Which Nappies (diapers) the most environmentally friend and cheapest – By Andy Hamilton

An extract from the selfsufficientish bible available here.

One of the biggest dilemmas that parents of a newborn baby have to face is the question of nappies (Dypers). Most people opt for disposable nappies, because they’re more convenient. However, this is having very damaging effects on the environment – around three million nappies in the UK end up on landfill sites every day, each taking hundreds of years to biodegrade.

It’s not just the effect on the environment that you have to worry about with disposable nappies, it’s also the cost, not only for the parents themselves but for everyone who pays council tax.(A UK tax that pays for essential services). For Example, Nottinghamshire council spends over £1 000 000 (1 Million British Pounds) a year to dispose of of Nappies. For every pound spent on disposable nappies it costs the taxpayer 10 pence to dispose of them. As a parent, you’re likely to pay around £1000 for disposables for the 2 years that your baby will be in nappies, while buying reusable nappies could cost as little as £200 to £300 new.

Reusable Nappies

There are countless reusable alternatives available nowadays that are much kinder to the environment than disposables. It is important to get the right sort of reusable nappies

and things have definitely moved on since the days when we were babies and renewables were just a cloth nappy and nappy pin. In fact there are even nappies made out of bamboo and hemp.

It is easy to be put off using reusables if you get the wrong sort for your child, our sister did and now it is difficult to get her to not to use disposables (guess what she is getting for Christmas). A good tip is to buy a few different sorts of nappies before you invest in bulk for your child.

Shaped nappies

As you might have guessed these nappies are shaped to fit your baby they are worn under a wrap which is breathable and kind to your baby’s skin. They come in a variety of different materials including hemp, bamboo, cotton, organic cotton and fleece often made from recycled plasitcs. One of the major upsides of the fleece variety is the drying time; they spin virtually dry just in the washing machine and will only need a short time of hanging after a wash; this is great logistically speaking as you will need fewer nappies. They are also incredibly absorbent and stay softer and whiter longer than most other nappies.

Mel our friend and nappy adviser also states states, “I would say that their main advantage is a better fit, meaning far fewer leaks than any other system”.

The brands that we would recommend are Tot bots fluffies as they are a Scottish made and although manufactured in Turkey due to the apparent lack of machinists in the UK they pay higher than average wages to their workers. Motherease onesize are another good brand and with a slightly bigger cut they will suit babies who have taller parents or for older children still in nappies.

Stuffable (pocket) nappies

Pocket nappies are idea to have as a back up when you are out and about. They are nappies which have 3 layers, an outer patterned cloth layer sewn against an inner which is plasticated or rubberised to form a waterproof layer and an inner cloth layer often made of fleece. The layers are stitched together to form a pocket into which you ‘stuff’ an absorbent piece of cloth, such as a hemp flannel or micro fibre cloth both of which are highly absorbent.

The downside of these nappies is that they are only as good as the stitching holding the waterproof layer in place and only will only last as long as the waterproof layer which can deteriorate when you wash them at temperatures of 70c and frequently tumble dry them. The upside it that the fleece varieties are excellent for babies with sensitive skin and stuffable nappies are really ones to just have a few of for emergencies when you are out.


When we were babies we were dressed in terry toweling nappies, this was not uncommon in the 1970’s as disposable nappies were pretty rubbish and more expensive. They are still around in fact some people even get given their own to use on their babies. The main thing they have going for them is the price they can be very, very cheap. They do however, still have to be folded and this can take a little getting used to. The only thing that has changed about terries is the fastening nappi nippas can be used instead, see below.


These are cotton (but non-terry) nappies that are folded into shape. They are held in place with a separate waterproof outer wrap. If you are using a nappy laundry service it is likely that they will give you prefolds.

We talked to Mel, a mum with a lot of experience with reusable nappies and a cloth nappy adviser she said of prefolds – “I have found them awkward to fold, leaky and bulky. The wraps that go with them are not good at protecting babies’ clothes or your furniture against leaks and they are over elasticised leading to painful red marks where the urine has soaked into the elastic wrap and rubbed against the skin. I would never, ever recommend these, and while some people undoubtedly get along with them fine they are in my experience the major reason behind people giving up on their cloth nappies. They are simply too much hard work and laundry intensive”.

Our nephew Sam, wore prefolds for a while and our sister, (his mum) would wholeheartedly agree with the above comments. It is for this reason that she returned to disposables.

Toddler training nappies

Toddler training pull up pants are available in waterproofed cloth and are widely available on the internet and also in many of the larger chemists/ baby care shops. They are pant-like in shape and fabric and they’re reportedly far better than the disposable pants now being marketed.

