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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Do you buy eco-friendly nappies?
Baby wearing a nappy
There is little difference in the environmental impact of cloth nappies against disposable ones, according to the Environment Agency.

Terry-towelling nappies, often regarded as the greener alternative, use considerable amounts of electricity for washing and drying.

Around 2.8bn disposable nappies are sent to landfill sites each year which environmental groups aim to cut but trade bodies argue that nappies only account for 0.1% of landfill waste.

Are you a parent and which nappies do you use for your children? Do you choose "green" alternatives when possible?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

SUGGEST A DEBATE
This topic was suggested by Laura Roberts, England
I don't agree with the findings on reusable vs. disposable nappies. I'm sure that reusable nappies, if used properly must be better and would like to hear what other people think

I'm amazed that the Environment Agency has published this. They have completely disregarded the landfill impacts of disposables. We wash nappies in Ecover on a cool wash, with no tumble dry, there is no way that this has comparable impact to disposables. I'm not surprised that the trade bodies have further massaged the statistics by quoting the percentage of all landfill, rather than the percentage of domestic refuse (400,000 tonnes is 2% of 20 million tonnes).
Stuart, Devizes, UK

Modern re-usable nappies bear no resemblance to the old terry-towelling ones. You don't need to soak the nappies and you just put the dirty ones in with your normal 40 degree wash.
Jez, Hertford, UK

Just ask the people that live near landfill sites, and put up with the smells and flies. You can't just measure environment friendliness by how much energy is used.
Jez, Hertford, UK

I couldn't care less about the environment. I'm fed up of waiting for this global warming. But when I have babies I will use terry nappies because I do not want to spend all that extortionate amount of money on something that's only going to get thrown away. It's daylight robbery.
Emma, Wakefield

This is quite interesting. Although my wife and I use disposable nappies on our son, I had wondered whether there was a significant difference in the environmental impact of disposable nappies versus cloth/reusable nappies. Perhaps this is a wake up call for manufacturers to seriously look at using more biodegradable ingredients in disposable nappies.
Roger, Illinois, USA

My parents still use (27-year-old) original terry nappies for odd jobs, mopping up spills, etc
TC, Northampton
Whether or not the report is accurate, consider that all the energy required for washing could be provided in a sustainable way, for example through solar panels on the house roof. Landfill rubbish, however, will still be with us for hundreds of years. As it happens, my parents still use (27-year-old) original terry nappies for odd jobs, mopping up spills, etc - how many people use kitchen roll?
TC, Northampton

When I had my first child my mother passed on the terry nappies used on my youngest brother. They may be better for the environment, however they leaked, even with plastic pants. When I changed to disposable nappies my daughter was a lot happier.
Caron, England

A thought crossed my mind - if the councils want to reduce nappy waste why not make a financial incentive to families who produce evidence they have bought and use reusables - I'm sure a lot of people might be encouraged to use cloth nappies if they could get a reduction in tax or rates for it! Only problem would be ensuring no disposables were actually used by those families!
Lorrinda, Wimborne, Dorset

Energy issues just can't be equated with landfill - we can improve energy systems, but landfill is landfill. I wonder why the debate over reusable nappies is never extended to reusable sanitary products for women. The same issues are involved for reusable sanitary towels as for nappies, and there are also menstrual cups that last 15 years and produce no waste at all. Reusable menstrual products seem a lot less talked about than reusable nappies.
Polly, York, UK

Far less work using disposables. There is enough work with a baby without having to spend valuable time washing terry nappies.
BD, Glasgow UK

The spin put on this by the Government Agency involved is unfortunate. The detailed report is on their website and gives good advice on reducing environmental impact whichever nappies you use. The manufacturer's association is even worse - claiming that nappies account for 0.1% of landfill waste, whereas FoE's website puts it at 4%. I look forward to FoE's response, but I suspect that the Environment Agency has been under pressure from the disposable manufacturers!
Terry Gilbert, Norwich UK

I have used both disposables and cloth nappies on my two children. If I had a third I would use cloth because of cost, environmental impact and, most importantly, they were kinder to my children's skin - no nappy rash as no nasty chemical gels.
Jen, London

We use disposables - frankly I know they're worse and go in landfill etc, but give me convenience any day. It's the council's problem to deal with, not mine. I bet the people who have commented on using terry nappies because they're eco-friendly have cars and fly in planes on holiday! Give me a break.
Steve, Nottingham

One thing that puzzles me - it is claimed that the water absorbing crystals in disposables don't break down, yet these same crystals are used in horticulture to aid plant growth and water retention. I think this is yet again the Greens getting their knickers (or nappies) in a twist!
Teena, England

