Single-use plastics has become a taboo buzzword and thanks to the ABC TV series War on Waste we are all adapting our behaviours. In spite of this growing awareness, there is a single use plastic that is still increasing as our population grows – disposable baby nappies (or as American’s like to call them, diapers)
To compost or not to compost…
Hands up if you have purchased single-use items that are labelled as biodegradable, compostable or degradable – think plastic bags, take-away coffee cups, cutlery and food packaging, tooth brushes, even phone covers thinking that it is a sustainable option? Sadly, it is not the environmentally-friendly option, that we have been led to believe. There are ‘biodegradable’ nappies available on the market, however kerbside composting facilities will not accept nappies (biodegradable or not) within the organics waste stream as they prove too difficult to distinguish between the different biodegradable and plastic versions.
When biodegradable organic waste is added to landfill it does not necessarily break down as it would in a home compost bin or compost facility. Biodegradable organic waste will simply rot, creating methane gas (21 times more potent that C02) and leachate (water run-off collecting all the nasties in landfill) into the soil. The composting process requires oxygen and heat, something that is not always present under the layers of a compressed landfill.
Therefore, nappies will end up in landfill and contribute to methane and leachate production, especially containing the human waste collected in these nappies.
Local Councils do a great job in diverting biodegradable organic waste from landfill with the addition of the third green kerbside bin. This, in turn, extends the life of the landfill, reduces emissions and creates a usable soil compost as an end product. However, nappies are just not on the radar in terms of providing a solution for waste avoidance.
Oh baby, what a waste!
Every baby until they are toilet trained, will go through at least 6,000 nappy changes in their life, enough to fill 17 wheelie bins. Disposable nappies are one of the largest single-use household consumer item to end up in landfills.
So what’s the solution?
Simply, AVOIDANCE. Just like how we bring our Keep Cups, use stainless steel straws and bring our own shopping bags, it’s time to start avoiding disposable nappies and turning to reusable modern cloth nappies.
Why use cloth nappies?
Cloth nappies have advanced significantly past the terry towelling flats of the past. Significantly, you will be better off financially, even factoring in washing them at home. Buying disposable nappies for 2.5 years will cost up to $3,000 whereas a set of modern cloth nappies can cost up to $800. The savings keep coming when using the cloth nappies for subsequent children.
Modern Cloth nappies are designed to mimic the fit and performance of a disposable and, even better, brands can accommodate to different sized and shaped babies.
But what about all that water to wash them??
Yes, you will need to wash cloth nappies. A life cycle assessment study from the University of Queensland demonstrated that the water and land resources used to make disposable nappies was the same amount that would be used to wash reusable nappies. However, if you think washing reusable items is bad for the environment, perhaps we could revert to single use cutlery, linen and underwear.
Even if we add the utility costs of water to the figures above, we are still better off financially to use reusable cloth. Let alone, reaping the sustainability benefits with the avoidance of the over-use of plastics.
Introducing the solution – Cloth Baby
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce my new start up, Cloth Baby, aiming to reduce nappy waste and help new parents successfully use cloth nappies for the first years of their child’s life. There is a vast market of cloth nappies available with different features and fits to compliment different sizes, ages and stages of babies. Cloth Baby will help new parents understand, navigate and succeed in their cloth nappy journey.
So, if you are about to head on maternity leave yourself, know someone who is having a baby, or believe that this is something that your Local Council should consider to tackle waste (such as City of Casey and Brisbane City Council are), please follow Cloth Baby on Facebook and Instagram as we change the world, one nappy at a time.
Emma Avery is a mother of two and has trialled and tested many modern cloth nappy options. She has over ten years experience in developing environment, sustainability and waste programs and is passionate about waste avoidance, education and behaviour change.
Follow Cloth Baby on Facebook and Instagram @clothbabynappies
#WarOnWaste #disposable #singleuseplastic