Cloth nappies vs Disposables UK Study

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Cloth nappies vs Disposables UK Study

Post by Janine » Fri Mar 16, 2007 11:00 am

I did a critique of this study for a handout, and thought since there has been so much chat about it, I should post it here.

There has been some suggestion that cloth nappies have the same environmental impact as disposable nappies, unfortunately perpetuated by a study done in 2005 by the UK Environment Agency.

A copy of the study can be viewed here: ... 072099.pdf

There were some major flaws in this study, and as a result the conclusions are skewed, also some of the information assumed about modern cloth nappy usage is simply incorrect, and yet more of it is not applicable to New Zealand.

Following are some of the main points that invalidate this study:
• The study takes into account only using terry toweling flat cloth nappies; modern cloth nappies are more absorbent and require changing less often, therefore fewer cloth nappies are required than the study suggests (and less washing).
• The study takes into account using only PVC plastic wraps as covers; no natural fibres like wool which is making a big come-back and is far more environmentally friendly.
• The study looks only at cotton nappies, not grown organically and takes into account the environmental impact of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilisers used in growing cotton as well as the large water requirement for cotton growing. Modern cloth nappies are now available in organic cotton, and alternative fabrics such as hemp which can be grown without the use of these chemicals and much less environmental impact.
• It is based on 80% of cloth nappies being soaked in a sanitizing solution prior to washing; whereas most modern cloth nappy manufacturers in New Zealand recommend dry-pailing.
• It is based on 100% use of throw-away liners in cloth nappies; this is incorrect.
• The study is based on 50% of people using fabric softener when washing their nappies; fabric softeners are generally not used (and shouldn’t be) as they decrease absorbency.
• The original study was based on 19% of nappy washes being tumble dried and later increased to 60%; this is a conscious decision (and generally one used less in New Zealand), if you want to reduce environmental impact you don’t have to consume this energy.
• Based on 9.5% of cloth nappy users ironing their nappies after every wash. You couldn’t iron a modern cloth nappy as they are elasticated and shaped, and why would you want to?
• The study also assumes that at the end of your childs nappy use (calculated on 2.5yrs) that the plastic PVC wraps you are using are thrown out with domestic rubbish. These actually have resale value, particularly if you pick the longer lasting options that are available as an alternative to PVC.
• The study is based on 75% of washing loads being done at 60oC or over (a whopping 32% at 90oC), and no cold washes being used. A lot of cloth nappies in New Zealand are washed in cold water and line dried, as the sun is an excellent natural sanitiser.
• The amount of detergent that this study is based on is also not recommended by Nappy Manufacturers in New Zealand, who recommend that half the suggested amount of detergent be used to prevent build-up occurring on the nappies, they also recommend natural detergents such as Ecostore products.
• The study takes into account travelling impacts for a weekly shop to purchase washing powder, nappy soak, laundry softener, and nappy liners. This is unlikely as most of these products are unnecessary, the laundry powder would normally be purchased with other grocery items.
• The energy use calculations are based on a UK model and therefore a lot is from fossil fuel burning power stations, in New Zealand our energy production is a lot more environmentally friendly, with a lot of our energy coming from hydro stations, thus significantly lowering the impact of global warming and pollution that this study takes into account.
• In New Zealand most of our disposable nappies, or the components to make them are imported, adding additional environmental costs to this equation in the use of fossil fuels for transportation.
• This study also appears to not take into account any impact from having excreta in our landfill, that results from disposable nappy use (disposable manufacturers do suggest that excreta is flushed prior to disposal but it is not often done in practice).

The main point is, that this study is bandied around as a reason to justify using disposable nappies, but in reality it is simply not applicable to New Zealand, or to modern cloth nappy systems.

cloth nappy users have a choice – they have an enormous amount of choice in how they choose to use their nappies and what nappies they choose to use, therefore are able to significantly reduce their own personal environmental impact.

Admin Edited-to-add:

Thanks Janine! Ive locked this topic so it is 'archived'.

The Womans Environmental Network, or WEN, also have a great rebuttal of the flawed study. It can be found here:
DS-M - 11/03/05
DS-B - 03/09/07
DDs-R & J - 09/06/09


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