Recycling disposable nappy waste is being sold to the public as ‘green’. But is it? Because of the massive industrial scale of the nappy recycling plants there would only ever be 6 in the UK. That means the nappy waste has to be transported to the site over long distances. Not only this, the environmental impacts of recycling disposable nappy waste are high (as are the running costs) because it takes a lot of water and carbon to run the process.
We are told that recycling is the ‘realistic’ option because people enjoy the convenience of disposable nappies. It's true people use disposables because they are sold in supermarkets, advertised on TV and in the Bounty pack, free to throw away and ‘normal’. But our research at RNfL shows that if expectant parents know 3 or more people who use real nappies they are not just likely to try real nappies but also very likely to continue to use them. Therefore the task is to make real nappies normal again – as they were just 30 years ago.
But what about the impacts of washing real nappies? According to a government report in 2008 washing nappies at home can have up to 40% lower carbon impacts than using disposable nappies. At RNfL we believe local nappy laundry services in metropolitan areas could have even lower impacts (if they use ozone to sterilise the nappies rather than heat and plug-in electric vehicles for deliveries and collections) and really help families living in small flats with nowhere to dry nappies.
And the other benefits? Zero waste nappies save parents money. They also save local authorities money because with real nappies there is no nappy waste to collect and send to landfill, incineration or the recycling plant.
The cost of recycling disposables is just going to go up and up. Savvy boroughs know this and offer incentives to their residents to try real nappies. They are developing a culture of real nappy use amongst their residents that will grow and grow and bring down costs over the long-term and more importantly, protect the planet for future generations.