Cloth Versus Disposables Nappies


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Cloth nappies don't tend to create any waste - they mostly hang around the house for years as rags, or get handed on to a younger sibling.

Waste, however, is where disposables make the most impact. An extra 221 kg of waste is likely to be generated by 5,000 nappies.

The absorbent core and the polymer outer-layers do not decompose. And while the wood pulp is in theory biodegradable, modern landfills exclude air and water, meaning that the fluff has no chance to break down.

Nappies are estimated to make up two to three per cent of the total waste in municipal landfills. Fortunately Australia is a big country with room to spare; however, there are better things to do with our country than using it as a tip.


According to statistics from the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) 800 million disposable nappies are used in Australia every year.

Parents will fork out about $3,000-$5,000 per child in a three-year period, depending on brand.

It's estimated a baby requires $700 worth fitted cloth nappies. Add to this around $500 of washing expenses (detergent, electricity and wear and tear on your machine) and the total cost is about $1,200.


It's a super-tough call. One one hand you have waste created by disposables; on the other you have water use. The debate will likely be swayed when considering the myriad eco-fabrics now used in 'modern' cloth nappies

Studies from around the world have been done many times on this issue and have come up with conflicting results.

A study by the British government's Environment Agency said it was too close to call, noting that disposables had great global warming potential, but that cloth nappies used far more water.

Meanwhile, the Women's Environmental Network (WEN) in the UK stated that compared with reusables, disposables use 3.5 times more energy, 20 times more raw material, twice the amount of water in manufacturing and generate 60 times more non-biodegradable bacteria-laden waste.

The first Australian study into the impact of nappies is currently underway at the University of Queensland. Researcher, Kate O'Brien, says the results of the UQ study will be released later this year.

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