Debate around single-use plastics tends to centre on plastic straws and bags, despite disposable nappies being one of the biggest contributors to plastic waste globally. They are typically made from a multitude of plastics, including a polyethylene waterproof back layer and a polypropylene inner layer. A baby may get through between 4,000 and 6,000 nappies by the time they are potty trained, with an estimated 167bn disposable nappies produced every year. Due to their mixed composition and contents, they are difficult to recycle, the majority being sent to landfill.
Alternative solutions must mirror the ease and convenience of disposable nappies, with parents often too overwhelmed to take on the extra work of reusable nappies. ‘Biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ nappies have been proposed, but the vast majority still contain plastic elements, such as sticky tabs or outer film.
However, small-scale efforts to innovate are popping up internationally, such as Paris-based social enterprise Les Alchimistes, which collects compostable nappies from childcare facilities for processing, or the Indonesian gDiapers, which provides daily nappy drop-offs and collections, composting used nappies locally. Other solutions focus on encouraging reusable nappies, which create less landfill waste. However, their environmental credentials are not always clear cut, with many of the nappies made from cotton. They may also require laundering, which can be water- and energy-intensive.
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