Even if you choose to hand wash towelling nappies, there is still a cost involved and an environmental impact
Katy, Manchester, UK
Even if you choose to hand wash towelling nappies, there is still a cost involved and an environmental impact. People in this country seem to think that tap water is free and waste water magically disappears and neglect the costs involved in treating water until the water companies put the rates up!
Katy, Manchester, UK

My 10-month-old son has been in cloth full-time for five months now and I have never tumble-dried a nappy! Likewise I don't soak the nappies I just pre-rinse, use half the powder, never use softener, I use a fleece liner and shake the waste off (so no liners down the loo) and wash every second or third day so do not fit at all with their arguments. And my wee boy has never had nappy rash with his clothies! And they save me a fortune - except for the fact that I keep buying the new funky nappies as they come out.
Diane, Stonehaven

It isn't as simple as reusable nappies verses disposables. We are very environmentally aware but also run very busy lives. Therefore, our choice was to switch our home energy supply to renewable energy for all the extra washing a new baby brings and to use environmentally friendly disposable nappies ie ones that do not contain chemicals and gel (both of which are bad for the environment and bad for the child's long term development). A compromise maybe, but a sensible choice balancing the environment and our modern lifestyle.
Stuart Singleton-White, Reading, UK

I'm a childminder and I provide disposable nappies for my parents. We use an ecological brand. Parents who want to use cloth nappies provide their own, for reasons of hygiene. They are more time consuming and difficult to use for a wriggler, but there's not that much in it. Of course we flush solid waste (regardless of nappy type) down the toilet!
Julie, UK

Not caring whether the products that you use are environmentally friendly or not is the most irresponsible statement of the day. What many of you are doing is recklessly damaging the world that your children, amongst others will one day inherit. By the way, I am not a tree-hugging greenie, just a responsible adult. Please try and evolve!
Kevin, Selby, England

Disposables should be stuck with a 'green' tax to subsidise biodegradable disposables and washables
Tim, London, UK
We use a combination of washables and bio-degradable disposables. The washables when at home and the disposables when out and about. Modern washables are pre-shaped, Velcro tabbed and so easy to use. With flushable paper liners they bear no resemblance to the one my parents used on me. In all honesty I think disposables should be stuck with a 'green' tax to subsidise biodegradable disposables and washables.
Tim, London, UK

We have used disposable for both our children but have considered cloth nappies but always wondered about the impact one has over the other. This study answers that question. I don't think the manufacturers of disposables should become complacent though as I would really like to see disposables being biodegradable.
Andrew Scott, Glasgow

I know many people who use cloth nappies on their infants, washing them without detergent (though with white vinegar, and some bicarbonate of soda) on full loads, and drying them on clothes-maidens (line-drying is very uncommon here). They then pass along the nappies to new parents when their children are toilet trained, or use the cloths for cleaning. If this isn't not only a damn sight cheaper but a damn sight more eco-friendly, I'll eat my head.
Kaz, Briton in NJ, USA

As with so many of these so-called greener alternatives based on little or no evidence it seems that the use of cloth nappies is no better for the environment than using disposables. What they do allow, however, is a great feeling of smugness in those who use them. It's great for the rest of us that this feeling should now be changed to one of feeling a bit silly for taking on all the extra work for no benefit at all!
JG, Scotland, UK

We have two children and a supply of approx 30 washable nappies. So far we reckon the savings over disposables (which we still use for convenience when going out) is well over 1,000. That pays for a lot of extra wash cycles (at 40 degrees) and even in England's climate most of the drying is done on a washing line.
John B, UK

Whether disposable nappies are environmentally friendly or not is not important, they are just simply more convenient. Making disposable nappies biodegradable in a matter of weeks would alleviate the argument almost entirely.
Jane, Rochester

I have 2 children in cloth nappies, I very rarely wash as high as 60degrees, that is only necessary if one of the children is ill, I avoid tumble drying and cannot believe that the minimal amount of energy used to wash the nappies can be as harmful as the manufacture and landfill costs of disposable nappies. The environment agency's report only used a very small number of cloth nappy users for the survey and I am sure the results do not reflect the habits of the majority of cloth nappy users.
AnnaHx, Somerset

I would much rather wrap my child in nice soft cloth than in a piece of plastic and paper with some kind of gel inside
Mark, Doncaster UK
Everyone I know who uses disposable has had problems with nappy rash, everyone with reusables has had none. Fleece liners are far superior to disposable ones so the only thing flushed down the toilet is real waste. It is just as easy to put nappies in a bucket and then into a washing machine as it is to bag them and put them in the bin. But the big winner for me is I would much rather wrap my child in nice soft cloth than in a piece of plastic and paper with some kind of gel inside.
Mark, Doncaster UK

