Oh nappy day!
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Date: 03 July , 2008


'A report from the Environment Agency in 2005 suggested that there was little difference between disposable and reusable nappies – however, this looked at only a small group using reusable nappies.'


Suzanne Elvidge looks at how you and your young ones can be ethical and green with nappies

Even though I'm far too young, I’m going to be a great aunt soon.

Though I am planning on modelling myself on Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, perhaps with added tweed and a bit of knitting, I have promised to research the art of nappies. So, this article is for Helena and Lucy.

Issues with disposable nappies

A report from the Environment Agency in 2005 suggested that there was little difference between disposable and reusable nappies – however, this looked at only a small group using reusable nappies, and included data on people washing the nappies at far higher temperatures than was actually necessary, and even ironing them (who actually irons nappies?)

One of the key issues with disposable nappies is waste – a child may go through 4,500 to 6,500 disposables before they are toilet trained, about 7.5 million go into landfill each day in the UK, each nappy costs the taxpayer 10p for disposal, and nappies are predicted to take up to 200 years to decompose.

And on top of all that, using reusables can also save money, and some areas even have incentive schemes.

Eco reusables

I was a bit dazed when I started looking into reusable nappies (well, not literally, but you know what I mean…) – there are so many different types.

Once upon a time, babies were all put in terry nappies, squares of terrycloth the size of a small towel, fastened by safety pins (with the rise of the disposable nappy and the demise of punk, the safety pin’s main function seems now to be to fix broken zips and as jewellery), but now there are different sizes and shapes, even different colours.

Fortunately, there are properly trained people out there who have done the testing, so you can be assured there were no babies badly nappied by a journalist in the making of this article.

To make washing easier, nappies can be lined with a washable or biodegradable liner, and boosters add an extra level of absorbency.

Flat cloth nappies with waterproof cover (wrap)

These are the traditional flat terrycloth (or cotton muslin for newborns) squares, and can be folded in an origami style and held together by the wonderfully named Nappi Nippa if you are wary about using nappy pins, or used as a pad in a nappy wrap with a pocket .(you can also buy inserts for these types of nappies).

Shaped fitted nappies with outer wraps

These can be one size, from birth to toddler, or in specific sizes.

These are then covered with a wrap made of a waterproof fabric, fleece, which is breathable, or wool, which is biodegradable, breathable, cool in Summer and warm in Winter, absorbent, draws moisture away from the skin, and needs less regular washing, as lanolin neutralises urine. You can even make them out of old wool jumpers!

All in one nappies

These combine the nappy and wrap, so making changing quicker and easier. They can be slower to dry than other reusable nappies, and may not last as long, so could be useful for days out, rather than regular use.

This comparison chart looks at some different reusable nappies and includes absorbency and drying time.

To maintain your baby’s credentials as an eco-babe, try to wash reusable nappies at 60 degrees C (with an eco-friendly nappy sanitiser if you want extra cleaning power), and dry naturally wherever feasible, rather than using the tumble dryer.

And if you want to use reusable nappies, but the thought of all the washing makes you shudder, try a nappy service, which supplies clean nappies and collects dirty ones.

Eco disposables

For disposables, the greenest option is biodegradable and gel free, but if you need extra absorbency with gel or other absorbency enhancers, there are chlorine free options.

The brands appearing most frequently on the Internet are listed below:

Gel-free nappies

  • Bambo nappies do not use chlorine bleach, optical brighteners, perfumes or other additives. The ‘fluff’ is biodegradable.

Nappies with extra absorbency

  • Wiona – this nappy is chlorine bleach-free and contains tea extract. The core is cellulose based, the outer covering is 100% biodegradable cornstarch, and the absorbing agent is 20% biodegradable, making the nappy two-thirds biodegradable and compostable.
  • Moltex Öko nappies include unbleached, chlorine free cellulose and absorption gel, 20% of which is biodegradable (as is 100% of the packaging). The company also produces eco training pants.
  • Tender Care Chlorine Free contain a small amount of super absorber gel to help boost absorbency and do not use chlorine-based bleach

Eco disposables are more expensive, but you can shop around on the internet to find the best price, and some nappy sites include price comparisons, as well as sample packs so you can try different nappies out.

A halfway house is using a disposable pad with a reusable wrap, such as Weenee.

Disposing of disposables

Disposable pads are flushable, but don’t try to flush entire nappies. If you are going to put them in the bin, use a degradable nappy sack (these also double as dog poo bags if you have both canine and infant toilet habits to deal with).

Biodegradable nappies (or the biodegradable parts of partially biodegradable nappies) can be composted after flushing the faeces down the toilet (a flushable liner will make this easier) – in fact, urine is a great compost activator (Gardener Bob Flowerdew has been advocating recycled beer and cider for years…)

Further reading

Charlotte Haines Lyon’s Ethical Parenting articles


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