Well that's the big question, isn't it? There has been an ongoing debate at very senior levels in academia and government departments as to the overall impact of disposable nappies, eco nappies and reusable nappies for several years.
DEFRA have updated their Lifecycle Assessment of disposables versus reusable with some very mixed results. Contrary to advocates opinion, plastic disposables outperformed reusables on 11 out of 18 sustainability criteria.
Reusable nappies performed significantly worse for marine ecotoxicity and eutrophication due to the washing detergents and laundry chemicals needed.
|Impact category||Unit||Regular Disposable||Re-useable|
|Stratospheric ozone depletion||kg CFC11 eq||2.33E-04||4.13E-04|
|Ionizing radiation||kBq Co-60 eq||46.01||88.02|
|Ozone formation, Human health||kg NOx eq||0.85||0.95|
|Fine particulate matter formation||kg PM2.5 eq||0.45||0.55|
|Ozone formation, Terrestrial ecosystems||kg NOx eq||0.89||0.97|
|Terrestrial acidification||kg SO2 eq||1.04||1.3|
|Marine eutrophication||kg N eq||0.06||0.26|
|Mineral resource scarcity||kg Cu eq||0.74||1.29|
|Freshwater ecotoxicity||kg 1,4-DCB||26.16||28.18|
|Marine ecotoxicity||kg 1,4-DCB||35.61||46.1|
|Human carcinogenic toxicity||kg 1,4-DCB||18.82||19.09|
|Terrestrial ecotoxicity||kg 1,4-DCB||1903.33||1657.93|
|Human non-carcinogenic toxicity||kg 1,4-DCB||486.54||478.33|
|Land use||m2 a crop eq||73.06||61.69|
|Freshwater eutrophication||kg P eq||0.23||0.17|
|Global warming potential||kg CO2 eq||456.91||344.57|
|Fossil resource scarcity||kg oil eq||153.16||112.48|
|Water consumption (manufacturing)||m3||7.8||7.11|
source DEFRA 2023
Plastic disposables however, did have a higher carbon impact and impact on fossil fuel scarcity.
Eco-disposables were not considered in depth, but these have a lower carbon impact, reduced fossil fuel impact, and lower water consumption when compared to regular plastic disposables. Eco-nappies could well be the most sustainable option available, scoring best in at least 14 out of 18 categories.
Mama Bamboo is pleased to now be joining the UCL Comfort Loop study to take this research to the next level. We will be investigating the exact materials and end-of-life solution needed to ensure eco-disposables out-perform both plastic and reusable nappies on every sustainability measure.