Reusable nappies vs disposables – everything you need to know

Nappy facts to help your decide what style of nappy you want to use for your baby

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Making an ethical choice about the kind of nappies your baby wears is no easy task. The truth is, there is a minefield of pros and cons for every option. A lot of parents choose to muddle through – using a combination of reusable and disposable nappies. But the good news is, there are signs that recycling technologies may soon be a step closer to lessening the nappy burden on landfill.

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Nappy fact file

  • Newborns get through around 10 to 12 nappies a day, whilst older babies can manage on about six. With a bit of luck, your child will be out of them by the time he is are 2½ years old.
  • Both disposables and reusable nappy manufacturers use bleaching agents, although there are unbleached brands of both nappy types. Look for organic cotton or materials that are less chemically dependent.
  • Dirty nappies can contain up to 100 viruses such as polio, which can remain active up to two weeks.

Disposable nappies – the facts

  • 95% of parents still opt for disposables.
  • Disposable nappies are made of super-absorbent chemicals, paper pulp and plastics.
  • It’s tempting to use disposables because they are convenient and easy to use. They are available almost everywhere but they can bump up a household budget by £7 or more a week.
  • Around 8 million disposable nappies are sent to landfill in the UK every day – nearly 2.5 billion a year.
  • For a family with a baby up to 1 year, nappies account for half of their weekly rubbish.
  • As the nappies break down they release methane, a greenhouse gas, and a toxic liquid called leachate, which can contaminate soil and water.

Reusable nappies – the facts

  • Using cloth nappies is a growing trend. An estimated 15% of parents have used them at least once. They are mostly made of natural fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo or hemp.
  • Many local councils are keen to convert parents to the delights of real nappies to take the pressure off landfill. Some have introduced ‘nappuccinos’, coffee morning and nappy information events.
  • Reusable nappies send no waste to landfill. They are also breathable and are less likely to cause allergic reactions in babies.
  • Some proponents believe cloth nappies offer better postural support than disposables, and that they may help with potty training. The theory is that a cloth nappy makes a child more aware of his bodily functions, so he is more likely to be aware if his nappy is wet and needs changing.
  • Real nappies are cost-effective. According to the Women’s Environmental Network, washing nappies at home is the cheapest option even taking into account the cost of washing powder and energy use. Using home laundered nappies for a single child could save £500. Second-hand nappies are even cheaper.  
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But which reusable nappy should you choose?

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