but when we were travelling I resorted to disposables. Even so, I reckon I saved ££££s over the course of 5/6 years.

I miss seeing rows of sparkling clean white nappies drying in the garden but they're safely stored in the attic ready to be called into service again if I'm lucky enough to have gcs.


ChunkyPickle · 16/05/2011 04:15

I don't know - I know how much my cloth nappies cost how long he fitted them, and how I was washing a dozen a day, and I worked out that (for the newborn size at least) I didn't even break even vs. buying disposables (and I wasn't counting the washing/drying - which had to be in a tumble dryer because I was in a 10th floor flat).

Now that ds is older and going through fewer nappies I just can't see the point of spending $90 on washables when a big box of disposables that lasts 4 months only costs $45

Plus (thank goodness for EC) he's already doing solids in the potty most of the time, and he's dry overnight/from naps if you put him on the potty as soon as he wakes so I don't imagine we'll be needing them much past 1 year old.

I guess (like almost anything child-rearing) it depends totally on the kid - I imagine that if you've got one of those once a day poopers (rather than my 6 or 7er) the washables aren't so intensive.


MissMaryofSweden · 16/05/2011 04:21

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

izzywhizzyletsgetbusy · 16/05/2011 05:32

So sorry to hear that your dd is unwell but childrens/adult terry nappies are available MissMary.

After a quick google, I found this company but the products are not cheap and they only deliver to the UK:

Would it be possible for you to buy terry towelling by the yard and make some nappies for your dd?


MissMaryofSweden · 16/05/2011 06:08

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

RitaMorgan · 16/05/2011 06:52

Even if the energy used is the same (although I don't boil wash or tumble dry nappies and don't iron anything!) the fact that you're not contributing to human waste and plastic in landfill is a good thing.

For me being "green" wasn't top of my list for choosing cloth. Firstly it was cost - was given most of our nappies so they cost nothing to buy. Secondly they just seem nicer/more comfy for ds to wear, and thirdly the chemically smell of wet disposable nappies make me gag a bit and I'm not happy about that gel crystal stuff so close to my baby's bits.


KaraStarbuckThrace · 16/05/2011 07:01

Emm that is because that report was a load of poo!!

It made the following assumptions

  • That cloth nappy users boil washed all their nappies. Cloth nappy users generally wash as 40 deg and do a 60 deg wash occasionally.
  • That cloth nappy users tumbled dried all of their nappies. Many don't.
  • That cloth nappy users ironed their nappies. Who the fuck irons nappies Hmm
  • Many cloth nappy users also use second hand nappies and eco friendly detergents so again this was not taken into account.
  • Bamboo as a nappy fabric is now becoming quite popular and the production of bamboo versus cotton or microfibre is more eco friendly. Bamboo is a fast growing crop which needs little in chemical aids to grow.

I have read the study (I used to work in waste management myself) and I remember thinking at the time what a load of rubbish (excuse the pun) the research was!

YABVU if you believe that report - and don't forget it was report in the Daily Hate Mail!

moondog · 16/05/2011 07:04

Also fail to take note of fact you can pass them on. Many of mine wire 2nd hand and I sold them on as they were fine.


mitochondria · 16/05/2011 07:11

I didn't choose them for "green-ness" either. I saved lots of money, as I used the same nappies for the second baby. Plus they didn't leak, or smell vile.

I didn't tumble dry them (don't have a drier) or iron them (I don't iron much).

Gave lots of people an excuse for filling their bins with packages of plastic wrapped poo though, didn't it?


stillfrazzled · 16/05/2011 08:11

My nappies were mostly second hand and are about to be used for my second baby - so 3rd child at least. I mostly wash at 40 and don't own a tumble drier. Don't iron anything, let alone nappies! Disp nappy producers love that report but it's a pile o shite.


