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Eco Disposable Nappies vs. Reusable Nappies


When you’ve got your first baby on the way (or second, or third), which nappies to choose can seem overwhelming. The fact that you’ll have an actual baby can seem like more than enough to get your head around!

You may well have done some research already and are considering eco nappies instead of disposable nappies. If so, we’d really encourage you to give some thought to considering reusable nappies. Here’s some things to consider when comparing reusable nappies vs disposable eco nappies:

Hopefully by considering these options in more depth below, we’ll help you find the best option for your lifestyle and family. 

Eco Disposable Nappies

Eco disposable nappies are designed to have a lower environmental impact than standard disposables nappies which contain a large amount of plastic. However these sustainability claims should be treated with a large pinch of salt…

How much do eco disposable nappies cost?

How much do eco disposable nappies cost?

Eco nappies cost around £32 to £34 for a months subscription depending on which nappy brand you choose, delivered to your door.

You’ll pay a premium for choosing eco nappies rather than standard disposables which cost around £20 a month.  

The cheapest way to purchase your biodegradable nappies is to use a subscription service which means that every month you’ll receive a shipment of nappies in the post. 

Even so, if you use eco nappies for the first two and a half years of your child’s life, that will come to around £990.

Are eco disposable nappies good for the environment?

Are Eco Disposable Nappies good for the Environment?

No, according to a recent which consumer report, eco disposable nappies aren’t as good for the environment as you may think.

They may be labelled as ‘compostable’ or ‘biodegradable’ but if they go to landfill in a plastic nappy sack or even inside a kitchen bin bag they won’t biodegrade any quicker than standard disposables.  That means they could still take 500 years to decompose.

Dr Charlotte Lloyd, Royal Society research fellow at the University of Bristol, explains :

‘'Microbes and oxygen are needed to aid the biodegradation process, and landfill sites are actually designed to minimise these factors. To degrade, these materials would need to be composted'.

She adds, 'There needs to be a shift in the waste management of nappies to allow industrial composting. The investment in biodegradable products is somewhat wasted if they end up in landfill.'

Ok, so eco nappies create the same amount of waste as disposable nappies and take the same amount of time to break down if they go into landfill. But surely they’re more ecofriendly as they use bio-plastics and wood pulp rather than oil-based plastic and gels?

Not quite. Bioplastics used in biodegradable nappies can be more energy intensive to produce compared with traditional petroleum-based plastics used in standard nappies.

Are eco disposable nappies convenient?

Are Eco Disposable Nappies Convenient?

Yes, eco disposable nappies, like standard disposable nappies are definitely perceived as being more convenient than reusable nappies.

You just buy a packet, use one and chuck it in the bin.

However, did you know that even with disposable nappies, you should be flushing any poo out of the nappy? Yep, it says so on the packet. Human waste shouldn’t go to landfill.

And it’s definitely not convenient if you suddenly realise that you’re out of nappies at 11pm one evening. In fairness, if you’re signed up to an eco nappy subscription service, then they’re delivered to your door, which is pretty convenient.

One area where reusables have the edge however is containment and leaks. Anecdotal feedback is that some eco nappies struggle to absorb quickly enough and are more prone to leaks than standard disposables. If your child isn’t a heavy wetter, that shouldn’t be an issue though.

Shop Bamboo Cloth Nappies

How Comfortable are Eco Nappies?

To answer the question 'how comfortable are eco nappies', you must ask the question 'would YOU prefer to wear paper pants or cloth pants?' If you'd prefer cloth pants, that's your answer!

"I love everything about the Cheeky Wipes brand! I have been using their wipes for 9 years (they are SO much better than wet wipes). In the last 12 months I have also used their period pads, period pants, wet bags, and now I’ve finally made the jump to cloth nappies. Every product from Cheeky Wipes feels like it’s been designed and made with love, the patterns are gorgeous, and their customer service is second to none. Thank you Cheeky Wipes for encouraging me to made the switch to reusables!"

Reusable Nappies

Reusable Nappies come in lots of different styles and types. Generally, they all have a liner, an absorbent bit and a waterproof layer. In some nappies these are all tied together for ease of use, such as tots bots easyfit.  Pocket Nappies are also very popular and easy to use, with absorbent inserts meaning you can tailor absorbency to your child.

Shop Pocket Nappies

Are reusable nappies cheaper than eco nappies?

Yes, reusable nappies are cheaper than eco nappies, especially if they’re used on more than one child.  We estimate one child in eco disposable nappies will cost £1,020 compared to £650 approximately for reusable nappies. Reusables are cheaper than disposables by some way!

They're even more cost effective if you use your reusable nappies for a second child. That doesn’t even have to be your child!  

