The environmental impact of disposable nappies

The use of disposable nappies has a massive impact on our environment, and therefore our future. In this post, I discuss some of the main issues surrounding their popular usage.

Manufacture

The production of disposable nappies has huge environmental implications.

The main bulk of disposable nappies is paper pulp fluff, which unfortunately requires the clearing of land for plantation timber. Amounting to around 1.8 million trees annually, this threatens old-growth forests in Canada, Scandinavia and the Baltic states. Disposable nappies are also composed of non-renewable plastics and chemicals, contributing further to global warming. These large volumes of pulp, paper, plastic and other raw materials also require substantial amounts of water and energy usage throughout the manufacturing process.

Disposal

Worldwide, disposable nappies create hundreds of thousands of tonnes of landfill every year., placing a massive strain on landfill sites. Scientists estimate that it takes around 500 years for a disposable nappy to fully decompose.

Rotting disposable nappies are full of bacteria and viruses from human waste and are at risk of soaking in to our groundwater and causing subsequent contamination problems. Rotting waste also generates methane (a gas that contributes to global warming) and leachate (a toxic liquid).

Flushing nappies down the toilet happens all-too-often, causing serious maintenance problems in the sewage industry. Many nappies will also end up in the sea, causing further horrific environmental pollution.

The future

As our reliance on disposable nappies increases, the environmental implications can only rise. In this fascinating article `Nappy days: ditch the disposables’, Robin Barker discusses that, as a generation we are becoming more and more dependant on luxuries like disposable nappies. This reliance means that many children are not toilet trained until a much later age (sometimes three-and-a-half or four-years old) ± which can almost double their necessary nappy consumption.

References and further reading

Ethical Koala

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