Are reusables really that eco-friendly? This report finally proves it!

We’ve always had a hunch that reusable nappies must be better for the environment than cloth nappies, but have you ever wondered just how much better they are? Or perhaps you’ve come up against people saying that cloth nappies aren’t actually better than disposables because of, say, all the water consumed in washing them?

Last month, a report with a rather boring name (Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies in the UK 2023) finally gave us the exciting answers to these and so many more questions! The report, commissioned by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), goes into a huge amount of detail about the environmental impact of cloth nappies versus disposables. We’ve never been more excited about a scientific report!

Here are some of the key facts that came out of the report, and some ways that its findings can make your nappy use even more environmentally friendly.

Key facts from the Lifecycle Assessment of Nappies

1. Reusable nappies produce 25% less CO2 than disposable nappies across the life of a child. We’ve worked out that if every child in the UK wore reusable nappies, it would be equivalent to taking around 15,000 cars off the road!

2. The environmental impact of production is the main problem with disposable nappies. In the creation of the plastics that make up the disposable nappies, factories release a significant amount of CO2 and use large amounts of resources such as water and fossil fuels like crude oil. This impact is reduced by 90% by switching to reusable nappies.

3. After production, the disposal of disposable nappies is the next most impactful area. Disposable nappies are usually incinerated, releasing harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This makes the environmental impact of disposal of a single-use nappy nine times higher than for that of a cloth nappy. Even eco disposables have a high impact on disposal, since there are very few recycling facilities that will actually allow the nappies to biodegrade.

4. A common argument against using cloth nappies is that they use so much water and electricity in the washing process that they are overall no better for the environment than disposables. In reality, the report shows that even including the impact of washing and drying, reusables are still the better choice for environment.

5. Reusable nappies use 97.5% less raw materials than disposables. Because you use reusable nappies over and over again, you aren’t using anywhere near the same amount of raw materials over the life of the child.

How to make your nappy use more environmentally friendly

We’re guessing if you’re here on the Pim Pam blog that you already love reusable nappies, or at least are thinking very seriously about using them. If that’s you then we’d love you to go and tell all your friends and family about how great reusables actually are (with scientific evidence)!

You might also be interested in what the report has to say about making reusable nappies even more environmentally friendly. They have a few recommendations:

1. Switch to more energy efficient washing machines and tumble dryers or air dry your nappies.

The biggest environmental impact of cloth nappies is in the washing and drying. Air drying your nappies is by far the most eco-friendly way to dry them, and you can make huge CO2 savings by switching to a more energy efficient washing machine. Another way you can minimise the CO2 emissions from washing is by making sure your machine is reasonably full before you run it. You don’t want to stuff the machine, because then the nappies won’t get properly clean, but making sure the machine is 2/3 full is a good rule of thumb. For some people, this might mean only washing your nappies every three days, rather than every other day

2. Use the nappies for a second child.

Reusable nappies will almost always last more than one child, and the more use you can get out of the nappy, the lower your overall carbon footprint from nappy use. Plus, it will save you money!

3. Dispose of your nappies (whether disposable or reusable) in a responsible way.

For disposable nappies that might mean disposing of them at sites with energy recovery, or using eco disposables and taking them to one of the few recycling facilities that can take them. For reusable nappies, it means using them as much as you possibly can before disposing of them. If you have nappies you no longer use, consider donating them to a friend or a charity or upcycling them into something else like a nappy for a doll.

If we’ve convinced you to get started, take a look at our full range of reusable nappies here.

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