Tuesday, 24 April 2012

How green is your nappy?

Let's face it. Children are an environmental menace.

 In an already overpopulated world, the worst thing you can do is to increase that population: more consumers of already scarce resources, more waste which needs to be disposed of, more snotty-nosed brats playing tuneless recorders at 6 am...

And I've got four of them.  Some people would view that as an unjustifiable environmental crime.  Me?  I just feel guilty about it.  It's another thing to add to the long list of things I feel guilty about.

Clearly, I should have just not had a fourth child (Numbers 1 to 3 are apparently excusable, but only because 2 and 3 came as a package), but instead I do various half-hearted things to assuage the guilt and try to minimise our impact.

Which brings me on to nappies.  Because, let's face it, with four children including twins, real nappies just aren't going to happen, even if, the truth be told, we've actually only got one still in nappies.  We did do real nappies for a while, six months in fact, with L, but then we went on holiday, used disposables (sorry, but you've got to be a lot more eco-friendly than me to carry dirty nappies around in your suitcase for two weeks), came back and looked at that nappy bin and just thought:

No more.

Sorry, future generations. It's our fault.

So we do that pitiful woolly liberal thing and throw money at the problem.  We virtuously buy biodegradable wipes, biodegradable nappies and biodegradable plastic bags. 

And then we tie them all up into a big black plastic (recycled) sack, and chuck them into landfill.  Where, even if they weren't in a black plastic sack they probably wouldn't biodegrade, because, it turns out, there's not much oxygen in landfill, so instead they break down anaerobically, producing methane, which is much worse for the environment than carbon dioxide*.

I thought about putting them into the compost bin in the garden, but we produce way more nappies than we do potato peelings and banana skins, and then the compost bin just turns into a pile of nappies. Not to mention the fact that the nappies we use firmly tell us they're suitable only for industrial composting, which our council doesn't do. (Incidentally, and despite my usual tendency to do what I'm told, we did stick a few of the baby ones in the bin at home and they vanished very nicely. They're probably responsible for my lovely new roses). 

I've looked this one up, but the problem with the environmental nappy lobby is that there is only one acceptable solution: real ones, and I've tried, I really did, and if I couldn't do it with one child, there's no way I can with four.  Not to mention the fact that then you've got the washing (waste of water) and the drying (we live in Scotland) and suddenly your environmental impact is arguably worse than if you just chucked the things over your neighbour's fence while sitting smugly under your patio heater with all the lights on.

Which has me wondering why I've been paying for these expensively liberal nappies.  Are they actually any better than Pampers or Huggies? (Although, to be fair, Pampers and Huggies appear to bring my children's bottoms out in nappy rash, which the eco ones don't).  Are Pampers actually, counter-intuitively, more ecologically friendly than eco nappies - ok, they won't biodegrade, but at least in not biodegrading they're not actually making the problem worse.

In fact, can the eco ones even be called eco, if all they're doing is producing noxious gases in an unsightly landfill site?

I know the answer is to use real nappies, but realistically that's a big ask, and one I don't think we can manage.

So if what we're supposed to do is the small thing, in the hope that the accumulation of small things will add up to a big thing, what is the small thing here?  Or isn't there one?

Because it's that or sell one of the children.

*Biodegradable waste is apparently almost the worst possible thing you could put into landfill.  Who knew?


  1. I didn't know that about biodegradable waste and landfill. Very interesting.

  2. That's very true, using disposable diapers is only harming our environment more. The convenience it offers is really tempting. But sometimes we just got to think of the bigger picture. Maybe it's time we all turn to using cloth nappies.


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