Green Parenting: An Introduction to Cloth Diapering

It’s tough to be Green.  While technology like kitchen-top composters and solar-powered mobile phone chargers has made it easier than ever to facilitate a green household, our faster-paced society necessitates quick solutions for quick problems, and living green is often a laborious effort.  In our household, we do what could be considered one of the most misunderstood of all green parenting actions – we cloth diaper.

When one thinks of cloth diapering, one may see old cartoon images of babes with swaddling cloth and massive safety pins on them.  Older generations tell horror stories of scraping offending matter into the toilet, and hand washing diapers on washing boards, boiling, and hanging them on the line for what seemed like miles and miles of dingy squares in the midday sun. But, like everything else, “reusable” diapers have had a high tech makeover.  New materials like polyurethane laminated fabric, originally created for the medical field, can be super heated to kill off any bacteria, but used over and over again as a waterproof barrier for the cloth inside.  The inner fabric can run the gamut from plain folded cotton to brushed bamboo and microfleece, depending on the needs of the child.  Even the liners themselves (the only part that actually comes in contact with the, shall we say, baby bio matter) can be washable or flushable depending on the needs of the parent. (Without going into the gory details, I will say if only liquid is present in the diaper I rewash the liner; if solid is present, I will flush the biodegradable and toilet system safe liner away). And on a purely aesthetic note, they are adorable. Who wouldn’t want to be able to co-ordintate their child’s outfit to their diaper?

I spoke with Laura from Fill-Your-Pants.com, an online retailer of many of the larger brands of cloth diapers, to get her perspective on the cloth diaper revolution.

Laura, why do you feel there is a resurgence in cloth nappies and diapering?

When we opened the virtual doors of FYP 3.5 years ago, I had seen a resurgence in cloth nappies in the USA where I had lived previously. I saw the huge and growing communities of cloth nappy using mums, and wanted to bring some of that enthusiasm for cloth to the UK. It doesn’t take a scientist to realise that re-using a nappy instead of throwing it into landfill is the more environmentally sound option (despite the publication of notably flawed pieces of research over the years!) and parents often feel that sense of guilt as their bins groan under the strain of seemingly endless amounts of soiled nappies (and with most areas now only seeing fortnightly bin collections, these bins are most unpleasant!).

As new parents, my husband and I worry about our increasing carbon footprint. Do you feel as though parents cloth diaper for the ecologicalbenefits, financial benefits, moral benefits, or a combination?

Everyone has their own motivation for using cloth nappies and many will have a combination of motivations. In a survey conduction on our site earlier this year, respondents were asked this exact question- “What is your primary motivation for using cloth nappies”. 66% of respondents said that Money Savings was their primary motivation, with 13% answering ‘Environment”, 6% answering the “Health and Skin Benefits”, 5% the ‘Full Bins” and the rest said it was something else.

What do you think is the greatest misconception to cloth diapering nowadays?

Despite the hard work by many in raising awareness of the modern cloth nappy, with its easy design and similarity in function to a disposable, there is still a huge portion of the population who’s understanding of cloth nappies in traditional terry squares and plastic pants. It is just about raising awareness of these types of modern nappies and just how easy to use they are- let the machine do all the work!

Do you ever feel pressure to not go Green (use disposables, etc)?

I can understand why so many parents choose the disposable option- disposables feature so heavily in advertising, antenatal classes, hospital packs and with regular promotional offers on them run by the Supermarkets. However, with a burden on the UK taxpayer of 10p for every £1 spent on disposable nappies to dispose of them, I do not think we are too far off heavier regulations being placed on disposable nappy manufacturers on how they conduct their promotional activity. The amount of waste we are producing is far from sustainable- something has got to give.

How have disposable companies responded to the cloth diapering
resurgence?

It is no secret that cloth nappy manufacturers do not have marketing budgets to match those of disposable nappy brands (yet anyway!) but I do think that we are already seeing responsive actions from them as they see the exponential growth in the cloth nappy market. An example being the rise of the ‘eco nappy’ – this is a product designed to help ease the guilt felt by disposable nappy using parents, however sadly many are completely unaware that if they are disposing of these nappies in the same way as usual, the nappies will not biodegrade, and will sit in the landfill for as long as a regular disposable nappy. [Writer’s note: The two things that ‘biodegradable’ diapers need to break down, sunlight and air, are not present in landfills.] If they are composting then yes that is a different matter, but gosh would need a terribly large and efficient compost pile to dispose of even a single infants mountain of nappy waste! The point is also very valid that ‘eco’ or not, massive amounts of resources are used to produce disposable nappies (wood pulp, absorbent chemicals, plastics, water in the production processes etc.) and they are a single use, throw away product.

If you could tell a potential customer one thing about cloth
diapering that might sway them to give you a try, what would it be?

To just give them a try! We find that if people can get over that initial hurdle that cloth nappies are complicated, a fuss and are messy to just they them out, they are often hugely pleasantly suprised! Can you imagine never ever having to pop to the supermarket to stock up on nappies again? £15 here, £20 there, it all adds up! Most modern nappies are one-size in design these days, so you could have a set of nappies to use and re-use (even on future babies) and never worry about it again. The savings of cloth nappies really do make sense, and although I appreciate that the initial outlay may be  restrictive for some, cloth nappies can be gradually added to your stash until you have enough and can do away with the disposables altogether. Remember, for every cloth nappy that you change, that is one less disposable that is being added to the landfill!

 

My sincere thanks to Laura at Fill Your Pants.

I’m a first time mum, I understand how difficult it can be. Some days I want to chuck it all in and just wrap the kid in plastic and be done with it. But living green, while not the easiest thing, is the best thing for our family. I feel good knowing our footprint does not have to explode with the addition of our new bundle. I know that no weird chemicals are touching his skin.  And best of all, I know the diaper he uses today is not the same diaper that will be rotting in a trash heap when his great-grandchildren are diapering their children.