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Reducing the climate impact of dirty diapers

Victoria Craig Sep 20, 2019
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Cloth diapers on a clothesline.
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Millions of workers and students around the globe are expected to go on strike in 150 countries on Friday to encourage more climate-change action from governments.

It’s not just elected officials feeling the heat, but businesses big and small, too.

This week, business titans like Google and Amazon announced new climate goals, and consumer-goods companies including McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have taken further steps to reduce single-use plastics.

Small businesses are also taking matters into their own hands. One company in the U.K., called The Nappy Gurus, is encouraging parents to use cloth diapers rather than disposable ones to reduce their environmental impact.

On the global edition of “Marketplace Morning Report,” the BBC’s Victoria Craig spoke to the company’s founder, Laura Davies — who first got the idea while living in the U.S.

Below is an edited version of their conversation.

Laura Davies: The cloth-diaper community in the U.S. sort of drew my attention and I knew I didn’t really want to use disposable diapers. So, I bought them and started using them myself. Actually, this is a revelation, I love this! So, then when I moved back to the U.K., I decided to bring that enthusiasm that I’d seen in the U.S. with me. I set up my business. Over the past 10-11 years, we’ve really seen the market grow in the U.K. And now there’s a really strong community of cloth-nappy parents.

Victoria Craig: As you say, this isn’t a new idea. It’s been around for generations. In fact, my own mom use cloth diapers when I was a newborn. Do you think access to cloth diapers is fairly widespread?

Davies: Certainly here in the U.K., it is more accessible. Some of the mainstream supermarkets are now offering reusable nappies. There’s figures from the early 1990s that only 2% of parents were using reusable nappies. Some research conducted by cloth-diaper company Bambino Mio, in 2017, suggested that that rose to 30% of parents, which is great. Parents are seeking out alternatives and they’re thinking, “You know what, actually, my bins are full of nappies.” And we’re talking a lot of waste: A child can use 4,000 nappies in their lifetime.

Craig: We’ve all seen the headline-grabbing stories about these massive clogs that stop up our infrastructure. And aside from grease and animal fat, which are maybe the biggest culprits behind it, wet wipes, diapers and non-disposable toilet paper were some of the other biggest culprits. So, what’s the environmental impact to switching to reusable diapers?

Davies: A family can look to reduce their carbon footprint by about 40% by using reusables. And as I say, you know, you’re looking at an average of 4,000 nappies, which weighs about 120 kilograms. So, there is a big impact to be having. And there’s a start, which is just astonishing, with 6,000 tons of disposable nappies are thrown away around the world every single day, which is just, it’s just absurd. And as you correctly said about the wet wipes also, that the U.K. government are talking about putting a complete ban on disposable wet wipes because of this issue, you know, the impact that they’re having on the landscape and the environment. So washable wipes is something that we absolutely advocate and promote as well. And actually, we’re finding a lot of parents are making the switch to washable wipes before washable diapers, and you can save so much money with them as well.

Craig: It’s interesting that it’s not just the environmental impact that’s driving parents to these products, but the money-saving aspect.

Davies: Absolutely. We conducted a survey earlier this year. And we found that about 70% of parents are using reusable nappies and wipes, stated that money saving was one of the driving forces in for that decision. We’ve done some calculations as well. And you’re looking at about £800 with one child raising up to £1,500 (nearly $2,000). You’re then using those same nappies on subsequent children. So yeah, you’re looking at some significant savings and every little bit helps.

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