Outgoing Environment minister Ben Bradshaw has resurrected the old cloth versus disposable debate yet again by using the flawed 2005 Environment Agency report as an excuse to cut funding to real nappy initiatives.
As it was widely pointed out at the time, the comparison was hardly scientific as so many frankly ludicrous assumptions about real nappy usage had been built into the report. As most real nappies users would agree, and < href=“http://environment.guardian.co.uk/waste/story/0,,2117860,00.html”>Joanna Moorhead in the Guardian has wearily pointed out yet again, people don’t usually have more than about 25 real nappies, they don’t boil wash or tumble dry them, let alone iron them, and they use them for two or more children.
It is undeniable that the issue of comparing environmental impacts of two totally unlike products – cloth nappies and disposables – is complex. It involves deciding which is the bigger evil: landfill and chemical usage, or energy and water usage. And yet even this over-simplifies the debate.
It is certainly one which will continue to rage and split the media – for example, The Telegraph reports Ben Bradshaw’s statement with no criticism at all. But can we really trust the opinion of a man attempting to save money by cutting family-friendly initiatives? Of course there are many parents who will love to hear that the most convenient way of dealing with infant bottoms is ‘just fine’ for the planet and will probe no further. But hopefully the debate will continue.