Did you know that the average baby in the UK will use over 5000 nappies in the first two years of life?1 If these 5000 nappies are disposable, they will take somewhere between 1-2.5 million years to decompose, during which time they will emit noxious methane gasses and other chemicals into the environment2. And if you’re thinking you’re safe because you use cloth nappies, think again. because unless they are carefully managed, they too can generate high amounts of carbon emissions3. So what can you do instead?
Parenting is hard, especially in our modern, busy lives. You don’t want to get shat on. So, you want to use nappies. And that’s OK! But you can reduce the impact of your choices, and thats where thinking about nappies differently can be useful. Nappy use is very much a product of cultural norms, with some parts of the world routinely using no nappies at all, some using cloth, some using only disposables and some using a mixture of all of these 4. The age of potty training is also closely linked to cultural norms, ranging from 6 months up to late toddlerhood5. So it might be worth reflecting on any assumptions you have made in the past about what type of nappy to use as well as how long to use them for.
In this post, I want to tell you how you might approach your nappy use to help the environment, as well as save money.
When you use disposables:
- Use them as infrequently as possible. And when you do use one, use it for as long as you can. They are designed to absorb multiple eliminations and since each nappy will take hundreds of years to decompose, you might as well make it work hard before you ditch it. Using fewer could save you hundreds of pounds a year6.
- Don’t use disposables in the daytime unless you really have to. There’s nothing nice about a baby having to carry up to a litre of weight between their legs7.
- By reducing your use of disposables, you should be able to afford to buy a more eco-friendly option (e.g. Nature Baby/Naty / Beaming Baby / Bambo etc), for when you do use them.
- To combat the absorption of chemicals, consider using a cloth nappy insert inside the disposable, to help them go the extra mile. Along these lines, you could also consider a cloth nappy liner (not the “flushable” kind – since they don’t actually disintegrate do they?8) but a biodegradable nappy liner that can be washed and reused. If you use it to catch a wee, you wont even need to wash it afterwards thanks to wools amazing antibacterial properties.
If you’re using cloth
- Try and avoid those containing Polyurethane Laminate (PUL), a commonly used fabric that makes the outer layer waterproof. PUL is a sort of plastic that is harmful to the environment. Instead, consider all natural fibres like wool and cotton9. Because they are breathable, using natural fibre options will also help reduce the chance of nappy rash and eczema.
- Wash and dry them responsibly (i.e. on a full load at a cooler temperature, and air dry rather than use a tumble drier). This will reduce your nappy washing electricity bill by about half10.
- Consider using a reusable nappy liner instead of a “flush/throw” away liner (see above). Its not just the cost of the nappies you have to pay for, its also the liners, wipes etc and reusable ones are better for the environment11. Choosing a re-usable liner and cloth wipes can also save quite a bit of money in the long run, especially if you wash them along with your nappies.
Whatever nappy you use:
- Might sound obvious coming from me, but consider helping your baby to use a potty or a toilet when they need to go. That way you will significantly reduce the waste and washing from any sort of nappy. If you still want to use a nappy, and you are regularly pottying your baby, you can use a simple cloth and belt to help catch those eliminations. If you’re crafty, you can also make your own drop-flap nappy using this tutorial, or you can invest in Born Ready’s Flaparaps which are specially designed for frequent pottying.
- As soon as your child is 18 months (or earlier, if they are showing signs of readiness) get going with formal potty training. There is a great book by Andrea Olson which gives sound practical advice on this (see www.godiaperfree.com/potty-training). Potty training as soon as your child is ready is probably the single most important thing you can do to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of nappy use.
What kind of nappies do you use? Have you tried any of the things mentioned here? Do leave a note to say hi and tell us about your experiences!