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  • The Nappy Alliance is pleased to support this campaign taking place across Europe that follows concern over the presence of potentially harmful substances in  single-use nappies.
  • We’ll be taking further action to raise awareness of this issue throughout 2022 and we’ll be updating our blog with the campaign’s progress.
  • This blog is shared from the original posting on the Health and Environment Alliance website on 9th December 2021.
  • Environmental and health organisations have reacted with severe concern after the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)’s scientific committees rejected an attempt to eliminate hazardous chemicals from single-use babies’ diapers [1].

Though it is not widely known, single-use diapers can contain a range of chemicals proven to be dangerous to human health, from carcinogens to hormone disruptors. This means that newborns and toddlers can be exposed to such substances for a long period of time during a phase of their development when they are particularly vulnerable.

Last year, France made a proposal to restrict well-known hazardous substances – formaldehyde, PAHs, dioxins, furans and PCBs – in single-use baby diapers throughout the EU. These substances are unintentionally added during the production process. 

But today, ECHA’s Socio-Economic Assessment Committee (SEAC) dismissed France’s proposal in a new written opinion. This follows the opinion published in September this year by the Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC).

ClientEarththe European Environmental Bureau (EEB)the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)Zero Waste Europe (ZWE)Zero Waste Lvivthe Nappy Alliancethe Gallifrey Foundation and She Changes Climate are now asking the Commission to protect EU children and ban these substances in nappies.

Hélène Duguy, lawyer at environmental law charity ClientEarth, said“Parents are doing their utmost to protect their children from unnecessary risks and will be horrified to know that the diapers they use every day may contain toxic chemicals.

“Because the substances in question have harmful properties and babies may be exposed for a prolonged period of time, ECHA cannot rule out the existence of a risk to babies’ health – so blocking attempts to change this dangerous situation is unacceptable.”

Dolores Romano, deputy policy manager for chemicals at the EEB, said“ECHA’s committees consider that there are too many uncertainties to conclude that the hazardous substances present in diapers pose a risk. However, they acknowledge that the available evidence does not allow them to rule out risks to babies and they recommend that these substances should not be present in nappies. We hope that the Commission takes a precautionary approach and bans these toxic chemicals”.

Natacha Cingotti, Health and Chemicals Program Lead at HEAL, said“Overall, ECHA’s opinion fails to account for and address the particular vulnerability of the newborns and toddlers that this important restriction aims to protect. It is all the more disappointing as the recent Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability promised increased protection from harmful substances for young children, which should translate into zero tolerance for any harmful substances in diapers.”

The European Commission now has three months to come up with a final restriction proposal which will then be voted on by Member States’ competent authorities in the REACH Committee.


A reusable nappy and some reusable wipes

Labour MP Fleur Anderson has this week introduced a backbench Bill to ban the use of plastic in single-use wet wipes. In a rousing speech under the “Ten Minute Rule” in Parliament (where backbench MPs can introduce legislation on any topic with a limited amount of time for debate) the Putney MP set out some of the key arguments for plastic in wet wipes to be banned, including the fact that they break down into microplastics that harm wildlife and even end up being ingested by humans. Gasps of horror could be heard from the green benches as MPs discovered that humans consume around a credit card’s worth of microplastics every year!

Other shocking facts include:

  • 90% of wet wipes contain plastic

  • The UK gets through 11 billion wet wipes per year

  • 93% of sewer blockages are caused by wet wipes, costing water authorities £100 million a year to clean up

Take a look at this short BBC film to see how wet wipes are polluting the River Thames

The Nappy Alliance are wholeheartedly in support of this Bill. Although nowadays wet wipes are available for uses like household cleaning and facial cleansing, a large proportion of single-use wet wipes are marketed for use with babies. As producers and sellers of reusable baby products, we know that there is a difficult tightrope to walk when it comes to making products that have less of an environmental impact, and many of the same concerns exist for baby wipes as exist for nappies.


In her speech, Fleur Anderson noted that banning wipes entirely, or taxing their use would just hit already struggling parents hard – either by taking away a timesaving convenience or by stretching their budgets to the limit. Banning plastic in single-use wipes will put the onus back on to the producers to innovate and create a wipe that does not contain any plastic – or better yet, move to reusable versions.


The reusable nappy industry has been aware of this issue for some time, and is ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation, with reusable wipes becoming a rapidly growing option to use alongside both reusable and single-use nappies. Parents are discovering that reusable alternatives to wipes are cheaper than single-use and can fit in easily to their routines whether or not they use reusable nappies. For some parents, this is the first step on the road to more sustainable parenting.


The choice of reusable wipes is incredibly broad, with fabrics available like bamboo, microfibre and organic cotton. They can be used with plain water, which means that they additionally avoid the antimicrobial chemicals that are added to wet wipes to prevent them going mouldy. When a child is potty trained, the wipes can be repurposed for use around the home. For more information, see this handy guide, from our member the Nappy Gurus to getting started with reusable wipes.


We recognise many of the issues that Fleur Anderson rightly raised – that in some situations single use wipes are an appropriate choice – but we also know that creating plastic-free versions of single-use products don’t entirely solve ecological issues, as resource consumption is responsible for 50% of carbon emissions & 90% of the earth’s biodiversity loss. Reusable products must be part of the solution, otherwise the problem is merely moved somewhere else.


This issue has received widespread support from all sides of politics, the water industry, environmental NGOs and individuals. We are proud to be part of the solution to protect our environment from single-use plastics, and we wish Fleur Anderson the very best of luck for the progression of the Bill.


If you want to explore the many kinds of reusable wipes that are available, you can find a great selection from Nappy Alliance members by clicking the logos below:


We are excited to bring to you a joint Nappy Alliance and United Nations Environment Programme webinar on “Single-use nappies and their alternatives: recommendations for policymakers from Life Cycle Assessments”, taking place online on Wednesday 23rd June at 12pm CEST.

You can register here or by clicking on the below infographic.

In March 2021, the United Nations Environment Programme’s Life Cycle Initiative published a review of Life Cycle Assessments of single-use nappies and their alternatives. As the report highlights, “single-use nappies are one of the biggest contributors to plastic waste globally, with around 250 million thrown away every day. They have environmental impacts across their entire lifecycle and are also a leading cost for local authorities tasked with their disposal.”

Key findings from the review include:

  • “Single-use” is more problematic than “plastic” Therefore, policymakers are encouraged to support, promote and incentivise actions that lead to keeping resources in the economy at their highest value for as long as possible, by replacing single-use plastic products with the most appropriate reusable alternative as part of a circular economy approach. This will require systems change.
  • Reusable nappies have lower environmental impacts than single use nappies. Thus, an overarching policy recommendation is that there should be greater advocacy for and incentives to adopt reusable nappy systems.

Together with the United Nations Environment Programme and its Life Cycle Initiative, the Nappy Alliance is hosting a webinar to outline the background, methodology and findings of the report, as well as the implications and recommendations for policymakers.

The discussion will be chaired by Guy Schanschieff MBE, Chair of the Nappy Alliance. It will be followed by a Q&A session, giving you the chance to put your questions to our panel of experts from across the globe.

The panellists are: