Nappy choice for new families

Disposable nappies are not the only choice available when choosing nappies for your baby. With around one million nappies thrown away every week in Hampshire alone, reusable or ‘real’ nappies offer an excellent and cost effective alternative for new parents concerned about the environment and their bank balance.

Reusable nappies

Reusable nappies

Reusable nappies, also known as washable nappies, cloth nappies or real nappies, have evolved significantly in the past decade and are a popular choice for environmentally-aware parents.

Reusable nappies now come in a vast range of colours and fabrics, often look like disposables, and can be just as easy to put on and take off.

Modern reusable nappies don’t require soaking and can be washed in the washing machine at home or picked up by a nappy laundry service. At approximately £10 to £15 a week a laundry service can offer a convenient alternative to home laundering. Not all areas are serviced by nappy laundries, however you can email info@goreal.org.uk to find out if there is a laundry near you.

The pros

Price: babies typically use around 6 to 12 nappies a day in the first few months and generally don’t potty train until at least 24 months old. Reusable nappies work out cheaper than disposables, especially if you use traditional ‘terry’ nappies rather than the modern fitted equivalent.

The Go Real nappy information service estimates it initially costs around £80 to kit out your baby with a basic set of reusable nappies, and then around just £1 a week to wash them.

Longevity: you can use washable nappies again for subsequent children, most are designed to be used by at least two babies.

Waste: using reusable nappies reduces the amount of waste you throw away.

The cons

Convenience: the main disadvantage with reusable nappies is that you have to wash them.

Energy use: cleaning and drying reusable nappies can potentially use lots of energy and water.

Absorbency: reusable nappies can sometimes be less absorbent than disposable versions so you may need to change them more often. However many types now have a removable inner layer so you don’t have to wash the whole nappy each time.

Disposable nappies

Disposable nappy

Disposable nappies are convenient but expensive. If you assume that new born babies typically use between 6 and 12 a day, this can add up to a spend of around £438 a year if you use a leading mid-range brand based on an average of 8 nappies a day.

Many people also have concerns about the number of nappies that end up requiring end disposal. Babies will get through over 4,000 nappies before they are potty trained at around 24 months or older.

The pros

Convenience: disposables are very convenient as you just throw them away after use. They’re easy to buy and can be picked up in any supermarket.

They are compact and light so you can easily carry several around with you when you’re out and about, and they don’t contribute to your washing.

Absorbency: modern disposable nappies contain a highly absorbent material called polyacrylate. This is trapped inside the nappy layers and can absorb many times its own weight in liquid. When the polyacrylate gets wet it turns into gel, holding in the wetness in the process.

Energy use: disposable nappies don’t use energy through repeated washing and drying.

The cons

Cost: a major disadvantage of disposable nappies is the cost. Even though the cost of each nappy is low (around 7p for cheaper brands), it mounts up over time. You could be spending over £200 a year.

Waste: if you opt for disposable nappies it is likely that you’ll be buying them for more than two years after the birth of your baby. During this time you could be throwing away over 4,000 disposable nappies.

Which sort of nappy is better for the environment?

Research has suggested that both disposable and reusable nappies affect the environment negatively but in different ways:

  • disposable nappies need more raw materials to manufacture and generate more solid waste to dispose of
  • reusable nappies have to be washed and dried, which involves water and energy consumption

Parents have to make their own personal choice here. It doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’. You could choose to use a combination of both types of nappy depending on what you’re doing. For example, disposables may be more convenient when travelling or away from home.

Find out more

UK Nappy Network