Like most websites OVO Energy uses cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this site. Accept and Close

Reusable vs. disposable nappies: which is better for the environment?

By Rachel England Monday 20 July 2015

Babies are messy little tykes. In addition to the dribble, sick and mashed banana they’re liable to smear everywhere, you’ve got ‘the other end’ to consider, too. And newborn babies go through 6-12 nappies a day, adding up to 3 billion nappies per year just in England and Wales!

Disposable nappies

The advent of disposable nappies made the whole business a lot easier, and there are brands on the market now promising all kinds of levels of absorbency and ‘containment’, but this convenience comes at a price. Babies use over 4,000 nappies before they’re potty-trained, and an average of 5,000 nappies in total. This adds up to a whopping 400,000 tonnes of waste every year - or 2-3% of all household waste! 

As such, many environmentally-conscious parents advocate reusable nappies, which involve cloths and liners that can be washed and reused after they’ve done the job. This method considerably reduces the amount of waste going to landfill, so they’re the clear choice, right?

Well, no. A report for the Environment Agency in 2008 compared the environmental impact of both types of nappy over a two-and-a-half year period. It found that using disposables creates around 550kg of carbon emissions, where reusables could create up to 570kg of carbon emissions! Why? Because of the way they’re washed and dried.

This figure is based on washing the nappies at 60°C, drying three out of four loads on a washing line and tumbling drying the rest. Doesn’t sound like an unreasonable process, does it?

Clothes

However, there are ways to bring that figure down considerably. Washing nappies on a fuller load for example, and always hanging them out to dry instead of using the energy-hungry tumble dryer. Plus, of course, using an energy-efficient washing machine! The report also found that using the nappies on a second child could bring down the associated carbon emissions by as much as 40%!

So it’s swings and roundabouts. Disposables aren’t great for the environment, but neither are reusables unless managed properly.

With that in mind, let’s look at other pros and cons of each.

Disposable nappies

Disposable nappies

Pros

  • Convenience: just chuck them away when you’re done
  • Absorbency: modern disposable nappies are able to hold many times their own weight in liquid
  • Energy use: they’re not great for landfill, but they don’t use energy through repeated washing as reusables do.

 Cons

  • Cost: probably the biggest factor affecting parents’ decisions about the type of nappy to use. 5,000 disposables are likely to cost around £800 in total
  • Waste: as discussed above, you’ll be throwing away around 5,000 nappies – not an insignificant number

Reusable nappies

Reusable nappies

Pros

  • Price: according to the Go Real nappy information service, it’ll cost between £70 and £250, plus £1 per week in costs for washing. These savings are greater if the nappies are then used for a second baby
  • Incentives: many councils offer reusable nappy incentives through cashback, vouchers or trial kits. Ask your local authority for details of a scheme in your area
  • Waste: using reusable nappies significantly reduces the amount of waste in landfill

Cons

  • Convenience: it’s hard enough juggling the pressures of parenthood without having to find time and space to wash nappies
  • Absorbency: reusable nappies are less absorbent than disposables, so you may have to change them more frequently
  • Energy use: unless managed carefully, reusable nappies can create just as many carbon emissions as disposables

Other things to consider

If you like the idea of reusable nappies but are put off by the faff involved, considering enlisting the help of a nappy washing service. A growing number of companies will collect, launder and return your nappies – but be warned, but it’s not cheap. Expect to pay around £10-£15 per week.

If you’re swaying towards the convenience of disposables, but are concerned about the environmental implications, check out the more eco-friendly options available on the market. Some brands, such as Nature Babycare are made from biodegradable material, which lessen the landfill impact.

All the facts in this article were sourced by our partner, the Centre for Sustainable Energy. If you’d like more free impartial advice on anything from tips on energy efficiency and renewable energy to how to apply for grants and financial support just give us a call on 0800 408 6601 (mobile 0117 934 1999) to speak with an energy efficiency expert or you can email us.

Share this article

Ready to switch?

Simply enter your postcode and see how much you can save

O​VO​ Energy Ltd, registered office 1 Rivergate Temple Quay Bristol, BS1 6ED, company no. 06890795 registered in England and Wales, VAT No. 100119879

Additional terms and conditions
Please see below for full terms and conditions on 33% renewable electricity, 3% interest rewards, exit fees and saving claims.

 

1Monthly cost - Representative monthly direct debit costs based on a non-economy-7, dual-fuel, medium user (3100 kWhs elec. and 12500 kWhs gas) paying in advance by direct debit, including online discount.  All rates correct as of 23/08/16, but may go up or down.

2Weekly cost - Representative weekly costs based on a non-economy-7, dual-fuel, medium user (3100 kWhs elec. and 12500 kWhs gas).  All rates correct as of 23/08/16, but may go up or down.

3Pay Monthly Savings are based on the average estimated annual costs for new PAYM OVO customers quoted through the OVO website (based on household and/or consumption information provided by those customers), compared to their current supplier and tariff. Comparisons taken between 01/01/2016 and 11/10/16. Incl VAT. Actual savings may vary according to your current supplier or tariff, individual tariff options, household information, consumption and location.

4Pay As You Go Savings are based on the average estimated annual costs for new PAYG OVO customers quoted through the OVO website (based on household and/or consumption information provided by those customers), compared to their current supplier and tariff. Comparisons taken between 01/01/2016 and 11/10/16. Incl VAT. Actual savings may vary according to your current supplier or tariff, individual tariff options, household information, consumption and location. 

We include almost twice as much renewable electricity as the national average: At least 33% of electricity in all of our tariffs comes from renewable sources. The national average, according to Ofgem as at March 2014 was 16.7%. For more information please visit this page.

33% of your electricity comes from renewable sources: 33% renewable electricity as standard as of 1st April 2015. Renewable electricity is generated from wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, hydro, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogas.

3% interest: Calculated at 3% per year, paid monthly based on number of days in credit and the amount left in your account after you’ve paid your bill. OVO Interest Reward is capped at 12 times the amount of the current direct debit amount and is available to customers paying by advance direct debit. Terms apply: http://www.ovoenergy.com/terms/

95% of new customers save when switching to OVO: Based on all new customer signups between 01/02/2016 and 31/07/2016

94% of surveyed customers would recommend us: OVO conducted a survey of their customers in between 1st January 2016 and 15th April 2016. Out of 15,312 customers who responded, over 94% rated OVO 6+ when asked 'how likely would you be to recommend us to a friend and family, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Britain's top rated energy provider: Britain's top rated energy provider in the Which? 2015 satisfaction survey. Survey conducted in October 2015. Awarded in January 2016.

uSwitch's Energy Supplier of the Year: OVO energy was voted and awarded  'Energy Supplier of the year' and best for: Overall Customer Satisfaction, Most Likely to be Recommended, Value for Money, Best Deal for You, Customer Service, Billing Services, Energy Efficiency, Meter Services, Online Services, Green Services and Transfer Process. OVO Energy scored a 96% customer satisfaction score.

Pay Monthly unit rates

PAYG unit rates

Read more Read less