Reusable nappies are enjoying a boom as the movement grows against single-use products.
Reusable nappies can be made from various fabrics, including microfibre, polyurethane laminate, cotton, and bamboo. Many parents prefer to avoid microfibre as it is plastic based, and has been associated with skin irritation. We have focused this guide on brands using natural fibres.
As a general rule, look for companies that source certified-organic cotton or bamboo and have at least some discussion of their supply chain and environmental impacts.
From a waste perspective, reusable nappies are far superior to disposables. Yet, while reusable nappies become cost-efficient over time, they are time-consuming to manage and have an upfront cost.
For many this makes reusable not an option, so we simply advise that parents find the best compromise that they can.
Carbon footprints of Reusable versus Disposable nappies
Just 30 to 50 reusable nappies will cover birth to potty training for multiple children, compared to 4000-6000 disposables for one child. They do also have a lower carbon footprint, but this is less dramatic than one might have assumed.
According to a 2023 life cycle analysis by Defra, the carbon footprint of disposable nappies for the first 2.5 years of a child’s life is 457 kgCO2eq, compared to 345 kgCO2eq for reusables. That is equivalent to driving from London to Nottingham and back 6.4 times, compared with 4.8 return journeys for reusables.
Costs for Reusable versus Disposable nappies
From a cost perspective, using reusables will turn out cheaper in the long term. Ethical Shopping For Babies has produced a useful cost breakdown including the cost of washing. They reckon reusables save around £700 per child compared to eco-disposables and £550 compated to cheaper disposables.
Those savings increase if and when you have more babies. Laundry and drying costs also depend slightly on the type of reusable nappy - fitted, terry or all-in-one.
In the UK you can find out if your local council offers vouchers for reusables at Nappy Gurus website.