Like many expectant parents, my partner and I were keen to use cloth nappies when our baby arrived.
For environmental reasons, we are aspiring to “zero waste” in our household. Although washing reusable nappies requires time and large volumes of water, we think this use of resources is preferable to the alternative – each disposable nappy takes hundreds of years to break down in landfill.
We have also heard that babies in cloth nappies are less likely to get nappy rash. And then there’s the significant cost saving if we buy only one set of nappies rather than having to restock at the shops regularly.
For example, a pack of 108 Huggies single-use nappies (best supermarket value) costs $30 and a pack of 80 baby wipes costs $4. While the average family ends up spending thousands of dollars per child on nappies, a full-time set of reusable nappies costs $495 (from Little Aussie Monster), including a pack of reusable wipes, a swim nappy and a folding change mat.
In Cairns, we are fortunate to have a specialist shop that caters for parents wanting to save money and reduce their environmental footprint. The Little Aussie Monster shop on Mulgrave Road, Earlville, has a large selection of colourful nappies as well as reusable wipes, breast pads, maternity pads, and various bags and accessories.
My husband and I were lucky enough to be given hand-me-down reusable nappies from relatives, so we didn’t need to buy as many new ones. Some were Cutie Bum and Cushie Tushie brands, so we have tried a few different types this way, but there are many other brands on the market. There are also cloth nappy libraries online that allow you to hire a set of assorted reusable nappies to see what works best for you and your baby.
So far we have found Little Aussie Monster nappies to work the best in terms of absorbency, adjustable size, ease of washing and drying time. Sometimes they leak a little, but with drooling and perking our baby goes through a few changes of clothes every day anyway. We bought some nappies ($11.50 each including the insert), a pack of 25 reusable organic cotton Cheeky Wipes ($44) and maternity pads (a pack of six is $59 or separate maternity pads are $10.50 each).
Like all new parents, we were surprised at the sheer number of nappies a newborn goes through. But I’m proud to say that, four months in, we are yet to use a disposable nappy. We didn’t even buy any as “backup”.
But this has only been possible because my husband is equally committed to the cause. While I recovered from childbirth, he was the one ferrying home the nappy bucket full of soiled nappies, wipes and pads, scraping the sticky black newborn poo off the nappies, putting it all through the wash, hanging it out to dry, bringing it in from the line and delivering it all fresh and clean to our hospital room before we ran out again.
Fast-forward four months and we have been camping (one night away from home), travelled to Townsville (two nights away from home) and even moved house without having to resort to single-use nappies. With a bit of planning, we have managed to make provision for washing and drying nappies daily, and it has become part of our daily routine. We love our reusables: they are straight-forward, lots of fun and people regularly comment on how cute they are!
With “modern cloth nappies”, laundering has to be done daily to prevent stains and keep up supply. Little Aussie Monster recommends 30 nappies for full-time cloth-nappy users, and that requires a daily wash. Cloth nappies can be washed with cold water, which reduces the energy use. And our baby was born in August, the best time of year for drying nappies on the clothesline, so we haven’t had to resort to using a clothes dryer, which would add to our energy output and therefore our eco footprint.
We are now experimenting with “elimination communication”, reading our baby’s signals and helping her use the potty. This is going well and we will hopefully say goodbye to nappies sooner (stay tuned for my follow-up article!). Another way of reducing the nappy tally is to give babies some nappy-free time (with towels to catch any accidents).
Of course, disposable nappies are more convenient in the short term, and it is challenging to put the time and energy into nappy-washing from the start. Here and there you can find eco-nappy services, making it possible to outsource the nappy-washing chore altogether.
It is possible to make it work with reusables, like our parents and grandparents did before disposables existed. We have friends who live on a cattle station and they choose to use cloth nappies full-time with their baby because it is simply impractical for them to buy loads of single-use nappies on their irregular trips to town (not to mention having to dispose of them all).
Like with any waste-saving solution, it just takes some organisation and time to get into the habit of it, and in the long run we can both save money and live our environmentally conscious values. Nobody is perfect and we should be gentle on ourselves if we’re not able to achieve all of our ambitions as new parents, but every time we use an alternative to a single-use nappy or wipe, we are making a positive difference for our world and for our children’s future.