Even if you choose to hand wash towelling nappies, there is still a cost involved and an environmental impact. People in this country seem to think that tap water is free and waste water magically disappears and neglect the costs involved in treating water until the water companies put the rates up!
Katy, Manchester, UK

The results of the study are meaningless unless the assumptions made are spelled out. How exactly were the terry nappies washed and dried for example? If it is assumed that everyone uses a tumble dryer all the time for their terries, this is going to distort the results massively relative to what could be achieved (ie tumble drying only when line drying is impracticable due to weather or high-rise living). Tumble drying destroys nappies too - just look at the lint filter! What temperature wash was assumed? And how many successive babies in the family was it assumed would use the supply of terry nappies? Finally, how were energy costs weighed against landfill requirements? Until this is made clear, the verdict is 'not proven' - and we will continue to suspect a whitewash by the disposable nappy industry
Barbara, Kent, UK

It is hard to see how disposable nappies are more environmentally friendly. The production process, chemicals used in them and the refuse they cause must cost the environment more than my three extra washes a week. My son has no chemicals next to his skin, I use no chemicals in the nappy pail (no need with new washing machines), he has no nappy rash because the (reusable) fleece liner keeps him dry and it doesn't cost me 10 a week in nappies! I used disposables for my first baby and I will never go back to the smell the give off, or the nappy rash they cause.
Judith, Scotland

I always used Terry-towelling nappies when my children were babies (now 22) as the disposable option was very expensive. I also worked full time and found it difficult, but manageable. Perhaps if parents used them these days, we wouldn't have the problem of finding them strewn about our beaches!
Maddy, Manchester, Sale, UK

I'm a childminder and I provide disposable nappies for my parents. We use an ecological brand. Parents who want to use cloth nappies provide their own, for reasons of hygiene. They ARE more time consuming and difficult to use for a wriggler, but there's not that much in it. While we're on the subject, I don't suppose it's possible for Real Nappy liner manufacturers to design something that will stay on babies whilst you're trying to fix the nappy itself in place? No? Oh, well!
Julie, UK

We use a combination of washables and bio-degradable disposables. The washables when at home and the disposables when out & about. Modern washables are pre-shaped, Velcro tabbed and so easy to use. With flushable paper liners they bear no resemblance to the one my parents used on me. In all honesty I think disposables should be stuck with a 'green' tax to subsidise bio degradable disposables and washables.
Tim, London, UK

I know many people who use cloth nappies on their infants, washing them without detergent (though with white vinegar, and some bicarbonate of soda) on full loads, and drying them on clothes-maidens (line-drying is very uncommon here). They then pass along the nappies to new parents when their children are toilet trained, or use the cloths for cleaning. If this isn't not only a sight cheaper but a damn sight more eco-friendly, I'll eat my head.
Kaz, Briton in NJ, USA

My wife and I use a mix of reusable and disposable nappies for our son. Reusable nappies are no more hassle than disposable, but less useful when out and about! The liner inside the cloth nappy is biodegradable, in answer to a comment further down the board, so is hardly as bad as a normal disposable! The only downside is when it's my turn to empty the dirty cloth nappy bucket!
Paul, Purton, Wiltshire.

As with so many of these so-called greener alternatives based on little or no evidence it seems that the use of cloth nappies is no better for the environment than using disposables. What they do allow, however, is a great feeling of smugness in those who use them. It's great for the rest of us that this feeling should now be changed to one of feeling a bit silly for taking on all the extra work for no benefit at all!
J.G., Scotland, U.K.

We have 2 children and a supply of approx 30 washable nappies. So far we reckon the savings over disposables (which we still use for convenience when going out) is well over 1,000. That pays for a lot of extra wash cycles (at 40 degrees) and even in England's climate most of the drying is done on a washing line.
John B, UK

This report hardly sounds balanced
Sarah, Leicester
I've heard that this report said that washable nappy owners owned on average 47 nappies (!?) and that most people soaked them. I know quite a few 'real nappy' users, most of whom own less than 20 nappies and none of whom soak them (you don't have to - you put the sanitiser in the washing machine)... also that the data was based on a survey of 2000+ users of disposable nappies but only a about 100+ of cloth nappy users (and they only included 37 of those 100+)... so this report hardly sounds balanced. It's hard to believe that the same cloth nappy used numerous times for several children is as wasteful as a different nappy for every single change.
Sarah, Leicester

