The UK’s big nappy problem

The UK is currently experiencing something of a nappy problem. The Environment Agency estimates that it takes over 500 years for some of the materials and chemicals used in disposable nappies to decompose. However, around three to four per cent of all household waste is nappies. In fact, it’s the largest identifiable category.

There are nearly three billion nappies thrown away in the UK alone each year. This equates to eight million nappies a day.

This is bad news for Britain’s attempts to lower the amount of emissions it produces and the environment is set to suffer.

However, there is a solution to the problem and it is believed that switching to real or hybrid diapers is the way forward.

The nappy challenge

The paper-fluff of nappies and the faeces they contain are expected to take 100 and ten years respectively to degrade. This means this is all sitting in a landfill emitting harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.

Currently, around 38 per cent of all UK methane emissions come from landfills. This means that by lowering the amount of disposable nappies that end up here it would be possible to significantly reduce Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The government is trying to help tackle the problem by encouraging people to seek more sustainable alternatives to every-day products.

However, the Nappy Alliance claims it is disappointing that local authorities are being encouraged to not address the issue of disposable nappies going to landfills. A consultation document declared that young parents need to be given more leeway to produce waste because they are dependent on disposable nappies.

What are the alternatives?

Parents have plenty of choice out there when it comes to choosing alternatives to disposable nappies.

Real diapers are becoming more and more popular, thanks to developments in their design. Unlike years gone by when they were merely terry towels, they’re now more convenient than ever. With modern shapes and easy fastening systems – from poppers to elastic grips – there is a style to suit every family. Parents can even choose between flat, shaped or all-in-one nappies.

Real, reusable nappies can be purchased from places such as Spark Etail and Spirit of Nature, making them more mainstream than ever before.

When it comes to limiting environmental impact, the government claims the way nappies are washed can have an effect.

Washing diapers in a fuller loads or line drying them outdoors all the time lowers the global warming impact by 16 per cent. The environmental impact can be reduced further by using nappies on the second child. In fact, this reduces emissions by 40 per cent or 200kg. This is the equivalent of driving around 1,00km.

On the other hand, tumble-drying nappies increases the environmental impact by 43 per cent.

With reusable nappies, the best practice approach is to line dry outside whenever possible, use energy efficient appliances, keeping washing temperatures below 60 degrees C, wash fuller loads and reuse nappies on other children.

If you’re not a fan of reusable nappies, there is the hybrid option. This offers a great compromise between real and disposable diapers.

These nappies are made up of an outer layer of reusable cover and an inner disposable liner. In some instances these liners are biodegradable and can be flushed down the toilet or composted for the garden.

How should you choose?

When it comes down to making the choice between reusable and hybrid nappies, it all comes down to personal preference.

Being a new parent is hard enough without over-thinking your nappy choice, but as long as you plump for an environmental option, you will be making an important impact on emission levels.


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