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Reusable nappies can form part of the circular economy and help the planet

Reusable nappies can form part of the circular economy and help the planet

| Alamy

3 min read

The pandemic has made 2021 a year to forget but as the weather improves and we slowly emerge from lockdown, there is still time for 2021 to have a positive impact.

That includes COP26 in November which is a unique opportunity for the UK to lead the world in tackling climate change and improving our natural environment.

It is vital that real action is taken to reduce carbon emissions but there is one factor that has been overlooked so far in the climate debate: the devastating impact of single-use nappies.

Single-use nappies require large amounts of raw materials and hugely increase our carbon emissions. On average, each nappy generates around 550kg of CO2 throughout its lifecycle and they are increasingly being sent to be incinerated by local authorities who are struggling to manage more waste, further adding to our dangerous carbon emissions.

If not incinerated, most single-use nappies are taken to landfill where they can take more than 300 years to break down, disintegrating into microplastics which pollute the environment, and harm animals and eco-systems. If they do breakdown in landfill, single-use nappies produce methane gas, further contributing to global warming.

Greater use of reusable nappies has to be a key part of any progressive environmental strategy

They can have a devastating impact on the marine environment as the microplastics and human excrement that come with single-use nappies end up poisoning waterways and posing significant long-term health risks. 

There is an alternative, and with this being Reusable Nappy Week, there has never been a better time to highlight the benefits of reusable nappies. The environmental benefits are clear: they use 98 per cent fewer raw materials and generate 99 per cent less waste, helping to save the equivalent of 17 plastic bags per day per child.

There are also significant financial savings to be had for hard-pressed parents, with families saving more than £1,000 per child, which increases if they are used on subsequent children or purchased on the thriving second-hand market.

Families can also benefit from reusable nappy schemes, nappy libraries and other programmes that support alternatives to single-use nappies.

A focus on further incentivising the greater use of reusable nappies has to be a key part of any progressive environmental strategy.

The Beyond Recycling strategy recently produced by the Welsh Government is a significant step in the right direction, having recognised the role reusable nappies will have in helping Wales make a circular economy a reality over the coming years.

But we also need leadership from the Government in Westminster. The UK is committed to reaching net-zero by 2050 and so the UK Government needs to do more to promote reusable nappies and put them at the heart of its carbon reduction plan. The most pressing priority is for the government to work with local authorities to roll out a collaborative reusable nappy scheme, and to establish a comprehensive strategy to promote reusable nappies and their benefits.

COP26 is a unique opportunity for the UK to take a prominent role in leading the world in carbon reduction. Reusable nappies have to be a part of any plan to reduce carbon emissions.

I only hope the government doesn’t waste this opportunity.

Alex Davies-Jones is Labour MP for Pontypridd

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Environment