Also there are reusable swim nappies too Mels child Zaki has always had some made from a neoprene material (like a wetsuit) she also states that they will do nicely for her soon to be born child too and probably more. Their local school pool hates the little swimmers disposables, and has banned them after a few, shall we say, incidents…

A word on materials and fastenings

When choosing nappies be careful of the fabrics used – although bamboo is a renewable resource and has excellent natural antibacterial properties it can take a long time to dry naturally. The longer a nappy takes to dry the longer it is out of action for and so the more nappies you will need to buy. It could take half a day for them to dry during the winter time if you don’t want to use a tumble drier. Also bamboo is more than likely to be sourced from china so there is the consideration of air miles to think about.

Hemp can take a long time to dry too and unless it is certified organic you can’t be certain of the amount of pesticides and herbicides used.

Popper and Velcro fastenings are easier to use especially if sitters, grandparents and nursery staff will be doing some changing. The wide Velcro band on some nappies can be uncomfortable for some baby’s as it is quite firm across the tummy and is not advisable for newborns who still have an umbilical stump. Plastic poppers are a better bet, but ensure they are plastic and not metal as there is a potential for nickel sensitivity.

Nappy nippers are a device to use with nappies that do not come with inbuilt fastenings, they are rubber ‘y’s’ with plastic teeth which grip the fabric but not the skin. The nappies that are designed to be used with these are often cheaper as the as they have no inbuilt fastenings also as the grips can be used to adjust the fit they can be tailored to your child’s shape. However, they can be a bit awkward to get used to at first and you might have to buy a few of them in case they get mislaid.

Most renewables use an inner liner that you simply flush down the toilet.

An extract from the selfsufficientish bible available here. Mention ish in the comments box for a 25% discount. Ask nicely in the comments box and we will even sign a copy for you.

Second hand nappies

Most nappy manufacturers will not expressly guarantee their nappies will last more than one child, so getting information from parents/looking at ebay for resale prices does pay off. If you regularly see brand on ebay, they are worth getting, as you know that they are durable and have resale value. We would recommend buying new if you can, if you are planning more than one child, as you know you are getting ones to last, but if you only plan to have one child using cloth nappies (perhaps you’ve come to cloth after having a previous child in disposables) or if you are on a limited budget, it is worth looking at auction sites or parent forums to see what is available (see directory). Be prepared to have a couple of tired ones turn up (not everyone is wholly honest about the condition of second hand nappies, although the majority are) and stick to good brands that have a good reputation and high recognition.

Home laundering nappies

As cloth nappies are normally used with a flushable inner liner they are generally safe to wash with your regular laundry at 30-40c. We say generally as if there is stomach bug in the family then it is advisable to wash at 70c.

Due to skin irritation that can be caused by residual detergents in the wash it is advisable to use a detergent without fragrance or enzymes. Soap nuts (see kitchen chapter page ?) are an excellent alternative to normal detergents.

Nappy laundry services

There are laundry services out there to make life easier for you that come and pick up your dirty nappies and give you clean ones, some will even come and pick up your nappies even if you are not there. The green credentials of laundry services are not to be sniffed at either as some companies will use bio diesel vans to pick up the nappies and as they wash in bulk the amount of water and detergent used is less than you would use at home.

Laundry services are ideal for the busy parent or the parent who simply can’t be bothered with washing nappies. Your local council might also offer a council tax rebate for using the service.

However, the cost of using a laundry service can be the same as buying disposables at around £30 a month. You also have to have a bucket of dirty nappies smelling out your house for a week. Although, this can be neutralised or at least slightly diminished by adding some essential oil to the bucket. They also tend to use prefolds (see above) which are not exactly the best.

To find a nappy laundry service in your area check the yellow pages in the baby goods and services section or visit www.changeanappy.co.uk/supplier.htm.

An extract from the selfsufficientish bible available here. Mention ish in the comments box for a 25% discount. Ask nicely in the comments box and we will even sign a copy for you.

Eco disposable

After trying out various different renewable nappies or during your baby’s first few months you may wish to use biodegradable disposable nappies. We hate to be the bringer of bad news here but they are not that eco-friendly.

The trouble with biodegradable products that end up in landfill site is the fact that the landfill lacks light and the bacterial activity needed to help it degrade. The garbage project, a study conducted by a group from the University of Arizona found newspapers from 1952 that were still readable. Yes the nappies should biodegrade eventually but the likelihood of your child having their own children by the time their nappy degrades is also pretty high.

