The Nappy Network New Zealand has a press release in Stuff.co.nz today.
The Nappy Network is about informed choice for parents, not about disposables vs cloth. Of course, we believe modern cloth nappies are better in many ways…or we wouldn’t all be using them! 🙂
There has lately been a revival of the ‘nappy debate’ by Kimberly-Clark, manufacturers of Huggies Disposables. While exposure of the issues is always a good thing, there seems to be a lot of confusion.
The Nappy Network would like to take a bit of spin off the recent Kimberly-Clark media release, and clear up some misinformation:
Kimberly-Clark quote a 2005 UK study by the Environment Agency, which compares the ecological impact of both cloth nappy and disposable manufacturing and use. This study has already been discredited – it was flawed, and bears little relevance to NZ conditions. The Environment Agency itself has admitted the study was flawed and is conducting a review that will hopefully be more true to the facts of modern cloth nappy use in the UK.
Even in its flawed state, it actually DOES show that cloth nappies cause LESS harm to the environment overall. The Life Cycle Analysis results show that both systems use similar amounts of energy but the disposable system uses more materials and puts more into landfill.
Cloth nappies also give parents the choice of using even ‘greener’ methods of washing and using their nappies (reducing their ‘global warming impact’ up to another 24%).
Much more information can be found on the Womens Environmental Network website:
The NZ Ministry for the Environment comments on this study here: “What type of nappy should I use?”
The KC media release focuses on waste to landfill. And well it should – disposables are the single largest product category of household waste, costing Christchurch ratepayers around $600,000 a year to landfill just disposables. While construction waste and green waste are obviously large issues for NZ landfills – most of that does not come from households, but from industry. Important campaigns are already in place to reduce construction waste and green waste.
The Christchurch City Councils recent Modern Cloth Nappy subsidy scheme was such a success that it was extended twice. And now several other councils are funding similar schemes. The feedback from parents has been outstanding, and councils can obviously see the advantages in waste reduction.
Just one child in cloth nappies will save around 2 tonnes of solid waste from going to landfill.
Aside from the important environmental concerns – modern cloth nappies give parents more choice financially, they allow parents to choose between natural and synthetic fibres, may last through several children (increasing savings and decreasing eco-impact), they can be as simple to use as a disposable, they come in the widest range of styles, colours, prints, and fabrics, they can keep babys skin dry and healthy – or wet to assist with toilet learning, they allow parents to choose the level of absorbency – trim for day and boosted for no-leak night-time use, and the option of supporting NZ business with more and more modern cloth nappies being produced right here in NZ.
Modern Cloth Nappies are about choice – not guilt. The Nappy Network (Incorporated) is a non-profit society run by volunteers – we don’t make any money by advocating modern cloth nappies, we do so because we believe in informed choice for parents.
Oz Cloth Nappies has addressed the Environment Agency’s report as well, in our FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and in previous blog posts here. From our FAQ:
The Environment Agency report has been thoroughly criticised in many ways, yet a lot of the critiques miss one very key assumption creating a massive bias – that a family will own 47 nappies, yet only ever launder 12 at a time. With the study focusing on energy consumption, particularly by washing machines (and the study looking at machines much less energy efficient than current machines), small changes in this faulty assumption will be expected to have large effects on the outcome.
The authors made assumptions that many users were using throwaway liners (dumping faeces into the rubbish, an unsanitary act illegal in many areas), chemical nappy soaks, near-boiling water, very large amounts of detergent, fabric softeners, tumble drying, and even ironing. None of these are necessary.
The adverse health effects of single-use nappies were completely ignored. Especially when the baby is changed an average of only four times in 24 hours, as this study assumed.
Nor were any modern cloth nappies considered in the analysis. There has been a strong move in the past three years towards fabric crops far more sustainable than ordinary cotton – organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo are farmed in more earth-friendly ways including the minimisation of use of water, chemicals and pesticides. This LCA was asking yesterday’s questions.
The only conclusion that can firmly be drawn from this study is that if you care for your cloth nappies in the most ignorant, wasteful, and damaging way imaginable, they are STILL no worse for the planet than changing just four single-use nappies a day. […]
On water usage: on average, washing cloth nappies for one baby is about equivalent to flushing the toilet four to six times a day. Are you wearing disposable nappies right now?
A close reading of life cycle analyses shows that at least half of the “water use” figures for cloth nappies are attributed to the production phase of conventionally grown cotton crops. This can be readily decreased by choosing more earth-friendly fabrics like hemp and bamboo. Another way to dramatically reduce this impact it to use nappies until they are worn out. Studies like the EA study assume that nappies are discarded after 50-150 uses; in practice, and with sensible laundry techniques, nappies should last for 200-800 uses, depending on type. Changing these basic assumptions can make a big difference to your impact.
There are other issues with the water figures in the EA study and those like it: assumption of a low-water-efficiency washing techniques (75 litres for only 12 nappies); unnecessary soaking practices; ignoring flush water necessary with single-nappy use (for flushing faeces before placing the nappy in domestic rubbish) are just a few.
Consider your entire household’s use of water. The money you save using cloth nappies could go a long way toward installing a rainwater tank, a greywater system, a more water efficient washing machine and showerheads.
Lastly, consider the root cause of global climate change. Reusable nappies have a lower energy, fossil fuel and emissions impact compared to throwaway nappies. By teaching your children to reduce, reuse, and recycle – you’re setting the stage for their environmental education. Here’s hoping the next generation will make the Earth a better place.