Destroying the Planet One Nappy at a Time

Disposable nappies are one of the biggest contributors to single-use plastic waste worldwide. However, as an important and useful tool for parents everywhere, many might be left wondering, is there a way nappies can be made more sustainable? After all, feeling guilt and concern about the impact you are having on the environment is something you can certainly do without when caring for your baby! 

On average, a baby will use anywhere between 4000 to 6000 nappies before they are potty trained. This puts the estimated yearly average of disposable nappies produced at 167 billion! So, can anything be done to reduce this number and make caring for young children less impactful on the planet?

Why Are Nappies Bad For the Environment?

Nappies are composed of a mix of materials, including an outer layer of plastic, a cellulose fibre, a water-absorbant polymer core, and a protective top layer. The materials are then fused together with plastic adhesives and packaged in polyethylene plastic packaging. These materials have to be suitable for babies' sensitive skin and able to be cheaply produced so they don’t put parents out of pocket. Unfortunately, this is what makes them so bad for the environment. Production of these nappies alone requires approximately 248.5 million barrels of crude oil! 

What Happens to Disposable Nappies?

Once they’re used, these nappies make their way to landfill at a rate of 300,000 nappies per minute. If not disposed of properly, they can end up in waterways and oceans, polluting the natural environment. These kinds of plastics will eventually decompose, but it takes hundreds of years, which is a massive lifespan when you think about how brief their usage time is. There are alternative methods of disposal for single-use nappies, however, these are only available for commercial settings as they have dedicated nappy bins, helping the waste be easily collected, keeping it separate from general waste and recycling.

Why Did We Make the Shift to Disposable?

The scale of the damage disposable nappies are doing to the planet may make them seem like this has been an issue for a long time, however, this is not the case. Disposable nappies are a relatively modern invention, with the first design coming about in the mid-twentieth century. Up until this point, reusable cloth nappies were washed and reused, similarly to menstruation towels. Although this meant a lot of dirty washing, the environmental impact was minimal. 

The Dawn of the First Disposable Nappy

As life in the twentieth century became more fast-paced and women started to take on full time jobs, continuously washing soiled clothes became even more of an inconvenience than before, causing people to develop an alternative. The Paddi, which was the first commercially available disposable diaper, was created in 1947. It was made up of a synthetic washable outer layer and a disposable inner layer, making it a sort of ‘hybrid nappy’. 

By the late 1970s, fully disposable nappies had been developed by many leading babycare brands and became the go-to nappies for busy parents. Not much consideration was given to the impact such products would have on the planet and the sheer level of waste they would produce. After all, parents looking for ways to make balancing a young family and working full time easier were in need of a quick fix, and disposable nappies offered a convenient solution.

What Is the Solution?

By the twenty-first century, it became clear that disposable nappies were becoming a real problem. This led to a rise in more sustainable alternatives being readily available for parents looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Reusable nappies offer parents a more cost-effective and sustainable solution to the disposable nappy problem. But, they are ultimately the type of nappy people who were desperate to move on from less than 100 years ago. 

So has the reign of disposable nappies come to an end? 

As a general rule of thumb, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. And unfortunately, this is the case for disposable nappies. They are extremely convenient, so this must come at a cost. This cost has been the environment. The reality is that taking care of babies is a tough and sometimes unpleasant job that involves a lot of work, including washing dirty clothes and nappies! But the pros outweigh the cons. 

Are Reusable Nappies Really Better?

Single use nappies bring the same level of stress that washing reusable nappies brings, just in different ways. The sheer amount a child will go through in their life costs parents thousands of pounds. The average family spent £25 a month on nappies in 2022! Money is one of the biggest stressors for families, so minimising this as much as possible is important. Although reusable nappies may seem more expensive to buy initially, they are designed to last. They are especially cost-effective for families with more than one child, as they can be washed and put away ready for when you have your next baby.

As it stands, there aren’t enough people using reusable nappies to make a solid comparison of their environmental impact versus disposable alternatives. With disposable nappies making up 95% of the market, the volume of usage will continue to have an extremely negative impact. While disposable nappies are directly linked to environmental travesties like crude oil extraction and deforestation, reusable nappies are traced back to cotton growth and production.

Reducing the Impact of Nappies One Washroom at a Time!

Here at Woosh, we believe the planet deserves a bit more care and attention to ensure it is there for the next generation to enjoy and thrive! We are constantly seeking ways to make washroom waste more sustainable, which is why we provide nappy bins with recyclable bin liners to help you more consciously collect your waste. We even use all the waste collected from our bins to heat Poole Hospital! If you are interested in bespoke and sustainable washroom solutions, contact Woosh today!

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