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Alternatives to Disposable Nappies: How Green Are They?

By: Sarah O'Hara BA (hons) - Updated: 25 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Nappy Environmentally Friendly

According to WRAP, the government’s waste action group, disposable nappies make up to 2.6% of the average household waste in the UK.

Of all the disposable nappies which are thrown away, 90% are sent to landfill. It is believed that it could take up to 100 years for a disposable nappy to decompose.

The government and many Local Authorities are trying to promote an alternative to disposable nappies in the form of real nappies.

Real Nappies

Real nappies are re-usable nappies. After they have been soiled they can be washed and re-used. Disposable nappies are made of chemicals, plastics and adhesives, whereas real nappies are made of natural, organic materials such as cotton, hemp and wool (for overpants).

As well as reducing waste, using real nappies can halve the cost of your nappy bill.

Real Nappies - Getting Started

There are three types of real nappies:

  • Flat nappies: These are the traditional terry towelling square-shaped nappies. They cost about £2 each with plastic fastenings.
  • Shaped nappies: Shaped nappies are designed to fit the baby closely and come in different sizes. They cost around £7 each and come with an outer wrap.
  • All-in-ones: These nappies include a liner, a nappy and a waterproof cover. They cost about £10 per nappy.

The version you choose is up to you, and it may help to talk to other real nappy-using parents about their experiences. As long as you have nappies, liners and wraps in some form you are good to go.

It is recommended that to start out, people have 25-30 nappies. You can buy real nappies from some high street shops and supermarkets, as well as online and from real nappy agents in your area. Sometimes a real nappy agent will let you try out real nappies for free to give you an idea of it they are right for you.

Using Real Nappies

Washing nappies is one of the things that worries people about using real nappies. You can clean real nappies easily at home:

  • It is usually enough to wash nappies at 60º in a household washing machine.
  • Biodegradable nappy liners can be flushed down the toilet with any solid waste. If possible try using washable ones first - these can be washed with the nappies.
  • Nappies will dry on the line or in a well-aired room.
  • For those that really don’t fancy washing and drying their own nappies, there are nappy laundry services in many areas. They usually don’t cost too much.

Are Real Nappies Green?

Although using real nappies instead of disposables undoubtedly cuts down on the amounts of waste you produce, the jury is still out over whether the energy used to wash and dry real nappies cancels out some of their other environmental benefits.

However, there are ways to make sure that real nappies are being used as greenly as possible. There is much less ability to change the environmental impact of disposable nappies.

Here are some tips on using real nappies as greenly as possible:

  • Don’t boil wash real nappies - 60° is usually enough
  • Line dry or air where possible, rather than using a tumble dryer
  • Buy second-hand real nappies or use them for another child later on
  • Buy real nappies made from organic materials
  • Don’t iron nappies - it’s unnecessary.

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