Today I saw a post in the Observer that sought to answer a rather simple question: Is it wrong to use disposable nappies? The answer on environmental grounds is simply “no“; for the average household they have about the same environmental impact across their lifecycle as reusable ones bar the end of life question. This isn’t anything new and it’s not a feeling or a corporate sponsored sentiment, it’s just what it is. For people that have gone down the route of reusables, this isn’t really an acceptable proposition.

Reusables win on waste, lose on water and draw on carbon.

There are many different ways one can go about responding to new information and cognitive dissonance isn’t anything really new. It is completely understandable why some will want to hold onto the belief that there is some great unquestionable environmental benefit that justified their reusable nappy work, but we have to be fair in our objective assessment and not expect full stars across the board.

Reusable nappies have many benefits:

  • Households save lots of money (i.e. hundreds of pounds) over the course of nappy wearing years
  • There is little household waste and a good second hand market when you have gone through them
  • They look “cute”
  • Feel part of a community and a sense of accomplishment

but they also have objective cons:

  • Cotton production has significant environmental impacts
  • You don’t have a lower impact by virtue of their use, you need to have the right washing behaviours to derive the real benefit
  • High water use from washing demands could be an issue in water stressed areas
  • Need to wash on 60 for health reasons (i.e. not performance related!) leading to increased energy use for your washes
  • Time between washing and reuse can be prolonged in winter months

As there are quite a few great things to shout about, why not focus on those and drop the misconception that you are saving the world from climate change… nothing is a silver bullet environmental solution and reusable nappies are no exception.

If you’ve gone down the reusable route with eco behaviours and A+++ equipment, well done. You are part of the few. When shouting about your achievement, as tends to happen on message boards, be proud but understand why others haven’t done what you have. Just like all parenting, it’s not a contest, and there is no clear winner, so just do what works best for your family and aligns with what you think is most important.