We have used disposable for both our children but have considered cloth nappies but always wondered about the impact one has over the other. This study answers that question. I don't think the manufacturers of disposables should become complacent though as I would really like to see disposables being biodegradable.
Andrew Scott, Glasgow

For our first child we used the "nature" range of biodegradable nappies but of course these are only environmentally friendly if composted. They're no better than ordinary disposables if put in landfill. For our second child we use reusable ones. There was no initial cost, we just pay a monthly fee and every Monday the used ones are taken away and clean ones delivered. At home it's just as easy as disposables but not so good out and about as you need to bring the used ones back, rather than just finding a bin. They do seem to be a little better for babies skin and at least they're not filled with nasty chemicals!
Tony Smith, Abergavenny, UK

Whether disposable nappies are environmentally friendly or not is not important, they are just simply more convenient. Making disposable nappies biodegradable in a matter of weeks would alleviate the argument almost entirely.
Jane, Rochester

I'm no expert but doesn't the washing detergent used in washing machines (and hand washing) cause environmental damage too? It sounds like there is no right answer but to be environmentally efficient in other ways. Also, shouldn't we be thinking about the comfort and health of the child when making these decisions over the environment and money?
Laura, Kent

There is strong commercial pressure to ensure people spend 10 a week on disposable nappies
Brian, Newcastle, UK
It is illegal to dump human waste in landfill sites. So any one using disposable nappies is breaking the law. There is strong commercial pressure to ensure people spend 10 a week on disposable nappies rather than incurring a one off cost of 30 for three dozen terry nappies which will last 2 or 3 babies. The only time we ever used disposable nappies was on long car journeys.
Brian, Newcastle, UK

I use washable nappies for my son (16 mths old) and will continue to do so. I take the report's point about energy consumption but I always run a full load. I don't want to wash nappies every day! I am uncomfortable with having the chemicals in disposables so close to my child's reproductive organs - my fears may be groundless but they are there none the less. Besides everyone have a choice and as long as you flush the solid waste with any nappy you are protecting the water table. Now flushing waste is hardly taxing is it disposable nappy users?
Louise, UK

Of course a Government agency will find very little difference in the environmental impact. Disposable nappies are made by huge multinational companies. These companies have a huge influence on Government and will be very disappointed if they found otherwise. Or am I just too cynical?
Jeff, Solihull

I for one am planning to use terry nappies. If you wash a load together, after soaking then the water used is no different than using your washing machine normally. To be honest my main reason for getting them is there are far too many toddlers out there who are wearing nappies at ridiculous ages, simply because disposable nappies are so good, the child doesn't associate the horrible feeling of wet with going to the toilet. Therefore kids seem to be getting toilet trained a lot later in life.
Lianne, Cannock, UK

The disposable nappy wins on all points
John, France
The disposable nappy wins on all points. Use of resources, hygiene, simplicity, comfort, availability. Come on, does anybody really think putting a soiled towelling nappy in a bucket of chemical only to be washed at the end of the day is any of the above. Plus the chemical which is emptied down the loo. Everybody who uses reusables uses nappy liners anyway so we have a disposable inside a towelling one.
John, France

Persuading parents to go down the terry towelling nappy route is a bit like asking drivers to give up their cars and get a horse instead. A horse may be more environmentally friendly but, like towelling nappies, they are nowhere near as convenient and can leave you with a sore bottom!
Matt F, Bristol, UK

0.1% actually sounds like quite a lot considering the enormous variety of waste that must end up in landfill sites, and surely if we are running out of capacity then any reduction in what goes to these sites is a good thing. From my limited experience as a babysitter, I have found cloth nappies considerably easier to change, and I believe that they also work out cheaper on the parents' purse, so should I ever have to make that choice I will definitely be looking for cloth nappies.
Dawn, Scotland

Nappies are the least of the problems, people should be breeding a lot more responsibly before the planet simply cannot support us all, no matter how clever we are. Taxes on baby products and removal of maternity leave would be a good start.
Chris, UK

I spent a summer at university working as a nanny for a very eco-friendly family and they insisted upon using terry-towelling nappies. Not only did this involve an enormous amount of additional work for me but my two little charges, in my opinion, were in a constant state of discomfort, red raw in fact. I am all in favour of doing what we can to stop damaging the environment but surely there must be a better solution?
Jessica, Portsmouth

I use cloth nappies. Anyone buying cloth nappies for environmental reasons should also be aware enough to realise that washing and drying them have an environmental impact too. We make sure we always have a full load, and dry the nappies on the line whenever possible. This mitigates some of the effect. I expect a lot of people do the same, which will prove this report to be 'economical on the truth'. At least with cloth nappies you have the opportunity to reduce the impact, an opportunity which doesn't exist with disposables.
Adrienne, Dorchester