Tortoiseonthehalfshell · 16/05/2011 08:15

Bollocks to that. We used hemp and bamboo, no soaking, no boiling, no tumbledrying and no ironing. The entire energy cost is 3 hot washes with a smidge of soap and 3 cold rinses a week. And we used OSFA, so one batch of 18 nappies lasted me the duration. There is no conceivable way that compares to the environmental or financial cost of disposables. None.


stillfrazzled · 16/05/2011 08:21

'If you read it in the Daily Fail, assume the opposite' - a motto that rarely leads you wrong :-D


Faithless12 · 16/05/2011 08:31

Also the report assumed cloth nappies were not reused on other children.

It's all rather flawed, personally we've chosen cloth for several reasons not on the green aspect as some of my family are insistent that it must be but because of the chemicals that disposables contain. The fact we both suffer from sensitive skin etc.


ellodarlin · 16/05/2011 08:37

The nappies I am currently using for ds are either 3rd or 4th hand (except the one token one I bought new for him). They are mainly bamboo with some cotton. I wash 3x a week, a cold rinse followed by a 40C wash. I don't own a tumble drier. I do own an iron but I barely iron outerwear let alone nappies.

Washable nappies are made from renewable materials in the main, whereas disposables are made from oil.

However I chose washables because of the horrifying expense of disposables, not for the environment. I don't think I am alone in that.


Indith · 16/05/2011 08:49

What everyone else said, the survey was a load of rubbish! Kara's summary is good :) I think the survey also assumed that you would buy around 20 new washable nappies every 6 months Hmm.


Astrophe · 16/05/2011 08:49

I haven't looked at the report recently, though I think I've seen the same one before. What a shame the medie keep trotting out the same old has=been report when it would be really interesting and useful to see a new and well constructed one.

I know that making cotton nappies is very water intensive - that cotton is a water and chemically expensive crop (though as others have said, bamoboo is increasingly used, as is organisc cotton, and I'd say the vast majority of nappies are used for 2 or more children), but making the paper fill for disposables, as well as the paper packages, is also extremely water costly. Not to mention the plastic, and the transport, and the chemicals, and of course the landfill. IIRC the report focussed mainly on the landfill issue, but thats by no means the only one.

We are anothther family who uses cloth - almost all bought second hand, and all used on between 2 and 4 children (so far). We dry pail (no chemical soaking), wash at 60 or cold depending on the 'soiling' with a non bio detergent, and line dry 80% of the time. I've never met a single person, ever, who has ironed a nappy!


Ishtar2410 · 16/05/2011 09:21

My sister uses cloth nappies, washes them at 40 degrees using soap nuts. They are air dried (no tumble dryer!) and she's mostly using second hand ones (in some cases more than this as I gave her the ones I bought second hand and used for my two children).

I cannot imagine for one moment that they aren't ecologically sound, even if you take into account the wear and tear on the washing machine and water consumption. It cannot possibly be as damaging as using disposables.


NacMacFeegle · 16/05/2011 09:26

I used cloth on all 3 of mine, washed at 40 or 60 depending on level of soil, line dried, nappies used until they were threadbare and mostly bought second hand anyway.

The nappies also went on to be dusters/ cloths.

Considering the report was based on such a small sample, I really wish they'd asked me or any of my clothie friends, we would have skewed it no end!


soverylucky · 16/05/2011 09:32

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

notyummy · 16/05/2011 09:34

Mine were soaked in a bucket of White vinegar before a 40c wash. No tumble drying and no ironing. I got them from a friend who had already used them for 2 kids.

Report sounds ridiculous.


Notanexcitingname · 16/05/2011 09:44

Just in cse you hadn't got the message, the report is, umm a pile of poo. (ChunkayPickle I'm guess you're not in the UK. I couldn't buy a month of disposibles for £45)

Although to be fair, it overestimated the disposibles impact too, as I think it assumed something daft like 8 nappies a day, along with the 21 new cloth nappies every six months Hmm.

All DS2's nappies have been worn by three other children, and the ones that have now fallen apart are cleaning the floor. None in landfill yet.

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