Huggies Nappies and the Environment
There is no doubt that both cloth and disposable nappies have an impact on the environment and there is no point pretending otherwise. That said, most things we buy from the supermarket affect the environment in some way. The important question then becomes what are we doing to minimise the impact our products have on our planet?
Here at Kimberly-Clark (makers of Huggies) we have given a lot of effort to researching and improving our products to where they are today. All of this is designed to provide parents with the best possible products and ensure we minimise the impact of these products on the environment.
You may be interested to know:
- Biodegradable nappies can’t degrade much in landfill
- Nappies make up around 1% of landfill
- Disposable and reusable nappies each have similar environmental impacts
- We use renewable fibres in Huggies Nappies
- Improvements to Huggies are reducing the amount of waste
Biodegradable nappies can’t degrade much in landfill
Landfill sites are engineered to be stable and low in moisture. In Australia, landfills are so dry and compact they tend to ‘mummify’ their contents. As a result, nothing much breaks down in landfill – even newspapers, which are 100% degradable, remain intact and legible for decades. This means a biodegradable nappy in landfill is normally not given the chance to biodegrade.
(Virtually all nappies you put in your garbage bin end up in landfill.)
However, at Huggies, we understand you may still be concerned about the volume of your disposable nappies going to landfill.
That’s why we have focused on a real issue in landfill management and reduced the volume, or bulk, of our nappies, to reduce the space they take up in landfill. We have lessened the bulk of Huggies nappies by 50% over the past 10 years by improving the absorbency and performance of the nappy.
After all, as parents we all want a nappy that performs, and keeps our babies happy and dry.
Are Nappies Filling Up Landfill?
No. Nappies make up around 1% of landfill (total urban solid waste).
Nappies are about 3% by weight of all domestic wastes, and domestic wastes are only about 34% of all urban solid wastes going to landfill.
Interestingly, food and garden waste accounts for around 59% of our total domestic waste5
Source: Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery in NSW – A Progress Report, NSW DEC Aug 2004
Landfill sites are commonly old mining quarries, but increasingly technology is allowing us to use above-ground sites. Once covered with suitable material, these sites are stable and safe, and are used for things as varied as playgrounds and commercial building sites.
Australia ’s total landfilled waste is around 22 million tonnes a year – a volume of say 3 km by 1 km by 10m high. If all landfills were constructed above ground, a mound like this every year would be insignificant in a country the size of Australia.
Disposable vs reusable nappies
Everyone wants the best for their baby, but they also want to make sure they are doing the right thing for the environment.
The long running debate of reusable versus disposable nappies has now been clarified by a major Government sponsored and independently reviewed study in the United Kingdom in 20051, which was updated in 20082.
This thoroughly documented study assessed a wide range of activities associated with manufacture, use and disposal of disposable and reusable nappies which can affect the environment.
To quote the 2008 updated report in its consideration of shaped reusable nappies: “The environmental impacts of using shaped reusable nappies can be higher or lower than using disposables, depending on how they are laundered. The report shows that, in contrast to the use of disposable nappies, it is consumers’ behaviour after purchase that determines most of the impacts from reusable nappies.”2
Carbon footprint of disposable and reusable nappies
In the 2008 update to the UK report, An updated lifecycle assessment study for disposable and reusable nappies2, it was found that on average, reusable nappies had a slightly higher carbon footprint than disposable nappies, when laundered under typical household conditions.3
- For reusable nappies, the carbon footprint is heavily dependent on the conditions of washing and drying.
- The carbon load can be anywhere between 81% higher to 38% lower than disposable nappies depending on factors such as water temperature, use of tumble dryers or line drying and use by subsequent children.
- The update found that the carbon footprint for disposable nappies has been reduced by 12% since the previous study and continues to reduce as nappies get thinner.
- This also means a reduction in energy, raw materials, transportation and overall waste for disposable nappies.
The study reconfirms that both nappy systems have a similar carbon footprint.
Laundering of reusable nappies
The environmental effects of reusable nappies are often not discussed. Whether washed at home or in a commercial laundry, the environmental impacts of laundering reusable nappies need to be considered.
- Washing and drying reusable nappies uses large amounts of energy such as gas and electricity which emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
- Significant water usage (around 19 tonnes for every 1 tonne of laundry washed) is also required.
- Chemicals used, such as pre-wash soakers and detergents, add substantial loads to waste water.
Depending on the choices made by consumers these factors can result in a greater or lesser impact.
What’s the verdict: do reusable nappies have an environmental advantage over disposables?
Independent and objective studies by the Australian Consumers’ Association’s consumer study of nappy performance since 1999, and most recently 2009 (ref), conclude:
“For years there’s been an ongoing debate over which type of nappy has the least impact on the environment. While it might seem clear cut that reusable cloth nappies would be a more environmentally friendly option than disposables, in fact there are environmental costs associated with using both.”4
This and the other life cycle assessment studies found that nappy alternatives have similar overall impacts on the environment in a typical usage scenario. The main differences are in the type of impact which occurs at each stage of each product’s life cycle such as the manufacture of both reusable and disposable nappies, the use of water, energy and chemicals for washing reusable nappies and the landfill impact of disposables.
So, based on these studies and conclusions, we would suggest that in a typical nappy usage scenario, parents can make a guilt free choice based on non-environmental factors such as performance, cost and convenience of the product.
We use renewable fibres in Huggies Nappies
Here at Huggies (Kimberly-Clark) we make fibre for nappies from pine wood (Pinus radiata) from sustainable and renewable plantations. As parents, you can be reassured that these forests are replanted and managed to ensure full sustainability into the future.
The fibre in Kimberly-Clark’s nappies uses pine plantation wastes called “thinnings”. In the past, this thinning material was left to rot on the forest floor or burnt.
Improvements to reduce the bulkiness of Huggies and reducing waste
Over the last ten years we have reduced the bulkiness of Huggies nappies by more than 50% through improved performance. This reduction has largely been achieved by substituting fibre with additional super-absorbent material and more effective product design.
1 Simon Aumônier & Michael Collins, 2005.
Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies in the UK, Environment Agency, Bristol, UK.
2 Simon Aumônier, Michael Collins, & Peter Garrett.
An updated lifecycle assessment study for disposable and reusable nappies [PDF, 37 pages, 171 kB], Science Report – SC010018/SR2, Oct 08, The Environment Agency, Bristol, UK.
3 This is referred to as the ‘baseline’ in the updated UK Lifecycle study. This baseline scenario assumed that nappies are used on one child only, dry-pailed (not soaked in sanitising solution) and washed in a washing machine with an average energy efficiency rating for appliances owned in 2006. Average use of tumble driers and washer-driers was taken, and it was assumed that three-quarters of nappies are line dried outside and the remainder are tumble-dried. Nappies were assumed to be washed with wraps at 60°C. It was assumed each wrap is used twice between washes. The agency considered other scenarios, but with the exception of this baseline and reuse on a second child, they considered other uses to be ‘extremes rather than general practice’.
4 Choice, Nappies, Toilet Training and Bathing, (Updated 2 September 2009), Reprinted from choice.com.au – with the permission of the Australian Consumers’ Association (ACA).