Cloth can be 40% better for the environment!
It is official…Using cloth can be up to 40% better for the environment than using disposables. Below is an extract from the updated lifecycle assessment study for disposable and reusable nappies. Also known as the LCA report…
The study has estimated, using a 2006 reference point, the environmental impacts of a
child using disposable nappies for the first two and a half years of its life and a child
using shaped cloth nappies for the same period.
The study demonstrates the environmental effects of:
• Disposable nappy design and manufacturing.
• Disposable nappy disposal choices.
• Laundry choices for shaped nappy use.
The average 2006 disposable nappy would result in a global warming impact of
approximately 550kg of carbon dioxide equivalents used over the two and a half years
a child is typically in nappies. The global warming impact from disposable nappies use
has decreased since the previous study due to manufacturing changes and a 13.5 per
cent reduction in the weight of nappies.
The report highlights that the manufacture of disposable nappies has greater
environmental impact in the UK than their waste management by landfill.
For reusable nappies, the baseline scenario based on average washer and drier use
produced a global warming impact of approximately 570kg of carbon dioxide
equivalents. However, the study showed that the impacts for reusable nappies are
highly dependent on the way they are laundered.
Washing the nappies in fuller loads or line-drying them outdoors all the time (ignoring
UK climatic conditions for the purposes of illustration) was found to reduce this figure
by 16 per cent. Combining three of the beneficial scenarios (washing nappies in a
fuller load, outdoor line drying all of the time, and reusing nappies on a second child)
would lower the global warming impact by 40 per cent from the baseline scenario, or
some 200kg of carbon dioxide equivalents over the two and a half years, equal to
driving a car approximately 1,000 km.
In contrast, the study indicated that if a consumer tumble-dried all their reusable
nappies, it would produce a global warming impact 43 per cent higher than the baseline
scenario. Similarly, washing nappies at 90°C instead of at 60°C would increase global
warming impact by 31 per cent over the baseline. Combining these two energy
intensive scenarios would increase the global warming impact by 75 per cent over the
baseline scenario, or some 420kg of carbon dioxide equivalent over the two and a half
The environmental impacts of using shaped reusable nappies can be higher or lower
than using disposables, depending on how they are laundered. The report shows that,
in contrast to the use of disposable nappies, it is consumers’ behaviour after purchase
that determines most of the impacts from reusable nappies.
Cloth nappy users can reduce their environmental impacts by:
• Line drying outside whenever possible.
• Tumble drying as little as possible.
• When replacing appliances, choosing more energy efficient appliances (A+
rated machines are preferred).
• Not washing above 60°C.
• Washing fuller loads.
• Reusing nappies on other children.