As a working mother I have had to use disposable nappies as that's what Childminders and Nurseries request that you use. I found an eco brand that actually performed well. Cloth nappies are not an option for many mothers, rather than spend fortunes trying to persuade us to do what we can't, invest in making disposable nappies biodegradable. Considering the contents, they should make wonderful compost!
Julia, Cambridge

I'm not a parent yet, not until July anyway. We intend to use re-usable nappies. We'll wash them in the machine and then dry them outside when it isn't raining and only in the tumble drier when necessary, much like we do with our normal laundry now. I'd like to see the report to see what assumptions have been made to see how our choice will affect the environment. To be fair though, the main reason for the choice is economic rather than environmental.
Tim, Fareham, UK

We chose the disposable route after working out how much extra washing we'd have to do. Also, a neighbour bought the start pack for one brand of the terry nappies and found the smallest ones didn't fit her daughter so ended up using disposables for a couple of months anyway.
Amanda, Selston, Nottinghamshire

There are a couple of companies that now manufacture biodegradable nappies and wipes, that are convenient yet much kinder to the environment. Lots of my friends use them and say that they are just as good as other disposables. I am planning to use these for my next baby.
Lisa, UK

As an expecting mum, I plan to use disposables as they seem easier and nicer for the baby (less nappy rash etc) but have concerns over the environmental impact - this report has eased my guilt somewhat but I still hope that greener methods of disposing with my nappies is introduced- maybe that is what the environmental groups should be looking into.
Emily, England

We use disposable nappies but otherwise we try to be as eco-friendly as possible. I cycle to work, re-cycle other rubbish and generally try to cut back on the amount of waste we create. The initial chaos of becoming parents meant we chose the easiest option. Our baby is now four months old so we would like to move to Terry-towelling soon if it can be shown to be more environmentally friendly.
Griff, Cardiff, Wales

I buy disposable nappies for my son and I don't particularly care if they are environmentally friendly or not.
Richard, London, UK

To Richard (London). Not caring whether the products that you use are environmentally friendly or not is the most irresponsible statement of the day. What you are doing is recklessly damaging the world that your son, amongst others will one day inherit. By the way, I am not a tree hugging greenie, just a responsible adult.
Kevin, Selby, England

2.8bn disposable nappies equal a lot of rubbish. But when my son was young we used terry-towelling nappies simply on cost alone. And these days there are companies who will pick up the used and leave you with clean ones.
Bumble, Dartford, Kent

We bought a kit for terry nappies for our second child, but only because of the local council reducing our rubbish bin collection to one a fortnight. So, a higher council tax for less practical service, and a higher water bill - great. Now, I cannot even claim to be saving the planet either.
Mike, Bristol, UK

What a nonsense study. I can only guess that the survey was carried out on people who don't really know how to use reusable nappies. We have twins so would use around 10,000 nappies throughout their childhood, which would be dumped in landfill. We have around 25 reusable nappies, which once filled, are then placed in a bucket of water and tea tree oil, then after a while put on a cold rinse in the washing machine then hung up to dry on the line, or on an airer in winter. You really don't need a large survey and study to work that one out!
We don't have to expand energy on transporting nappies to the landfill, and all the appararatus to grind it into the ground. 0.1% of landfill may not seem much, but think of all the waste the country produces in a year and you can see that 0.1% is a lot. Not wishing to be rude to anyone, but if you think there is no environmental difference then you are quite blatantly a fool!
Gavin, Salisbury

I have always wanted to use terry nappies (secretly it was because they are much cheaper - but I made out it was for environmental reasons to try to win the moral argument). My wife however wouldn't hear of it and insists that we should use disposables for convenience. This latest bit of research has now left my 'environmental case' stumped and (as usual) my wife is going to win the argument - that's cost me then. Bah!
Richard Stone, Lowestoft, UK

I do not yet have children but when I do I will use Terry nappies as my mum did. I am a neonatal nurse and use hundreds of nappies on the babies at work every week. I think this huge amount must surely have some impact on our environment? Also what electricity would I use for my washing? What's wrong with a bowl of water and some soap? Do people not hand-wash anymore?
Debbie Taylor, Southport, Lancashire

I wanted to buy re-usable nappies for the first three months of my daughter's life but there was nowhere to get them here in Holland. In the end we went straight to disposable nappies which she would have needed at three months anyway as no day-care centre would accept anything else. I looked into nappy disposal schemes but there appears to be only one in the whole country which is not in my area! So as much as I wanted to be 'green' I was left with little choice.
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex-UK




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