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We have long been warned of the environmental impact of disposable nappies - indeed the statistics are quite frightening: 8 million nappies enter landfill in the UK every day, they take up to 500 years to break down, and the quantity of raw materials and energy required to make them are staggering. However, government research in 2008 found that the overall environmental impact of manufacturing and washing reusable cloth nappies may actually be worse than for disposable nappies.
One of the concerns of disposable nappies in landfill is for the amount of methane that they release as a result of the excrement inside. This is a moot point as the same quantity of methane will still be released from reusable nappies, just not from a single landfill site.
There is far less energy used in the production of reusable cloth nappies when compared to the much more artificial disposable nappies, but this can easily be outweighed by the additional energy required to launder cloth nappies over their useful life cycle. Indeed, the environmental impact of using reusable cloth nappies can be twice as damaging as disposables if certain measures aren't taken. If you want to be a true eco-warrior then use reusable cloth nappies, but also make sure that you:-
- Wash them at a lower temperature (60 degrees is adequate rather than a 90 degree wash)
- Use an energy efficient (ideally A+ rated) washing machine
- Avoid tumble drying the nappies, line dry them whenever possible
- Use them for siblings and not just one child
- Wash them alongside other garments on fuller loads, don't just run a wash for a few nappies alone