Human Waste… Literally: Some Thoughts on Eco-Friendly & Reusable Nappies

For this week’s #My_Handprint, we hear from two different parents on how they are trying to consider the environment in their use of nappies. Eilidh uses eco-friendly nappies, while Rosie has chosen reusable nappies. We value keeping the conversation around sustainability as real as possible. What are some eco-friendly practices you can employ in every day life? What sustainable action is simply too inconvenient for your life? What things can you do that are beneficial both to you and the earth? Through hearing from two different perspectives on the same topic, we take a look at how different people are thinking through these questions

Eco-Friendly Nappies

by Eilidh Goudie

Did you know that the average disposable nappy takes 300-500 years to biodegrade? And that nappies are the third largest contributor to landfill, despite the fact that only 5% of the population use them?

Before we had our son, we didn’t have much experience of babies, and we certainly had no idea quite how many nappies they can power through in 24 hours! Our nappy bin seemed to be constantly filling up, and our guilt over the environmental impact kept rising along with it. But in the midst of the sleep depravation and chaos of being a new parent, the idea of hunting out an alternative seemed pretty daunting.

However, we soon discovered that there are loads of great options for more environmentally-friendly choices, which was a huge relief. We considered reusable nappies, but after weighing up the idea of using our washing machine even more than we were already, coupled with our lack of space, we decided that wasn’t going to work for us, at least not for Baby Number One! (Maybe we’ll feel less daunted at the prospect with our next one…)

We’ve been using Kit & Kin eco-friendly disposable nappies and wipes for several months now, which biodegrade within 3-5 years and are sustainably produced. What’s more, the company (started by Spice Girl Emma Bunton last year) work in partnership with the Woodlands Trust and fund the purchase and protection of 1 acre of rainforest  for every 10 nappy subscriptions. So while we now pay a little more than the price of normal disposable nappies in the supermarkets, the effects this choice has on our environmental impact are huge.

We would really encourage anyone thinking about making the switch to eco-friendly disposable nappies or trying out reusable nappies to just go for it! It’s easier now than ever before to reduce our collective waste and safeguard the world for our children, without compromising on quality or breaking the bank!

An Exhausted Parents’ Guide to Reusable Nappies

by Rosie Sim

 I am an exhausted parent and I hate housework. I would happily have a house filled with piles of clothes, toys everywhere, dishes in the sink if it meant I didn’t have to do anything about them and could spend more time on things I do want to do… like rolling about on the floor with my infant son, or you know, take a nap! However, as well as being exhausted, time poor and despising all forms of housework, I am also extremely concerned about the environment and the future world we are leaving to our children. One aspect in particular is disposable nappies. It is no secret that babies go through a lot of nappies a day. A newborn can go through around 10-12 nappies a day. The average child goes through around 4000 nappiesbefore they are potty-trained. Each year, 8 million nappiesare sent to landfill in the UK. They take around 500 years to decompose, probably more. And when they do finally decompose they leach chemicals including known carninogens, endocrine-disruptors and human waste products (think methane– twice as bad as co2 for global warming) in to the environment. While pregnant and my bump growing ominously larger every day we discussed it, did some research and decided to give reusable nappies a go.

Although we were determined I was wary and didn’t think we could make it work. I knew that disposable nappies were terrible for the environment. However, I knew little about babies in general, nevermind reusable cloth nappies and expected it to be A LOT of work. I imagined having to scrape poo into the toilet, having to soak and scrub the stains out. I imagined they would leak constantly and that I would have to change the baby hundreds of times a day. I had assumed that disposable nappies were therefore the more convenient and easier option as simply went straight in the bin. However, I could not have been more wrong.

