Thursday, February 08, 2007

Nappy nightmares

Ever tried to get a straight answer about how to compost so-called biodegradable nappies? Thought not.

Well I have, and let me tell you that after several hours of research (and not for the first time) I'm still far from clear.

It ought to be easy. You buy biodegradable nappies thinking you can either chuck 'em in the rubbish, or even better chuck 'em in the compost, and all will be well.

But by the time I came to buy biodegradable nappies, I'd already read that the conditions in landfill are wrong for decomposition to happen (not enough light or air) so buying them and putting them in your regular household rubbish is a complete and utter red herring (I'm talking strictly about reducing output here. Of course there are significant benefits to the planet, as many are produced without the use of chlorine bleach, and to the baby, because they avoid coming into contact with many of the nasty chemicals in conventional nappies, but still...).

So I figured I'd compost them, seeing as my buying them coincided with my moving up here where I've got a garden and a compost heap.

I emailed the manufacturers, Nature Baby, to check whether I needed any kind of fancy composting system. I've lost the reply now, I'm afraid, but basically it said that due to some of the nasty bacteria in human fecal matter (eeeugh), although the nappies are technically compostable, you can't compost them. Well that makes sense. Not.

So I sort of wimped out for a bit and used them, trying to forget the 'wrong conditions for decomposing' thing. But it;s been quietly eating away at me ever since, so this week I decided anough was enough and as soon as we had a car at our disposal - today - sent the hubby to get our subsidized PA compost bin (it's huge and looks like a tardis) to put them in. I figured that as long as we composted them separately and didn't use the compost on our future vegetable patch, all would be well. We'd just have the nappy corner of the garden where nobody goes but me and my bag of dirties.

While the hubby was getting the tardis set up, I thought I'd look into it one more time. Well, several hours later, I'm none the wiser. Some sites say a wormery is the answer; others that the nappies kill the worms. Some say you can compost them and they'll decompose in 6 months or less under the right conditions, but fail to explain what those conditions are. Other sites say you have to pull the nappies apart before composting but don't tell you whether you then chuck everything in, or only chuck certain bits and not others.

Frankly it's making my head spin and I promised the hubby I'd play Scrabble with him tonight instead of sitting in front of the computer till way past bedtime so I can't spend a lot onger looking into it.

I'm tempted to just start sticking the dirty nappies in the tardis and see what happens (though to be fair, I doubt much will until the temperature breaks freezing which it hasn't done for several weeks now). But on the other hand I do NOT want to find myself getting rid of non-decomposed, six-month-old dirty nappies a few months down the line. The hubby already made it clear this was strictly my preserve.


I am going to try and get this sorted because for god's sake somebody needs to. Right now there are parents everywhere doing exactly what I was doing: buying eco-friendly nappies to assuage their consciences, then conveniently sweeping under the carpet the nagging doubt that they were really making no more difference than their fellow Pampers and Huggies users, which, in fact, they weren't.

I pledge to make some enquiries tomorrow and see what gives.

In the meantime, if you know the answer, please do tell.

Apparently the average disposable takes about 500 years to break down and is the third most common item found in landfill followed by paper products and food containers. This can't go on.

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At 1:30 PM , Anonymous Lynn said...

"...due to some of the nasty bacteria in human fecal matter (eeeugh), although the nappies are technically compostable, you can't compost them"

Are they serious? Then why on earth did they bother to manufacture allegedly compostable nappies if they don't STAY compostable when they finally contain the substances for which they're being used? No one's going to compost an unused nappy.

At 4:00 AM , Anonymous helen mays said...

Down here in New zealand, we don't have biodegradable nappies. I would like to know where these nappies you speak of come from and who makes them, and what you pay for them. If someone could tell me I would be grateful.Please conact me. Many thanks.

At 7:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a difference between pooey nappies and ones which are only wet. Urine itself is normally sterile until it is passed (assuming normal conditions, i.e. no urinary tract infections), so does not bring bacteria with it until it comes into contact with the outside world, unlike poo which comes from a bacteria-infested environment and is egested containing lots of organisms. So ignoring the whole minefield of the degradability (or otherwise) of all the different parts of the nappy, content-wise wet nappies should only be OK from a bacterial point of view. They should be beneficial to compost heaps because of the Nitrogen content. I have seen contradictory opinion on whether they are good for wormeries or not.


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