20 May 2005

It won't wash

In today's Guardian, Leo Hickman objects to the conclusions drawn by the Environmental Agency comparing the environmental impacts of disposable and washable nappies. An excerpt from his article that picks the gobstopper-sized holes in the report:

Why are its findings based on an assumption that washable aficionados use 47 nappies, whereas we had easily got by on 20? Why did the Environment Agency survey 2,000 parents using disposable nappies compared with just 117 using washables, meaning that (taking into account the weighting towards those using older-style nappies which use more cloth), many of the assumptions are based on the habits of just 32 people? Why does the report include the energy used to iron nappies? Who on earth irons their nappies? Why was it assumed that people environmentally conscious enough to be using washable nappies would automatically want to tumble dry them?

What's more, for some reason the findings used the typical energy consumption of washing machines available in 1997, rather than modern, much more energy- efficient models. And much greater emphasis is given to people who wash their nappies at 90C, instead of the 60C recommended by the washable nappy manufacturers. It all seems bizarrely weighted against the use washables.

I can't help feeling that the report has tried too hard to be fair to disposable nappies, and has subsequently painted washable nappies in a bad light. Highlighting how much energy goes into the production of a terry-nappy is a good thing, but that was pretty much brushed aside in the conclusion that "this element of the life cycle is not the main source of environmental impact for the reusable systems". Instead, the parents and laundry services are the villains of the piece, and are told to "focus on reducing energy consumed in washing and drying". Methinks they should re-write the report after reading Leo Hickman's rejection of the report's assumption that people use dryers and irons. Someone with more time and interest in the subject would do well to download the PDF and re-analyse the data. Should we ever have kids, we will bear in mind their suggestions on how to wash a nappy, but I think they've quite irresponsibly given the manufacturers of disposable nappies another excuse to carry on regardless.

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