Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Great Nappy Debate

There is one area of the early parenthood decision making process that will always be of great debate amongst those wanting to be eco friendly in their child rearing; cloth or disposable? The disposable nappy is of course much more convenient, no soaking, washing and no lingering smells and deposits when you're out and about. The waste can be rolled up in a convenient balls and thrown away, again and again and again. And there in lies the problem. Human domestic waste production in the UK is estimated at around 440kg per person, of which around 80% will go into landfill, with nappies and other disposable hygiene products taking 500 years to decompose. Of course we are trying to do better, most households will at least have a Kerby box or two for recycling, some with even better facilities depending on their local authority. We now have the W.E.E.E. directive that gives specific instructions of the disposal of white goods and even our food waste is on the road to being managed. But what of disposable hygiene products? As yet there is no special bin outside my house for these kind of things and given that the Shugmeister is gunning for an Olympic medal in extreme excrement production, we need one.

You could of course bring cloth nappies into the equation, but they themselves are not without their limitations and problems. In addition to the massive inconvenience (and lets face it, when you're dealing with a child or children, particularly for the first time, you can't be blamed for wanting to make life easier in those areas that you can), you also have the fact that constant washing and drying can push up your energy consumption (not to mention detergent use), add to that the initial production of cloth nappies, and the whole process can in many ways be counterproductive, though not without merit.

So it was with great excitement that I read about the new  AHPS (nappies, adult incontinence and feminine hygiene products) Recycling Plant that is due to open this year in West Bromwich, in the Midlands. Canadian firm Knowaste is currently building the plant that will convert this waste into roofing tiles, absorption materials and paper products to name but a few. Of course I imagine that there will also be a need for independent research into the process, as you can assume there will be money and energy used to bring about this functioning plant - nothing is ever free, both in terms of financial and environmental cost. Indeed, concerns have been raised by the likes of  Go Real, the online Nappy Information Service, who question realistic environmental results in addition to high prices. But if it works, it could be a great solution to our growing household waste problems.

To make it more cost effective, couldn't we reduce charges by trying to persuade large Nappy companies such as Pampers and Huggies to take a vested interest, in an effort to demonstrate producer responsibility? Not to mention government and local authorities who would also need to show their commitment and guidance in these matters. Money invested by these companies could also go into research into new environmental technologies that could a ensure the process is as clean and effective as possible. After all we are approaching a General Election and it would be nice to see this issue on the agenda, as so often environment, female health/hygiene and childcare matters are so often overlooked or dismissed as secondary in the face of the 'bigger' issues. We'll have to see in this respect.

Yet despite reservation, this is still a great breakthrough and one that could help individual families and of course hospitals, care facilities and other organisations that deal with this kind of waste, not to mention boost the economy in terms of the jobs and resources it will create. It may be a while before this kind of process is introduced on a large, safe and affordable scale (although there are another 4 plants planned across the country) and Shugs will probably be out of nappies by the time this happens. But it is at least comforting to know that any siblings, cousins and future generations may have this service available to them.

I would strongly suggest that you not only check out the website to find out more, but also make it clear to your local authorities, MLAS/MPs and the nappy production companies themselves that you support this concept in theory and would like to see it researched and developed further.

For more information on cloth nappies, check out Go Real and the Cloth Nappy Tree.


  1. Hi Rebecca,
    I had actually read just the other day about an organisation planning on recycling disposable nappies into, among other things, safety helmets for bikes. SO many components are recyclable - it's just the whole stinky mass, showed into a plastic bag and sent to a landfill that will have virtually no chance of degrading in the anaerobic situations of the common dump.

    I've come to your blog from Best Green Blogs this morning.

    - Charndra

    I have an Australian / New Zealand Green Nappy advocacy site that I am enjoying updating.

  2. Hi again Rebecca,
    with my other 'hat' I am a keen enthusiast of Baby Pottying as a way to reduce the environmental impact of babies - have you heard much in the way of positive information about this activity?

    I find it a fun way to reduce the number of any sort of nappies,


  3. Hi Chandra, thanks for the comments. I have always been a little curious about EC, so will be checking your blog out to learn more x