To be sure that your nappies will actually biodegrade then home composting or vermicomposing them can be an alternatives to landfill. When home composting the compost should not be used for at least a year and preferably two and it can’t be used directly on a vegetable plot; instead it should be used for trees and bushes. It would perhaps be more advisable to set up a vermicomposting process (composting with worms) as there is around a 99.9% reduction of the harmful pathogens (such as E-coli and salmonella), from human poo when composting. Worms also help to neutralise odours with certainly give this system a few more plus points!

When looking for nappies that are biodegradable they must me gel, perfume, latex, dye and chemical absorbent free.

Using no nappies at all

One of our oldest friends a journalist called Adharanand Finn started to use elimination communication (also known as natural infant hygiene) instead of nappies when his second born was just 8 weeks old. This involves letting your little one mover around without a nappy and looking out for signs that your baby needs to go and responding with whatever is the most convenient such as your garden, a jam jar or a potty. This is quite a common practice in parts of Asia and Kenya.

If you do consider this method it is perhaps wise to still use a nappy at night and in the first few weeks. Also make sure you tell friends and family before they visit or you visit them, it can take a while to be able to interpret the signs and the odd mess is unavoidable. You could bring some cleaning supplies with you so you are ready and willing to clean up any mess at other people’s houses.

Apart from saving a fortune on nappies this method also means that you are half way there already when it comes to potty training and as for nappy rash, well what do you think?

We realise that this does seem a very alien concept to us here in the west and you might just read this section for entertainment value, but do try it even if it is just for a couple of weeks and see how you get on. We can’t be held responsible for your carpet if you are not quick enough with your jam jar though!

An extract from the selfsufficientish bible available here.

Copyright Andy and Dave Hamilton 2008.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Be Sociable, Share!

5 Comments on Which Nappies (diapers) the most environmentally friend and cheapest – By Andy Hamilton

  1. With no nappies at all, in many places in India and East Africa, conjunctivitis is widespread and highly contagious, not helped by youngsters touching their genitals and then their face and eyes. All the family get infected very fast.

  2. Nappies, Sanitary pads, its pretty much the same really, though social stigma stops people from talking/thinking about it too much.
    50% of people reading this will be women, I bet at least 50% of those women may not have even come across the idea that you can buy cloth instead of yucky plastic! (or make them, if you’re good at sewing!)

    ‘If you can stomach the thought of cloth diapering, using cloth menstrual pads is cake.’

  3. Many local councils and/or county councils will give a starter pack of cloth nappies and kit – here in West Sussex quite a generous pack. The local library and one hopes the midwife tells people about this.

  4. Making your own cloth nappies is easy, I use prefolds some purchased and some made myself. I purchased some bamboo towelling and made my own with a 2-4-2 layering. All it takes fro prefolds is the ability to sew a straight line on the machine.

    You can also make shaped nappies which again are very easy and theres some excellent patterns on the net

  5. I’ve used cloth nappies for my six children and some of the nappies from the first one are still in use! I don’t do it to be a saint – I’ve used disposables too, and find that cloth just works better, provided you’ve got a good fit. It’s especially noticeable with newborn, runny poo. Basically you can’t avoid poo if you have a baby; the decision you make is whether to wash the nappy or the clothes! No disposable yet made can contain a really explosive poo from a young baby – it shoots up the back and stains all the clothes. However, it’s no problem for a well-fitted cloth nappy. If you use a fabric with a pile (eg terry, rather than smooth, flat prefolds) then the pile catches the runny poo and the nappy absorbs it. Another way that cloth beats disposables is for cleaning your baby up. The absorbent gels in disposables tend to suck all moisture out of the poo, and if you’re not on the case the moment it’s happened, you’ll have to scrub dried poo off the poor baby’s bottom, going through half a pack of wipes. But with cloth, it all stays moist and you can wipe most of it off with a clean (damp) corner of the nappy. Do use flushable paper liners once you’ve introduced solids – they make it a breeze. And I so agree with your comments about prefolds – they’re rubbish.
    Tips on making your nappies last longer – get nappies which fasten with poppers (snaps) or Nappi Nippas, rather than velcro; the velcro is usually the first part to wear out, and after you’ve spent ages picking fluff off the velcro tabs with tweezers, you still find they stick to everything in the wash.
    My longest-lasting nappies are MotherEase OneSize, and the 10 year-old ones look great and work perfectly still. My worst buy was some hemp nappies – they soon lost their pile and absorbency. Bamboo nappies also appear to initially perform well, but mine are, again, losing their pile and absorbency faster than cotton. The TotsBots Fluffles you mention are great, but discontinued – can pick them up secondhand though.

    @Hannah (and anyone else interested in reusable sanitary wear) – do a web search for Mooncup. It’s brill 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.