Types of Waste
Which sort to choose?
The UK’s Environment Agency has released an updated ‘Lifecycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies’ using 2006 reference points. The older report, which used 2004 reference points, determined that both disposable and reusable nappies burden the planet at more or less equal rates, albeit for different reasons. However, the updated report concludes that when used responsibly (washing nappies in a fuller load, always outdoor line drying, and reusing nappies on a second child), choosing reusable nappies over disposible ones can lower environmental impact by up to 40%. For the full report, see this link.
Cost is an issue
At 50c per disposable nappy it’s about $3000 per child over two and a half years thrown into landfill, excluding the refuse cost. Using a laundry service for cloth nappies is about $3,250 over the same period. If you wash them yourself it’s only about a quarter of the cost. As well as laundry costs there is about $700 for the initial outlay of: nappies, over-pants or wraps, a storage container for between washes, and nappy liners.
Cloth nappies in New Zealand are colourful, easy to use and there are several companies that provide a laundering service at approximately $25 a week. Biodegradable liners are available, too. The Nappy Network website has good information about all the different types www.thenappynetwork.org.nz
Even reusable nappies have an environmental impact, so reduce yours by:
- Line dry outside when possible
- Don’t iron them!
- Use energy efficient appliances
- Keep washing temperatures below 60°C
- Wash fuller loads
- Reuse nappies on other children
- Purchase reusables made from organic cotton, bamboo or hemp
Tips for using reusable nappies
- Rashes are reduced if baby is dry, so change a nappy as soon as you notice it has been soiled. Fresh air is important too; let babies go bare as much as possible.
- Washables don't have to be soaked, and each brand generally has their own washing instructions, so follow those. Generally though non soiled (urine only) nappies can be washed at 40C, and the jury is out as to whether 60C is necessary for the soiled ones.
- Do not use fabric softeners on nappies - this will reduce their absorbency
- If you live in a hard water area, putting a tablespoon of white vinegar in the rinse cycle softens the nappies nicely
- When storing used nappies in a bucket to be washed, sprinkle over a few drops of tea tree or lavender oil. It is antibacterial and also smells nice!
If you do decide to use disposable nappies, it is important to choose the right kind. The best products use oxygen-bleaching, and local ‘seconds’ or renewable wood fibre sources. One brand has an absorbent core using GMO free cornstarch.
Disposables and biodegradability
A baby will need up to 6000 nappy changes for the first two and half years. Around a million nappies are thrown into landfills every day in New Zealand. (Based on 145,000 children under two and half in NZ using 6-7 disposables per day). In 2003 1.9% of all domestic waste was made up of "nappies” (SWAP data). Dealing with nappy waste costs individual local authorities tens of thousands of dollars a year and the decomposing material in landfill creates methane gas, which is a major contributor to global warming. In New Zealand currently 225 of landfills (13 sites) collect gas, however only 5-6 sites are using the gas to generate electricity. The dark and dry conditions in landfills are designed not to assist decomposition.
Disposables and Composting
Two types of New Zealand designed and manufactured composting toilets cope very well with disposable nappies. The manager at Bioloo whose composting toilets are used in some DOC sites, says that when the toilets are emptied, the nappy’s plastic covering has “rolled into a small golf ball”, which needs to be put in the rubbish. Andrew, at Kakapo toilets advises, “Don’t wrap the disposable into a bundle before tossing it in” but assures that the biodegradable part breaks down well. Better still, remove the plastic and tabs.
The world’s first nappy composting plant is scheduled to start up in Christchurch this year. Envirocomp’s plant will process 2.5 tonnes of nappies, sanitary and incontinence products daily—about 15,000 nappies. The plant will have the capacity to quadruple to 10 tonnes daily. The rich compost will be put back into the community and sold as fund-raising for non-profit organizations. For more information, see www.envirocomp.co.nz
The true zero waste way to go! This means practicing Elimination Communication or Natural Infant Hygiene with your child. For mothers in some parts of Asia, Africa and South America, knowing when your baby “needs to go’ and holding them over an appropriate place is second nature.
- a community group providing info and advice on washable nappies and also a web forum for peer to peer nappy advice
- a voluntary network of cloth nappy users in oz and new zealand
- an award winning documentary about washable nappies
(you will find plenty more by searching the web, but here’s a few to start)
Updated April 2012