Parents anxious to reduce their children’s carbon foot print and are looking for alternatives.
The 21st century child has been described as an environmental disaster. This may sound harsh but the modern youngster uses more of our scarce resources than any other creature on the planet. This profligacy starts early in the huge number of disposable nappies the average baby goes through in their nappy-wearing years. Now you may say that the baby has little choice in this process but there is no denying that our cuddly ones make a significant contribution to the growing global rubbish dump.
It is estimated that the average western child will use up to 6000 disposable nappies before potty training. This usage generates upwards of 800kg of waste. Multiply that by the near 80,000 Irish babies born in the boom year of 2011 and you have 64m kilograms or 64,000 tons of waste for one year of national nappy-usage. Since it can take up to 500 years for the average nappy to break down in the soil, it’s obvious that the situation is not sustainable.
These are mind boggling figures and add up to a lot of space in Irish landfills. An added issue is the increased use of pads by adults. This problem is a worry not just to environmentalists and the authorities involved in waste disposal. Many parents are anxious to reduce their children’s carbon foot print and are looking for alternatives.
The seemingly obvious alternative to disposables is to use cloth nappies which are reusable and can be recycled at the end of their life. However, these in fact do not provide any significant environmental gains. Studies have shown that on average, cloth nappies have almost the same carbon footprint as disposable nappies because the laundry process of washing, machine drying and ironing uses significant energy such as gas and electricity thereby adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The process also uses large amounts of water and chemical detergents. A nappy laundering service will have less impact on the environment since the nappies are washed in bulk and use less energy and materials
A new addition in recent years has been the compostable nappy that can be added to the compost heap after use. But while these take no more than 4-5 months to break down into natural particles, they have a more complicated production process than ordinary disposable nappies and you may have to put them in your own compost heap as some recycling units will not take them. In addition, they are not widely available in this country.
The average nappy is made of mainly natural products. Manufacturers of conventional disposable nappies have become sensitive to environmental concerns and have reduced their bulkiness. They are also increasing their biodegradability so that they will disintegrate faster in the landfills and are using less corrosive chemicals in the production process.
The bottom (pardon the pun) line is that manufacturers need to invest in making the disposable nappy yet smaller and easier to break down and those parents who want to reduce their babies’ carbon foot print even further could look at a nappy laundering service. And they may need to look at having a disposal service at the bottom of their gardens in the form of a customised nappy composter.
By Rose Comiskey