Ethical baby - a bum deal?
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Date: 17 June, 2005
Haines Lyon continues her series about being an ethical mother with
a look in to nappies!
'Have I really been wasting my time handling
and washing wet, pooey cloth nappies?'
As any parent knows, poo is central to life.
Size, consistency, and regularity are a continual concern as is
the containment of the dreaded substance. So over the last few months,
with the help of five month old Anya, I have been researching into
poo and its entrapment.
Particularly timely it appears, as the Environment
Agency has made an intriguing announcement. Apparently there
is no difference to the environment whether we use disposable or
We finally switched from paper to fluffy cloth
nappies three months ago and have road tested various types. Several
hundred changes later I feel I have some authority on the issue.
I have to confess I only know about breastfed
poo. For the uninitiated it is generally mustard yellow, occasionally
green and very, very runny. Unlike bottle fed babies, breastfed
babies can poo anywhere from every few hours to every week. And
believe me when they do an explosive poo, it can and does go everywhere,
as Anyas cranial osteopath will testify!
Hence, nappies are somewhat central to our life.
Regardless of environmental concerns the big question is, 'what
can stop the force of Anyas poo coming through the feet of
I am pleased to testify that we have never had
a leak from our cloth nappies. Whereas on the occasions that we
have used disposables of various makes, we have had pooey clothes
As to the Environment Agencys claim
are reusables really the answer, especially when there is a new
breed of eco disposable? Have I really been wasting my time handling
and washing wet, pooey cloth nappies?
Well here are some facts: an average baby will
need their nappy changed approximately 5300 times. Nearly 3 billion
disposable nappies are thrown away every year in the UK alone. The
average disposable nappy will take between 300- 500 years to decompose.
Surely this on its own provides a pretty good
case against disposables? However with the advent of decomposable
nappies we need to look at the wider picture. Moltex
nappies are one of the most 'natural' disposables on the market.
If put in a wormery they are apparently 100% decomposable within
My washing machine runs every two days and the
tumble drier is used every week or so if necessary, to keep Anyas
bum covered. Would it not be better to use such paper nappies?
Apparently not. Even with the huge amount of
water and energy I use, it does not compete with the making of disposables.
According to Womens
Environmental Network disposables use 3.5 times the energy and
2.3 times the amount of water of that than reusables. This includes
the manufacturing process of both and factors in washing and tumble
If I were to use a nappy laundry service which
are now in many areas, I would be even greener as the washing is
done on mass and uses less energy and water despite the delivery
The Environment Agency does not seem to tackle
these issues very effectively. Their report is not helped by the
fact that cloth nappy users makes up just over 5% of the total number
of people interviewed.
They seem extraordinarily unaware that no longer
do we have to use bulky terries nappies and nasty old plastic pants.
Now there are shaped nappies in various guises and much improved,
comfortable, non-plasticised water proofing.
The agency also assumes that we all use disposable
wipes and liners which we flush down the loo each change. Odd considering
the main reason for using cloth nappies is to protect the environment.
Every cloth user I know uses fleece liners and wet flannels instead
of anything that might be binned or flushed.
Nor does the Agency allow that most parents wash
as instructed at 60 degrees not 90, and only use tumble driers when
necessary. (We have only used the tumble drier for a full cycle
once in three months.)
The most amusing assumption however is that parents iron nappies
what time do they think we have? Far more worrying is the
conclusion that the disposal of paper and gel nappies is not an
issue as they can be incinerated. Have they not heard any of the
arguments against the gases emitted by such a process?
As you can tell I am a zealous advocate of the
cloth nappy, but the world is larger and more confusing than you
might think. To help you through, Anya has kindly road tested a
We are using Tots Bots nappies and Motherease
wraps. They are fluffy, thick nappies which are shaped rather like
a disposable. The Motherease wrap is a nice breathable material
that stops her clothes being wet and stained. It also has cute animals
printed on it. The down side of Tots Bots is they take a long time
to dry but they are so absorbent they cope with wet nights really
Motherease nappies themselves are great and easier
to dry. They also only need one size throughout. However they are
quite broad and for my tiny framed daughter just arent as
I have also used Cotton Bottoms which are the
most widely available on the high street Boots and John Lewis
sell them. These are padded squares of material that you fold and
put into a water proof wrap. Very easy to dry but I just found I
had to wash the wraps more often as the pads didnt catch the
poo as well as the shaped nappies.
The new technology does of course mean more money
but the £300 I will have spent by the end of potty training
is nothing compared to the £700 - £1000 I would have
spent on disposables. It is even better value if I have a second
child and use them again.
If you are really keen and not suffering new
parent shock syndrome, there are also Diddy Diapers supplied by
Babies. Very cute, shaped tiny nappies for newborns.
You dont have to spend a fortune. I have
since discovered that Spirit
of Nature sell knitted cotton nappies very cheaply 3
for a fiver which is superb. They do look rather hippy and have
strings to tie but Anya seemed perfectly happy in it.
In case you are wondering why I have ignored
Terries; most babies clothes have been tailored to fit a slim
papered bum. Anya generally wears trousers that are the next size
up. What she would have to wear for the even bulkier Terries?
Unless you are in the know it is easy to become
sucked into this paper and gel world thinking that there is no real
choice. Fortunately there are plenty of people to help. I used the
Lady who asked numerous questions about my priorities (eg environment,
cost etc) and childs size before making a recommendation.
Now I have bought the nappies from them, I have
email and phone support until Anya is potty trained. It was great
to be reassured after the first day of using cloth nappies when
Anyas bum was red - apparently due to her adjusting to the
switch. I can confirm we have had no nappy rash at all and actually
she seems more uncomfortable in disposables.
So all in all cloth nappies rock. And something
smells about the Environment Agencys report and it is not
Anyas latest nappy!
Read Charlotte’s other ethical parent articles