Here at Bare & Boho, we believe that doing better starts with education. And if you're a nerd when it comes to all things environment like us, we're sure you'll feel empowered too. So let's dig in to the sustainability and life cycle of nappies - cloth and disposable.
To help us better understand, the team took a deep dive into the United Nations 2021 Life Cycle Assessment on Single-use Nappies and their Alternatives, and we are so glad we did! It's worth noting that in the context of this report, reusable nappy refers to a modern cloth nappy.
The report includes a meta-analysis of seven Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies covering different geographic areas. LCA's are very useful in identifying the highest potential impact along the value chain for a product.
Reports like this are created to help governments make more informed policies around different products. But we feel that all businesses that produce products should also seek out this information, it has definitely taught us a lot!
Disposables do create the most waste, that is certain. We know that plastic pollution is a huge problem for our environment. We are producing plastic at a rate that far outstrips our ability to dispose of it properly. Scarily, 33% of global solid waste is conservatively estimated to be openly dumped, rising to 93% in low-income countries.
The LCA studies analysed in the report do not take into account single-use nappies not disposed of appropriately, such as nappies dumped in waterways. They therefore underestimate the potential impacts of the disposal stage of single-use nappies in the context of mismanaged landfills and in places where leakage into the environment is high.
But waste pollution isn't the only environmental impact products pose. A product's life cycle has many stages, all with their own environmental impacts. These stages include:
Reusable nappies are promoted as being the most environmentally friendly alternative to disposable/single-use nappies, but which one is best is not as straightforward as we'd like to think.
Reusable cloth nappies are the most eco-friendly alternative to disposables, but only in the context of developed countries and when certain other conditions are met.
For example, reusable nappies would not be the most environmentally friendly option in a location that has a lack of modern washing facilities and water scarcity.
The LCAs look at disposable nappies and reusable nappies impact on different impact categories, including climate change, natural land transformation, water depletion, ozone depletion, fossil fuel depletion, agricultural land occupation, human toxicity and many more.
Single-use nappies have the highest potential impact on climate change. This is due to the greenhouse gas emissions from landfills at end-of-life. Single-use nappies also have a larger impact on human health and damage to ecosystems than reusables.
Reusable nappies have high impacts in agricultural land occupation, natural land transformation and terrestrial ecotoxicity impacts due to growing cotton. Cotton is used in most inners in modern cloth nappies.
Reusable nappies use more water than single-use nappies due to their need to be laundered. They also perform poorly relative to single-use nappies when there is inefficient energy use (heating water and powering washing machines and dryers). The report found that reusable nappies washed in high temperatures and 100% tumble-dried and in a country where electricity is generated from fossil fuels will have a higher environmental impact than single-use nappies.
The most interesting finding in the LCA Report was that reusable nappies' impact on the environment is controlled by the consumer, whereas for single-use nappies consumers have limited control over its impacts.
This is because the biggest environmental impact of reusable nappies happens during the 'use' stage (how we launder nappies). Whereas for single-use nappies, the biggest impacts happen during the manufacturing and disposal stage. This means the control is in the hands of producers and waste management systems.
The good news is that we can control how we launder our reusable nappies. To maximise the environmental performance of our reusable cloth nappy system we need to minimise water and energy use. There are a bunch of positive habits we can adopt to achieve this, plus many more tips to make reusables the most environmentally friendly option.
The truth is all products have an environmental cost, but we are trying hard to mitigate the impact of ours. Here's what we're doing to reduce our impact:
We use recycled synthetic fibres in our cloth nappy covers and other products. The fabrics are made from plastic bottles and post-consumer waste, which are then transformed into textile fibres. Using recycled fibres while not the perfect solution is definitely better than using virgin plastic fibres.
Recycling plastic requires up to 88% less energy and less fossil fuel consumption than producing virgin plastic from scratch. It also reduces plastic waste ending up in landfills, and instead diverts it into a valuable resource like cloth nappies!
We have also partnered with TerraCycle to recycle our products at end-of-life. Head to our recycling page for more deets on how to go about this.
We always opt for natural fibres where possible. Cotton growing has a large environmental impact across all impact categories. While our products such as our nappy components do have some cotton, we reduce the amount of cotton we use by blending it with more sustainable fibres like hemp. All the cotton we do use is OEKO-TEX® certified. Head to our sustainable fabrics page for more information.
All Bare & Boho products are manufactured to the highest ethical standards. To ensure our goods are produced ethically, we are partnered with Sedex, a global ethical supplier program that audits all levels of our supply chain.
The ethical treatment of people and the environment are at the heart of everything we do. Head to our ethical production page to find out more about our supply chain.
One of the biggest obstacles to the uptake of reusable nappies is the high upfront cost. Despite being cheaper than disposables in the long run, buying a cloth nappy stash in one go can be unaffordable for many customers.
We partner with Aldi Australia to bring affordable cloth nappy bundles to everyday families. These nappies are the same high quality as the nappies we sell on our website, however, they are not made with recycled fibres and do not include a booster. The lower price and easy access make cloth nappies a realistic option for many families.
Beyond Aldi, we also partner with major retailers such as Woolworths and the Iconic. This allows us to grow awareness of reusables and make our products more accessible for people across Australia and abroad. These big retailers run frequent sale campaigns, making our products more affordable.
And if you have your heart set on our online range, we offer flexible payment options like Afterpay where you can pay for your nappies in smaller installments over time.
We've also done the research and come up with a comprehensive list of all the cloth nappy rebates available in Australia broken down by state. Check out our cloth nappy rebates page to see if there is a cloth nappy rebate offered by your local council.