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U.K. Study Ranks Disposable Diapers As Safe as Cloth

May 26, 2005

A study conducted by the U.K. Environment Agency has found little or no difference between the environmental impact of cloth and disposable diapers. A Government-commissioned life cycle assessment (LCA), published in May, shows through independent analysis that disposable diapers have no greater impact on the environment than cloth nappies.

Specifically, the study confirms that neither disposable or cloth diaper systems can claim overall environmental superiority and the differences in the impacts between the systems are not significant enough to voice support for one type over the other on the basis of environmental factors alone. The Environment Agency stated: "The study, which looks at and evaluates the environmental impacts arising from every stage of the life cycle of disposable and reusable diaper, found that there was little or nothing to choose between them. The study, which was carried out by independent environmental consultants, is the most comprehensive and thorough independent study of its kind ever undertaken."

Tracy Stewart, director general of the Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association (AHPMA) said, "AHPMA welcomes this independent and conclusive study, which will be a source of reassurance for many parents and can finally lay to rest many of the exaggerated and misleading claims made by some organizations about the environmental impact of disposable nappies."

The disposable distribution industry acknowledges the contribution of disposable nappies to total solid waste in the order of 0.1% 2. The LCA study, however, confirms that the impact on waste management is not significant." Disposable diapers are compatible with prevailing forms of waste management, some of which may be waste to energy solutions, and the industry is encouraged by Central and Local Government's efforts to broaden their views on waste treatment options beyond landfill.

Product performance improvements and product innovation have decreased the weight of disposable diapers by nearly 40% during the past 15 years, which has also contributed to a reduction in the amount of waste they create, and the industry is committed to further reduce that weight.

"We question why the government is spending £2.6 million of U.K. tax payers' money promoting cloth nappy schemes through the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in the absence of any proven overall environmental benefit or of any independent audit of the schemes to understand the likelihood of their success," Ms. Stewart continued. " With the small percentage contribution that disposable nappies make to landfilled waste, and remembering that disposable nappies are the choice of around 95% of U.K. parents, we consider the funds allocated by central government to promote cloth nappy schemes disproportionate to any real waste benefits that could possibly be gained."

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