04.Nappies and the environment
Disposables the popular choice
The debate about cloth vs disposable nappies has been raging for years but it looks as though the decision is very firmly in the direction of disposable.
- Currently about 95% of parents in Australia use disposable nappies — up from 89% in 2001.
- The average baby using normal disposable nappies can create over 700 kg of solid waste.
- This waste will probably go into landfill and take up to 400 years to break down.
No clear environmental winner
Old-fashioned cloth nappies don’t necessarily hold all the solutions. There’s plenty of issues around energy and water consumption when washing them.
A recent study conducted by the UK Government Environment Agency assessed the entire lifecycle of the environmental impacts of disposable nappies, home-laundered cloth nappies and commercial cloth nappy services. This study found there were no significant differences between any of the environmental impacts, and that overall no system clearly had a better or worse environmental impact.
An independent Life Cycle Assessment of nappies under Brisbane conditions was conducted by the University of Queensland. This study found:
- Cloth nappies use more water.
- Disposables use more energy and create landfill.
- There’s so much variation in how nappies are used by parents that the environmental impact is almost impossible to determine.
With water shortages in Australia and different climates zones that may or may not be suitable for air-drying cloth nappies, it seems the jury is still out on the best way to go. It may be different in different areas.
New nappy products
Just to make any new parent’s head spin even more, there are now all kinds of new products on the market:
- Fitted cloth nappies that look and fasten like disposables but can be washed.
- Biodegradable pads that can be fitted inside washable pants.
- Disposable nappies that claim to be biodegradable.
EcoBots biodegradable claims
BABYLOVE EcoBots claim to be a “premium-quality environmentally sensitive nappy”, and it’s the only disposable nappy endorsed by environmental lobby group Planet Ark.
Planet Ark says that while it’s traditionally encouraged parents to use cloth nappies, it’s now accepted this is unrealistic due to the continued growth in popularity of disposables and the time required to wash and line-dry cloth nappies. Planet Ark is now supporting disposables that can biodegrade. Currently it’s working with BABYLOVE EcoBots and hopes to develop a 100% biodegradable disposable nappy in the future.
Swinburne University conducted independent tests of the EcoBots and found that:
- In a controlled compost environment they began to biodegrade within a week.
- Up to 70% of the material had broken down within several weeks.
Although Swinburne says it’s very pleased by the results of these tests, it hasn’t tested how well the nappies would break down in landfill at this stage.
How they rate in our trial
Our Home Testers rated BABYLOVE EcoBots equal fifth overall of the 11 nappies tested (scoring 71%), and they’re included in the What to buy list. However, they’re nearly as expensive as HUGGIES, the top-rating nappies.
The manufacturer says a new version of this nappy has been released since our trial that’s more biodegradable and has improved absorbency and fit.
If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of disposable nappies, EcoBots might be worth trying out next time you’re at the supermarket.