 

In all honesty, the hardest part of using cloth nappies is knowing where to start and finding the right fit for you and your baby. Cloth nappies have come a long way from the terry-towelling that was widely used before disposables came on the market.  There are now hundreds of options for styles, shape, fit and materials. Once you have found the right combination of nappy, boosters and wraps cloth nappies are easily the more absorbent and convenient option. Here is a quick summary of the 3 main benefits of using cloth nappies:

 

 

  1. Money-Saving: According to this article, disposables can cost around £400 a year for nappies alone (not including wipes, nappy bags costing an estimated £150 per year). If your baby is potty-trained at 2.5 years, that’s a cost of £1450 per child. In contrast we have spent a total of £465 on 25 birth-to-potty nappies, 6 boosters, 3 outer wraps, 1 nappy bin, 2 laundry bags, full set of reusable wipes, and 3 reusable nappy bags. We can use this set for multiple children and once we are done with them I plan on selling them through UsedNappy.co.uk. We could have saved even more money if we had bought second-hand nappies in the first place, or cheaper brands. At the time however I was simply too overwhelmed and buying a new complete starter kit with everything we needed was the quickest and easiest option.
  2. Less Housework: You never have to empty the nappy bin! When I was using disposable nappies, the bin had to be emptied every day and the smell was nasty. With reusables the poo is immediately flushed down the toilet so there are no lingering smells, and you only have to do a load of washing every 2-3 days. Because our cloth nappies are now so well padded they are literally bomb-proof. I very rarely have to do full outfit changes, and the amount of general washing is a lot less than it was with disposables.
  3. Health: Reusables are less likely to cause nappy rash or allergic reaction. There is a very long list of chemicals that go into disposable nappies. Dioxins, Sodium Polyacrylate, Tributyl-tin (TBT), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), various dyes, fragrances, petrolatums, glues used in the sticky tab, just to name a few. These are against the baby’s privates all day and night in a warm environment. In contrast, cloth nappies are made of breathable materials and are naturally antibacterial so don’t require any harsh chemicals or perfumes. We have had no issues with nappy rash at all, and we change his nappy on average every 2-3 hours during the day, and immediately after a poo (the same as is recommended with disposable nappies). If using booster pads, cloth nappies can last up to 4 hours between changes.

Now that I’ve gone through the benefits of cloth nappies, here is a few tips on getting started. If I had known the following at the beginning of our journey into cloth nappies, I would have saved myself a lot of time, effort and money.

  1. Contact your local nappy library! Nappy Libraries have been popping up everywhere and are an amazing resource. These allow you to try different brands before you buy. I used the Fife Real Nappy Libraryand was seriously impressed. Someone came to the house, gave a personal demonstration and left us with everything we needed. We were able to try all of the mainstream brands, as well as some of the smaller companies. Through this we decided to go with Bambino Mio Miosolos nappies and I’m still really happy with this choice. However, everyone is different and one brand of nappies might suit some but not others which is why I strongly recommend using this service if there is one in your area.
  2. Join a cloth nappy support group on Facebook. I joined Cloth Nappies UKon Facebook after I had already done weeks/months of research. If I had simply joined a group from the start I would have saved a lot of time, effort and money. It was here that I was given the genius tip of adding hemp booster pads and waterproof outer layer to stop night time leaks.
  3. Shop around before you buy. Check whether it is cheaper to buy directly from the seller, from a local supermarket or on Amazon. Lots of nappy companies also do special sales such as on Real Nappy Week, Black Friday events etc.
  4. Check to see if your local council has an incentive scheme for switching to cloth nappies. If they don’t, ask them to start one.

 

Being a new parent is HARD and there is already too much pressure as it is. In my opinion, it takes a village to raise a child, and at least 3 pairs of hands to care for a newborn. Using cloth nappies won’t make it harder, will be easier in the long-run but takes time to get started. If you are in the midst of new-parenthood and can’t see through the fog, then biodegradable nappies are a good alternative. However, not all biodegradable nappies are created equal in terms of the eco-friendly credentials. If you feel up to the challenge, once you’re out of the fog that is new Parenthood, give cloth nappies a chance, it really is the best possible decision on all fronts.

 

 

 

 

For more information, I can suggest the following websites to help guide you through the amazing world of Cloth Nappies:

http://www.uknappynetwork.org/find-a-library.html

https://www.thenappylady.co.uk/

https://www.goreal.org.uk/

http://www.usednappies.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1130252663758506/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/137541689609174/

Other sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/jul/04/nappies-which-best-disposables-reusables-cost-ethics

http://www.pollutionissues.co.uk/landfill-nappies.html

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/23/plastic-free-future-nappies-copper

https://thegoodhuman.com/why-you-should-consider-using-cloth-diapers-instead-of-disposables/

https://www.livestrong.com/article/111348-chemicals-disposable-diapers/