The great nappy debate: Should I buy disposable or reusable?

Disposables are readily available from all super markets and do appear to be cheaper, or at least of a less initial cost, than the reusable ones. The reusable are greener but is a higher initial outlay.

So let me give you a few facts and figures for you to consider.


The disposable

1 - How many will I use

Most publication suggest that we should change a baby's nappies at least 6 times a day, some research, mainly in the states suggest a change every two hours for the first 3 months. But we'll stick with the more realistic 6. This means that in a week you would use 42 nappies. Assuming an average of 30 days in a month, that is 180 nappies a month. that over 3 years is 6480 disposable nappies. Even if your baby is potty trained after 2 years it still will be a minimum of 4320 nappies.

2 - How Green is my Disposables

Newer disposables biodegradable nappies made of wood pulp are still not as eco-friendly as they seem. They maybe made with more eco-friendly and sustainable material but it's thrown away after a single use. Disposable nappies use 90 times the amount of renewable resources (e.g. wood pulp) and 8 times the amount of non-regenerable resources

(e.g. one cup of crude oil is needed to make one disposable nappy).

At least four-and-a-half trees are needed to produce all the disposable nappies for one baby.

3 - How Long in the Ground

There is still no hard evidence as to the time it takes for a bio-degradable nappy to completely break down. Some research suggest up to 400 years! Not only that but baby's poo is also in there.

4 - Bin Tax

There is much talk about charging residents for the amount of waist they produce. The 'Bin Tax' . You migh be interested to know that the average weight of an unused disposable nappy is c. 50g the average weight of a used disposable nappy is c. 200g. and the land is contaminated with baby's poo. So at the end of a average two weeks, as collection is now bi-weekly in most councils, your bin will have 16.8 kilos or 37lbs of dirty nappies.

Currently all council tax payer pays 10p to dispose of every £1's-worth of disposable nappies.

5 - Most important bit - how much ?

That will depend on the quality and whether you buy branded or non branded. Prices will range from 6.7p per nappy to 28.6p for pull ups. It also depends on the size of the nappies. I have taken an average of .13p per nappy. Doing the maths based on the figures from above that is £5.46 a week, £23.40 a month, £842.40 over 3 years, at best it will cost £561.60 over 2 years. But that's not all even at the age of 3 some toddler may will still require a nappy of some sort. The trip to the super market must also be considered.


The reusable

1- How good are they

I must admit that I was a bit sceptical about reusable as my last experience of reusable was the terry squares, pins, plastic pants and boiling! But I was surprised at the advances made in the shape, fabric and the washing of the new reusable nappy. Today's cloth nappy come in various types.

a. Flat Nappies

Such as the traditional terry square or the increasingly popular cotton prefold. These can be folded into a pad or a kite shape and secured with a nappi nippa and wrap.

b. Shaped or fitted nappies

As the name suggests these are shaped so require no prefolding. Some styles, such as the dizzy diaper, go from birth to potty. These are usually made of terry towelling and also require a plastic wrap on the top.

c. 'All-in-ones'

As close as you can get to a disposable nappy. These have the cotton or terry nappy attached to a waterproof wrap. The most expensive choice but can be more convenient for bleary-eyed nighttime changes!

2 - How Green Is my Reusables

The modern reusable nappy (diaper) is very green and eco-friendly. Some are made from sustainable source such as bamboo, a fast growing plant. Reusable nappies do not contain any potentially harmful super-absorbent gels, deodorants or chemicals

3 - Washing:

Today's reusable are easier to care for by the use of an insert. The insert is a dissolvable liner that can be flushed down the toilet with the poo. The nappy is then placed in a wash bag contained in an air tight bucket. On wash day simply insert the bag with the nappies and start by rinsing the nappies then wash at the manufacturers recommended temperature. DO NOT use fabric softeners and if possible look to use eco-friendly washing detergents. The nappies can then be hung to dry or tumbled dried.

4 - the cost:

Ouch!... yes it can be expensive. Initially that is, but even then you can plan for it. How many nappies will I need? This will depend on the style of nappy you are choosing and the frequency that you will be washing the nappies. There are various recommendations on this point , 20-24 nappies with four wraps if you are going for the prefold or shaped nappy option or 24 for the all in one all-in-ones. But it really depends how often you want to do a wash. For the purpose of costing lets stick with 24.


Take our bumGenius®! one-size cloth nappies which come with two inserts. the cost would be £354 for 24 of them, plus the nappy bucket at £10.99 and the nappy pale liner at £7.99, I would buy two as they will need washing and the bumGenius® traveller tote/wetbag at £13.95, making a total of £394.92

Wow - that's a lot !!

No it isn't

Its £166.70 pound less than disposables over a two year period, now here is the extra bit, If you are planning more than one baby, there is no further expenses in this department!! YES no more nappies to buy - unless you want to. On the other hand you can always re-sell them or if you feel generous give them to a friend. You can't do that with disposables!

Conclusion -

Even with the very small cost of the energy to wash the reusable, in our opinion, they are by far the best answer and if you can plan ahead start buying them a bit at a time it's less painful that way.