To be honest I had never really considered using anything else but disposable nappies until I was pregnant and learnt there were other alternatives than just the old folded terry towels my mum used to use. The Modern Cloth Nappy doesn't need safety pins, doesn't have leaking problems, doesn't require origami skills and aren't absolutely huge! They are shaped like a disposable nappy, have elastic for the legs and waist, have water proof covers, and come in so many beautiful designs.
I am a big believer that you can't and shouldn't take on ALL the problems and issues with everything in the world. It will make you miserable and you would need to completely opt out of how we all live our lives as everything we do and use has a negative cost to either our environment, animals or fellow humans. For me I think its important to do your part by standing up and being passionate about just the things that you are drawn to and what you find important. That way everyone is making a difference across all areas of our consumption, treatment and waste of everything in our world. So when I found out about the environmental impact for disposable nappies and that the alternative solution was something I was happy to do, I dived into the world of MCN (modern cloth nappies!).
I am not writing this to shame on anyone using disposables, I am positive that they are doing many other things to better the world that I am yet or never will do. I am writing this for the people who were like me and had no idea about how big the disposable issue is and are open to how easy and rewarding using cloth nappies can be.
What is the environmental cost of Disposable Nappies verse Cloth Nappies?
Statistics and image via Real Nappies
Firstly most are not biodegradable so the very first disposable nappy is still in landfill today and is the third largest source of waste in landfills. On average a child will go through around 6,000 nappies before they are toilet trained. It takes over 1,500 litres of crude oil to produce enough disposables for a baby until toilet trained. Additionally, it is estimated that over 140kg of wool, 20kg of petroleum and 10kg of chlorine are used to produce enough disposable nappies for one baby each year. Most studies conclude that disposables nappies will use more non-renewable resources than cloth nappies.
Water and air pollution is also an issue as production of disposable nappies releases dangerous chemicals into our environment, such as sodium polyacrylate, chlorine, dioxin, TBT, and many others. Turning wood pulp into paper requires large amounts of water, and in terms of energy, disposable nappies use nearly 6 times the amount of energy to produce than cloth nappies. Additionally, the waste water from just the production of disposable nappies is more damaging to the environment than the growing, production and use (yes, that includes the washing) of cotton cloth nappies.
I have had quite a few people tell me 'but you are using so much more water so they aren't really better' and my answer to this is;
1. I may be using only slightly more water, but I am creating a lot less water waste than disposables
2. If you believe in this logic why do you have reusable clothes, plates, towels, sheets, cutlery, etc. because if you used disposables in other areas of your life you wouldn't need to wash any of these things, thus saving water. If you wash and reuse your undies, you can wash and reuse your nappies!
And how much water are we talking about? Washing nappies from birth till toilet trained will use approximately 40,000 litres of water. By comparison, flushing your toilet 5 times per day in that same period of time will use 80,000 litres. So a child will be using about the same amount of water on a cloth nappy as to when they are toilet trained each year (assuming they go to the toilet 2-3 times a day!).
What's involved in using a Modern Cloth Nappy?
I started using cloth nappies for my son when he was 6 weeks old. A friend advised me for a first baby to just start with disposables because there is a lot to get your head a round when you have your first newborn - as she was right! By 6 weeks I felt ready to make the transition and now he is 9 months and I haven't looked back. I went into it thinking if I only use it once a day, its one less nappy in landfill. I didn't want to add any pressure to myself so I kept the outlook of any I can do, is enough. I ended up being so easy and so rewarding that within a week I was using them full time, day and night. I also found the cloth nappies held the poos so much better than disposables because of the better elastic on the waist. I never had a poo explosion problem with a cloth nappy.
I have 26 MCNs for my son, I have found this a good number to not run out when he was young and going through so many and when we have some rainy days so drying takes a little longer. I have used the same ones from 6 weeks to now as you can adjust the size as they grow. Drying them out in the sun makes any stain still showing when they come out of the wash go away, making them like brand new every time. They will definitely be in perfect condition to use for our next bub. So the value for money is fantastic.
Before he was on solids, I would rinse each nappy after use and place then in a container until I did my washing which was each morning. I just picked a time of day and got into the routine of doing it each day. I honestly thought it would be daunting doing the extra washing but the reality is that you have to do so much washing with a baby anyway that I found the nappies made sure I got off my butt each day and did them - I have way less build up of dirty washing now that I am in the swing of attending to it daily!
Now that he is on solids I use bamboo nappy liners, so if there is a poo I can flick it into the toilet and the nappy goes into the container until wash day which now is every second day as I am using less then when he was little and I don't need to rinse them as I don't have the issue of breastfeeding poo going everywhere.
Once my son started to sleep through the night (10+ hours), I had to change to using a disposable for bed time as he is a heavy wetter and no amount of inserts was keeping him dry through the night. I would say this to been the only draw back I have found with my cloth nappies. Since I am now using one a night I make sure I am using a biodegradable disposable which is also completely plant based and chemical free. They cost a little more but a great alternative to a cloth nappy for night time or when traveling.
I remember my dad telling me before my son was born that washing nappies will be good for me, something I had to get out and do - will be good for my mental health, and I remember thinking as if I will need more to do and this is really generalising the role of a mother - get out as wash, wash wash it will make you happy!!! But after going through it, he was actually right! I know this seems crazy but it is really rewarding washing my nappies, it makes me feel accomplished and every time I change him I think about the nappy I have saved from landfill and it feels so good!! I have spoken with a couple of my friends who also use them and they feel the same way. As they say, it feels good to do good.
I hope you have learnt something new from my post and maybe even feel motivated to give it a go!