Tell me about: Reusable Nappies and the Environment

Tell me about: Reusable Nappies and the Environment

Did you know that a baby wriggles through around 4,500 nappy changes from birth to potty. A staggering amount!

If you're using exclusively disposables this means over 4,500 nappies being manufactured, used for a few hours at most, then going to landfill or being incinerated. Per baby. 

The UK throws away around 400,000 tonnes of single use nappies each year (that's over 2,000 Blue Whales!), which are thought to take between 450 and 550 years to degrade if they end up in landfill, and if they're incinerated the CO2 often harmfully ends up in the atmosphere.

We use disposables too!

Here at Baba+Boo we're all parents and know the challenges that our tiny humans bring with them. Often just getting through the day is a huge achievement, and on those days using reusable nappies can feel a step too far. But on others you can breeze through, so don't feel that you need to be all or nothing.

Many of us mix and match with disposables as that's what's best for our lifestyle and families. We'd just love you to have a go, as switching out one or two disposables for reusable nappies makes a difference.

What about the water issue?

When people think about using reusables, they associate them with using water and energy - because they have to be washed.

People think they are saving water by using single-use nappies. But that’s not true.

Washing three loads of nappies a week uses about 200 litres of water. (1)

Manufacturing enough single-use nappies for a week? About 1,550 litres. (2)

Overall, using single use nappies means using nearly TEN TIMES more water than reusables.

There’s an argument about waste water too - that the detergent from washing pollutes the waterways. When you wash nappies, the waste water goes back into the water treatment system and it’s pretty easy to deal with. It’s not ‘dirty’ water. The waste water from the plastics and pulp industries - THAT is dirty. Really, really dirty. Among other things it can contain chlorine (from bleaching the pulp) and dioxins (carcinogenic pollutants that are causing big concern among those looking at plastics in the oceans).

Biodegradable alternatives

The sad reality is that the ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ nappies aren’t the solution they’re assumed to be. Put a compostable nappy in a landfill site and it will do... nothing. A landfill isn’t a compost heap. Landfill is designed to stop things breaking down - if you open up a landfill site, you’ll find mummified fruit and readable newspapers from 40 years ago (both products that would have composted in weeks).

And if your household waste gets burnt, then it’s irrelevant whether the nappy is biodegradable or not.

The other problem with ‘eco’ nappies is that they still have to be manufactured and transported, over and over again.

The Defra Report - reusables vs disposables

In March 2023 Defra (the government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) published their 2023 Life Cycle Assessment of reusable and disposable nappies. In other words, they were working out the environmental impact each has.

Here are the headlines:

From start to finish reusable nappies produce less CO2, use fewer raw materials, and have a lower environmental impact than disposables. 

  • Reusable nappies produce 25% less CO2 than single-use disposable nappies
  • The environmental impact of production is over 90% lower for a reusable nappy than for single-use
  • The environmental impact of disposal of a single-use nappy is nine times higher than a reusable nappy
  • Even when factoring in washing and drying, reusable nappies are still the best choice for the environment

We won't pretend that reusable nappies are more convenient, or as quick to learn as single-use, but for the sake of the environment it would be great if everyone gives them a go.

We think you'll be surprised how quickly they become part of your routine with minimal disruption and bring a lot more happiness than disposables.



Some of the text from this article was taken from a blog we originally published in 2018. You can read the full text here.

The full Defra report is available here.


(1) Based on an A rated washing machine using a 'long' cotton wash at 60 degrees.
(2) Based on figures provided to the Environment Agency by the single use nappy industry.


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