Are you an environmentally aware family wondering how you can reduce your waste within the home? Are you a mum or a dad with a baby or expecting one shortly? Have you thought about the amount of waste diapers produce, let alone the huge quantities of water needed to make these diapers that when thrown out sit in the ground for over 500 years. Then Alas! I introduce you to the modern cloth nappy. Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking about those terry toweling nappies that you fasten with giant pins that our parents used on us. Modern cloth nappies have come a looooooong way since then and are far simpler to use too.
Disposable Nappy Use in Australia
- According to figures released in 2009 by IbisWorld, Australians use around 5.6 million nappies per day
- This means that over 2 billion used nappies go into landfill sites in Australia each year
- Over 95% of Aussie parents still use disposable nappies today, either all of the time or part time with reusable nappies
- The nappy problem isn’t just limited to Australia; for instance, Americans use 27.4 billion disposable nappies each year, which is enough waste to stretch to the moon and back 9 times
Environmental impacts of disposable nappy use:
- Manufacturing Impact: Disposable nappies require large volumes of pulp, paper, plastic and other raw materials in the manufacturing process and hence, significant amounts of water and energy are used. This contributes to energy waste and pollution on a large scale and also links to other problems associated with deforestation and non-sustainable sourcing.
Nappy Fact: According to The Good Human, disposable nappies use 3 times more energy, 20 times more raw materials and 2 times more water than reusables during the manufacturing process.
- Landfill Problems: Disposable nappies also place a huge strain on landfill sites in Australia. When combined with other absorbent hygiene materials (such as sanitary pads and incontinence pads), this results in around 450,000 tonnes of landfill waste every year and also contributes to notable amounts of carbon emissions.
- Decomposition Problems: Many disposable nappies are not biodegradable. Scientists estimate that once nappies end up in a landfill, they can take around 500 years to decompose.
- Contamination Issues: When we defecate, our waste goes into the toilet for good reason: It is treated and sanitised before being recycled or put back into our environment. The waste in disposable nappies, on the other hand, goes straight into the bin. As a result, when the nappies are placed into landfill, certain bacteria and viruses are at risk of soaking in to our groundwater and causing subsequent contamination problems.
Why you should consider the modern cloth nappy:
Reusable Cloth Nappies According to a study conducted by the University of Queensland, “reusable nappies have the potential for the least environmental impact”.
Reusable nappies can be made from a variety of materials, including organic cotton, bamboo, wool and hemp. Some manufacturers argue that making nappies from these materials is much more beneficial for the environment, since these plants don’t require harsh chemicals and pesticides to grow.
Other benefits of cloth nappies include:
- Free of toxins and chemicals (like dioxin), meaning they can be much easier both on the baby and the environment
- Opportunity for waste to go into the sewer system, rather than into the garbage
- Ability to provide better absorption and a higher level of comfort for children
- Less expensive than disposables in the long term and therefore more cost-effective
- Many options exist to be affordable for any family (purchase second hand, Australian made, made overseas, or hire from a nappy library).
Read more at Oz Science.
What type of nappy should I choose?
Now that you have considered the environmental impacts and the saving that can be had using a modern cloth nappy, it’s time to learn about the different type of nappies available.
All cloth nappies fall into one of two categories.
1 – Flats and Pre-folds; Which are the traditional Flat Nappies that you fold.
Pre-folds are similar but have extra padding.
2 – Fitted Nappies; which are shaped like a disposable nappy and close with cloth tabs. There are lots of styles within this second category as follows:
- All in one nappy (AIO): A fitted nappy with the water-resistant layer sewn on the outside of the nappy, creating a one step nappy that is quick to use. Usually take longer to dry but liked for the one step.
- All in two nappies (AI2): Similar to all in ones except the booster usually snaps in and out easily. The purpose is to ensure faster drying times and to aid the absorbency of the nappy. Waterproof outer layer and absorbent inner layer can be washed and dried separately
- All in three’s (AI3): Three items to one nappy. A booster, the main nappy and a nappy cover.
- Fitted nappy: Sized or OSFM shaped nappy made from entirely absorbent material. Usually fastens with snaps or Velcro type closures, Requires a separate water-resistant cover.
- Pocket nappy: A shaped nappy made from an outer water-resistant layer, and in inner stay dry layer. A pocket opening at one or both ends allowing the absorbent material to be ‘stuffed’ inside the nappy. This is what we personally use in our home.
- One size fits most (OSFM): The snaps can be adjusted to fit your child. Size usually range from 5-20kgs
- PUL Polyurethane laminate: PUL is a soft clear coating of polyurethane that is chemically and heat applied to the back of fabrics resulting in a product that is both waterproof and has a small amount of breathability.
- Insert (or ‘stuffer’): A specialized absorbent booster pad used inside a pocket nappy to make it absorbent. Can be made from cotton microfleece, hemp, bamboo cotton.
- Booster: An absorbent pad made from any fabric, which is added to a nappy to increase its absorbency.
- Cover: A cover is used over some Modern Cloth Nappies, Fitted Nappies or traditional terry squares to stop wetness from wicking through onto baby’s clothing. Covers are made from waterproof breathable fabric such as PUL, wool or 100% polyester fleeces. Some people refer to covers as “wraps” or pilchers.
- Liner: A much loved accessory for any cloth nappy user. Disposable or Cloth options available. Designed to make cleaning cloth nappies easy and to reduce nappy staining. Poo is collected on the liner and you simply remove the liner for disposal of poo, then place wet only nappies in your nappy bucket or machine. Disposable liners are made from biodegradable materials like bamboo or corn-starch. Cloth liners are usually made from polar fleece, micro fleece, polyester, wool or silk as these allow the moisture to wick through to the absorbent part of the nappy.
****Please note liners are absolutely optional, and don’t affect the use of a nappy.
Please refer to Australian Nappy Association for a more in depth glossary of nappy terms.
You have done your research and you may have already looked at a nappy library or a friends stash to see what style of nappy you like. Now its time to purchase but you don’t know where to start. You may find this simple starter shopping list useful.
Cloth nappy starter shopping list:
- 15-30 Modern cloth nappies style of your choice, if full time and depending on how often you want to wash. (These can be brand-new or purchased secondhand).
- Reusable or Biodegradable Nappy Liners (optional)
- Night Nappies or Booster Pads
- 15-25 Cloth Baby Wipes (Purchase new or make your own)
- Manufacturer Recommended Detergent or pre-soak.
- 1 or 2 large nappy buckets with lots of air flow
- 1 x Nappy Change Mat/table for home (optional, a bed or floor also works well)
- 1 x Portable Change Mat (optional, a towel or blanket will also do the trick)
- Nappy Bag for when out and about. I can highly recommend a backpack style so you have two hands free at all times.
- Detergent choice
- Remove and rinse soiling
- Pre wash cycle, within 1-2 days in 40-60°C water
- Main wash cycle, within 2-3 days in 40-60°C water
Please refer to Clean Cloth Nappies Down Under for an in depth wash routine. These ladies have all the answers cloth nappy related!
Now this is a basic run down of modern cloth nappies and the environmental and financial benefits to you and your family.
We suggest doing further research to suit your needs. Mums groups, Facebook pages, Nappy libraries, local hospitals, family and friends all make good resources. And remember this is your choice, don’t let others scare you into thinking reusable nappies are hard. They are most definitely not!