Oh Poop! Part Deux

Diapered Baby Bottom

Part of the fun of becoming a new parent are the inevitable byproducts of your little bundle of joy. Among the multitude of questions that parents-to-be are asked (Boy or Girl?, Have you picked out a name?, Are you ready?!?!) is "Will you use disposable or cloth diapers?" Like everything else connected to children that question seems to be complex and quite important. Fortunately, DEFRA (UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has done an exhaustive study of the environmental impacts of nappies (a.k.a. diapers).

Below are excerpts from the 'Updated Life Cycle Study on Reusable and Disposable Nappies'.

"The average 2006 disposable diaper would result in a global warming impact of approximately 550kg of carbon dioxide equivalents used over the two and a half years a child is typically in nappies. The global warming impact from disposable nappies use has decreased since the previous study due to manufacturing changes and a 13.5% reduction in the weight of nappies.
The report highlights that the manufacture of disposable nappies has greater environmental impact in the UK than their waste management by landfill."

"For reusable nappies, the baseline scenario based on average washer and drier use produced a global warming impact of approximately 570kg of carbon dioxide equivalents. However, the study showed that the impacts for reusable nappies are highly dependent on the way they are laundered.

Washing the nappies in fuller loads or line-drying them outdoors all the time ... was found to reduce this figure by 16 per cent. Combining three of the beneficial scenarios (washing nappies in a fuller load, outdoor line drying all of the time, and reusing nappies on a second child)
would lower the global warming impact by 40% from the baseline scenario, or some 200kg of carbon dioxide equivalents over the two and a half years..."

Cloth diaper users can reduce their environmental impacts by:

  • Line drying outside whenever possible.
  • Tumble drying as little as possible.
  • When replacing appliances, choosing more energy efficient appliances (A+ rated machines are preferred).
  • Not washing above 60°C.
  • Washing fuller loads.
  • Reusing nappies on other children.

The study shows that the baseline carbon footprint for disposable and cloth diapers are very similar. But, as in many things, the details make a difference. Water is in limited supply in the arid Southwest compared to the United Kingdom which likely increases the environmental impact of washing cloth diapers.

So, what are we doing? We started with disposable diapers and will be switching to cloth diapers as the frequency of diaper changes slows. It's an imperfect answer, for a poopy world.

More Info:

Abstract: Updated Life Cycle Study on Reusable and Disposable Nappies

Report: An updated lifecycle assessment study for disposable and reusable nappies



Diaper Update

Actually, we're still using disposable diapers. Given how arid our climate is, the water needed to wash reusable diapers has a large impact on the local enviroment. Disposable diapers may not be a great solution, but they appear to be the best answer where we live.