The age old debate - disposable - versus - reusable nappies.
A nappy war is raging between those who provide disposables and those who believe that switching to reusable cloth nappies is the only way forward. As a parent it can be incredibly difficult to know which nappies to use, especially with all the nappy propaganda flying about! Both sides claim their nappies are more environmentally friendly as well as being best for your baby and kinder to your wallet - but in this time of nappy confusion, which side should you support?
It is currently estimated that between 80 and 90% of the nappies used in the UK are disposable and you can understand why. They are quick and easy to change, light to carry, available wherever you go in the world (within reason of course) and used nappies can simply be thrown away. Additionally, the technology which disposable nappy manufacturers use to keep your baby dry and comfortable is ever advancing, plus you're not forever tied to your washing machine like previous generations of mothers. From a convenience point of view disposable nappies can't be beaten. However, as with anything that seems too good to be true there is usually a catch and disposable nappies are no exception.
Approximately 8 million nappies are thrown away each day, contributing to about 4% if the UK's total waste. We are running out of room in landfill sites and as the plastic used in disposable nappies may take up to 500 years to degrade, the impact this 'convenience' product has on the environment is only just coming to light. Additionally, increasingly sophisticated chemicals are used in the production of nappies and although nappy manufacturers apply strict tests to ensure that their nappies are safe for public use, the long term effect of the chemicals used in disposables on children and the environment has not yet been established.
Biodegradable nappies with minimal chemicals are becoming more widely available and these can provide a convenient alternative to regular disposables for those with an ecological conscience but little time! These do tend to be more expensive though.
For many, reusable nappies conjure up images of mothers slaving away soaking, bleaching and washing nappies. However, things have moved on a lot in recent years, both in terms of reusable nappies themselves and the way you wash them. Although traditional square terry towelling nappies are still widely available, pre-folded nappies used with washable or biodegradable liners and brightly coloured waterproof wraps are now the nappy choice for many.
Additionally, whether you choose to soak or not, modern washing machines will adequately clean even the dirtiest nappy at 60 degrees and soaked nappies at 40 degrees. By using an energy efficient washing machine and leaving nappies to dry naturally, you will not only save on your electricity bill, but also reduce the impact of your nappy cycle on the environment. By using eco-detergents in the wash and substituting regular fabric softener with white vinegar you will not only reduce the number of chemicals to which your baby is exposed, but will also have softer, more absorbent nappies.
One of the main reasons parents give for not using disposables is a lack of time. Although, initially reusable nappies may take longer to fit than disposables, once you are practiced this difference becomes minimal, especially as many cloth nappies now have poppers or Velcro fastenings to make this easier. Additionally, nappy laundry services are now widely available and involve a company picking up soiled nappies and dropping off clean ones once a week - taking all of the effort out of using reusables.
It is true that reusable nappies are initially more expensive to purchase, however research has found that even when the cost of washing and drying is taken into consideration, you could save over £500 over your baby's nappy wearing life when compared to disposables. When you consider that reusables can be used on other children or even sold (there is a surprisingly large market for second hand reusables) they become even more economical.
Research carried out in 2008 by the Environmental Agency found that reusable nappies are up to 40% better for the environment than disposables. This is because of the reduced pressure on landfill sites, which are struggling to cope with the estimated 690,000 tonnes of nappy waste each year. The Environment Agency also recommend that you wash at 60 degrees or less, never iron or tumble-dry your nappies, and pass them on to a second child if possible - this will all help to reduce the impact on the environment (and on your energy bills).
In conclusion, in terms of 'the nappy debate' the evidence is inconclusive - there are clear advantages and disadvantages associated with both types of nappy. Although logic would dictate that reusable nappies are better for the environment, it's not always convenient to use cloth, especially when you are travelling or your baby is poorly.
Ultimately, the decision is yours - there is no clear winner and which type of nappy you choose to use will depend on your lifestyle and your child care philosophies. Many find that by using a combination of disposable and reusable nappies they are able to strike a balance between convenience and what's best for their baby, their wallet and the environment!
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