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Landfill and Nappies

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 12 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
Nappies Babies Landfill Disposal Waste

Disposable nappies – how we love ‘em!

Gone are the days of buckets of soiled nappies and big pins, happy are the days of fresh fluffy white bundles which you can just pop in the bin after use – or are they?

Because many people are decrying the mega-million dollar disposable nappy industry and calling for a come-back of cloth comfort for our babies.

The Disposable Nappy Problem

The reason is that disposable nappies are filling up our landfill sites at a staggering rate of 3 billion a year, 8 billion a day.

By the time they reach two and a half, an average child will have used approximately 6,500 nappies – which equates to over 10 tonnes of waste, 40 black sacks per child per year or if you prefer a colourful image, as many as 70,000 double-decker buses stretching end to end from Edinburgh to London.

Local councils are under pressure to reduce their tonnage of waste to landfill due to new landfill restrictions as well as a reduction of available space. The disposal of nappies alone can account for up to a million pounds of an average-sized local authority budget and so new alternatives to waste disposal are being sought by them as well as environmentalists and responsible citizens.

The Problem To The Environment

Disposable nappies are made of plastics, elastics, adhesives, paper pulp, and chemicals which do not readily degrade and could also leach toxins into the ground. In fact it’s estimated that it could take hundreds of years (some guess at more than 500 years) before nappies begin to break down.

In addition to this, the soiling in them means that as they rot, methane, a greenhouse gas about twice as bad as Co2, is released contributing to global warming. In fact the number of disposable nappies used in a child’s life accounts for as much as 630kg of methane – which is as much as a car would use over 1800 miles.

What’s The Alternative?

The best alternatives to disposable nappies and the landfill problem they cause are to turn back the clock and return to re-useable nappies.

However before you run in the opposite direction, times have changed since our grandmother’s day and they no longer mean pins and nappy rash.

Neither do you need to launder them yourself if this is one step too far. There are many specialist services available which will collect your dirty nappies and deliver a fresh supply of laundered ones for you. Local councils sometimes also offer their own laundering services and even cash incentives to try to lure you away from going down the disposable route.

Cloth nappies will also save you money (the Women’s Environmental Network has estimated it to be around £500 over the course of a child’s nappy-wearing life – a significant saving) and they will also do less harm to your babies’ health as they don’t contain the damaging chemicals of disposables.

However, if you really can’t face going the whole hog, then eco-disposables may be a good compromise route for you. Although not as environmentally sound as cloth nappies, eco-disposables do make efforts to restrict their harmful effects.

Brands variously offer unbleached nappies, nappies free from chemicals, biodegradable nappies, and nappies which use recycled material and/or packaging.

More Information

For more information on the great nappy debate, the Women’s Environmental Network offers lots of up-to-date, helpful information as well as a directory of companies which offer nappy laundering services and environmentally-friendly products.

Most local councils will also provide information on the costs and numbers involved with their disposal of nappies to landfill and any additional incentives and services they offer.

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