There’s a good second hand market in used nappies, and many parents will sell on their reusable nappies when they’re done with them.

On average to get started with reusables, you’ll need around 15 to 20 nappies.

Many reusable nappy retailers will offer nappy bundle offers such as 15 reusable nappies, nappy bins, liners etc for around £260 to £320.

This is certainly enough nappies to be getting on with and you can see how you like them and add more to your stash if necessary as you go along.

Cost of washing and drying reusable nappies

Cost of washing and drying reusable nappies (June 2023)

The cost of washing (and drying) reusable nappies definitely adds up. But how much does it cost with today’s soaring energy prices?

According to 'inthewash' one load of washing will cost approximately 35p per cycle for water and electricity (June 2023 prices). Add in approximately 12p per wash for laundry detergent and the total cost of water and energy to wash your reusable nappies is around 47p per cycle.

Washing your dirty nappies every other day for 2.5 years will add up to £213.85.

The cost of drying your nappies varies. If you dried them in the tumble dryer for every wash, it would cost £1.49 for a condenser dryer, or 62p for a heat pump dryer.

However most people will line or air dry their nappies as much as possible.

Even though they take longer to dry, they smell great and the sunshine helps bleach them clean too. Assuming that you only tumble dry 1/3 of your washes, this would be around 151 drying cycles over a 2.5 year period, costing between £224.99 and £93.62.

One top tip if you're concerned about energy costs is to consider switching to an energy tariff which gives cheap rates overnight.

Not only is it eco friendly as it's using power when the grid is quietest and therefore uses more renewable energy, but the kw price is substantially lower.

Are reusable nappies better for the environment?

Are Reusable Nappies Better for the Environment?

Yes, according to the Defra environment agency report comparing reusable and disposable nappies, reusable nappies are better for the environment, especially if:

  • you use fleece nappy liners rather than 'flushable'
  • you can wash them overnight or on a green energy tariff
  • you can line dry them as often as possible
  • you'll reuse the nappies or pass them to someone else / resell

Are reusable nappies easy to use?

Are Reusable Nappies Easy To Use?

Yes, reusable nappies are easy to use.  The trickiest part is getting into a routine of using, storing in your nappy bucket, washing and reusing.  The easy part is bum wiping, which is the same as with disposable (except the poo always gets flushed with reusables).

For me, that meant ensuring that my cloth diapers were set to wash every other night overnight, ready for me to hang out on the washing line or airer the next morning.

Like everything else with babies, getting into a routine is really helpful to maintain some level of sanity!

Aren't reusable nappies uncomfortable?

Are reusable nappies uncomfortable?

No, reusable nappies aren't uncomfortable. Some people worry that because they are a bit bulkier than eco nappies, they must be uncomfortable. If this is something that worries you, go for a slimmer, fitted two part nappy rather than a bulkier pocket nappy.

And as we said above, would you rather wear paper knickers or cloth knickers?  Reusable nappies are simply lovely soft cloth against your baby's skin, with a waterproof cover on top. They look cute too!

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About the author: Helen Rankin is a Mum of 4, who founded Cheeky Wipes, the original reusable wipes kit back in 2008 after disposable wipes caused her eczema to flare up. She went on to develop their range of 'Simple Reusables' to include period pants, reusable sanitary pads and finally reusable two part nappies and pocket nappies.

The Cheeky customer services team love helping educate customers to make the switch to reusables.  They just LOVE to chat pee, poo and periods all day long! The Company was recognised for their hard work in developing environmentally friendly products with the Queens Award in Enterprise for Sustainable Development in 2021.  

Charlotte Bramley
10 September 2023  |  9:28

One of the best articles comparing disposables and cloth I've read. I would add that cloth nappy children also tend to potty train earlier from peer discussion. The pocket nappies I used lasted 4 children, the inserts (which can be used longer) have then become household cleaning cloths. The whole issue of where your rubbish ends up is really valuable, in our area it is sent for incineration. We washed baby's clothes separately from ours but with the nappies, so that made it a full load, reducing the actual cost of washing if you share that out too. Using a combination of disposable and cloth has worked out really well for many friends, I recommend always start out with second hand cloth if you want to try them.

11 September 2023  |  9:15

Thanks for the feedback and glad you enjoyed the post!

That's a REALLY good point about the potty training. 3 of my children were mostly potty trained by 2. My headstrong no2 son was the outlier at 3 years old when he just got down from the kitchen table one morning at breakfast and announced he was off to the toilet and that was it, he decided to be toilet trained!

Agree too that even part time cloth use is always worthwhile. Our bamboo two part nappies are fantastic night nappies and even one nappy saved daily really adds up!