As you’d expect from a man in my position, I have literally thousands of children. The groupies that gather at the foot of Zero Towers are as fertile as they are up for it, and the rise of my master race is progressing nicely. Sadly, due to the sheer size of my collective progeny, all of whom are disabled rad-fems, I am unable to support any of them financially or emotionally, thus creating twice as many social problems as I was hoping to solve. As such, I feature in the new series of Working Class Parents For You To Look Down On, starting on Wednesday on ITV2+1. It’s from the producers of Teenage Mums Deserve Everything They Get and Chavs: Scum We Simultaneously Loathe and Celebrate, so you know there’s quality there. Episode three’s an absolute hoot. Long story short, I lose an eye to toxoplasmosis.
But I digress. As any parent of a fledgling master race will tell you, nappies are incredibly expensive and massively polluting. As we speak, millions of babies’ arses are pooing into billions of environmentally disastrous disposable nappies which go on to live in landfills for decade after decade as they fail miserably to decompose. It’s hard to get decent figures on how many we’re talking about and how long they take to go but we’re maybe looking at somewhere between 3 and 8 billion every year, taking maybe 200 to 500 years to biodegrade. That’s a fairly vague estimate given the margin of error of 5 billion nappies and 300 years but that’s what you get when Defra and the Environment Agency go all non-specific on us. Point is, we are at serious risk of a future in which loveably anthropomorphic robots are forced to wade through mountains of centuries-old baby shit, seriously impeding on their ability to conduct intimate relationships and warm our hearts.
We have to make a decision if we are going to minimise the environmental impact of our babies’ bumholes. The decision is between regular single-use nappies, old fashioned cloth nappies, biodegradable single-use nappies or old fashioned cloth nappies with single-use inserts. And if we’re being realistic about things we have to factor in time, money and pains in the ass.
First, disposable nappies. They’re the default choice for our generation, with something like 90% of infant pooers pooing in them. They use up stacks of oil, paper and energy in their production and then sit in landfills and represent everything awful about our use-once, throw-away society, telling future archaeologists how wasteful we were, how short sighted and careless. But they’re handy, no denying it. They get shat in, they get binned and they get forgotten about and require no real effort or thought.
Then there are reusable cloth nappies, the kind we used until convenience and insta-disposal came along. You’d think these would be way in the lead for ethics and environmental non-destruction but it’s here the controversy and hassle kick in. A 2005 report from the Environment Agency reckoned there’s not much difference between reusables and disposables once you factor in all the water for washing, all the power for tumble drying and all the chemicals for detergenting. Much of the report was debunked by our beloved Leo Hickman, on whose enviro-teat I regularly suckle, and a later report from Defra which pointed out how changes in behaviour around resusable nappies make a hefty difference. As is fairly obvious, if you line dry rather than tumble dry and if you use environmentally friendly detergent rather than some toxic bollocks and if you use energy-efficient washing machines instead of old clunky overheating power-whores and if you use renewable energy rather than coal or veal then, obviously, the environmental impact is much, much less impactful. But resusables are more of a pain in the ass, no denying it. You have to wash them instead of throwing them out and forgetting about them, increasing the amount of time exposed to baby shit. But then that’s a lousy reason for not using them. It’s like saying you don’t buy Fairtrade because it’s marginally more expensive, or like saying you want animals tortured and killed because you like a mixed grill. There’s an ethic at work here.
There are also a number of nappies occupying the middle ground. Here we have biodegradable single-use nappies made from the likes of cotton and cornstarch which will compost away years before Wall-E ever gets his stonk on. Here too we have single-use inserts that up the convenience of cloth nappies and reduce the waste of disposables. Naturally we should hate ourselves for even thinking about them. Like old school disposables they both use energy and materials in their production that we’ll never get back and the biodegradables are said to give off methane that’s as knackering for the environment as anything Jeremy Clarkson can think of. And they’re more expensive, obviously, because there’s a premium on faddy moralising.
All of which brings us to an inconclusive conclusion based on stats as vague as my memory of most of the people I know on Facebook. Disposable nappies are awful. Cloth nappies are okay if you use them right. Degradable disposables and single-use inserts are the kinds of lousy compromises you said you’ve never make back before you sold out to The Man. I’d say go for cloth, hold your nose and cross your fingers you’re doing the right thing.