Disposable nappies (or diapers, the words are used interchangeably) are easy-to-use, easy-to-change, easy-to-dump, but there is a huge price for the convenience – and the earth is paying.
Usually made from pulp, paper and polyethylene plastic (a synthetic material made from crude oil), nylon, polyester and polypropylene, plastic materials in these nappies can take up to 500 years to degrade. Put another way: a nappy thrown out today may not degrade until 2500!
Worse still, millions of disposable nappies are thrown in landfills every single day. Here are some horrifying stats:
- Americans throw out 27.4 billion disposable nappies each year.
- In the UK, three billion disposable diapers are thrown in landfills.
- Australians discard two billion nappies annually.
- Each child wears 5000-8000 disposable nappies prior to being toilet trained.
According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, bacteria and pathogens in fecal matter found in disposable diapers are then introduced into the environment which pollutes waterways and potentially contaminates drinking water.
Clearly disposable plastic nappies are a hazard to our environment, much like plastic straws, plastic bags and takeaway coffee cups but for many parents – even the most committed of environmentalists – they are just too convenient to give up.
Katy Cannata, an eco-conscious mother and San Diego resident, is hoping to challenge the culture of diaper disposability and inspire a new generation of parents to opt for washable cloth diapers. She and her husband have been using reusable nappies since their daughter’s birth. Katy was kind enough to take some time out and answer some questions. We hope her advice encourages you to make the switch from disposable to reusable diapers and helps overcome your cloth nappy fears!
(Please note: I don’t have children and I have never changed a baby’s diaper, so please excuse my questions if they seem ignorant; my cluelessness is born of being childless and having zero experience babysitting infants).
EWP: Which cloth nappies do you use?
Katy Cannata: There are tons of options! There are what are called all-in-ones (which we have nicknamed the grandma diapers because they literally couldn’t be any easier, and our parents were apprehensive at first about using cloth diapers). However, what we have found works best for us is a combination of prefolds and covers.
A prefold is a diaper that has two lines of stitching dividing it into thirds and is slightly thicker in the middle for absorbancy. They are made out of cotton, hemp, or bamboo and vary in price and absorbancy based on what they are made of (bamboo and hemp are the best, but are more expensive). We fold this around her and latch it (no need for safety pins these days, more on that later) and use an outside cover which snaps or velcros into place. The cover is made out of a special material that makes it waterproof and prevents blowouts. They have tons of cute designs and don’t need to be changed or washed with every diaper change. We use maybe one cover a day. The variety of snaps help them to grow with your child. They look like little board shorts; very cute for us California babies. They also are not “plasticy” feeling like they once were.
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The reason we use these is that they are the most cost-effective. All-in-ones are faster, but also more expensive. There are other options, but this is what works for us.
Snappies are the clasps used to secure a diaper in place. They are basically a stretchy piece of plastic or silicone with little claws on the ends that hold the diaper in place by snagging into it.
EWP: How long does it take you to change her cloth diaper?
KC: I would say that changing her at home takes about a minute to a minute and a half. It obviously takes longer when we’re on the go because I’m not used to my surroundings and have to set up in an awkward space. However, there are different cloth diaper options and some would likely be quicker than the ones we use.
EWP: How did you work out your system for washing cloth nappies?
KC: There is a great website for this: fluffloveuniversity.com.
I love this website because it has exact information about different washing machines (including pictures) and which detergent to use as well as tons of information about different diaper options. This site is a virtual [cloth nappy] bible and the only place I get information on cloth diapering on the internet to avoid going down the rabbit hole of internet searches. It’s incredibly comprehensive.
As for washing: We have an open bin we place dirty diapers in (open to avoid smell build up) and we wash every other day. We launder on the highest, hottest possible setting our machine offers and use regular old powder tide, as recommended by the fluff love site. No special detergent needed. It is recommended that you use the same detergent for your clothes as anything that touches baby, and no scents or dyes. We add in some borax because we have hard water in San Diego, which is not good for cloth diapers. We have had zero problems!
One thing to note is that prefolds take a long time to dry because they are so absorbent, so I often have to hang dry them. However, sun bleaching is a great way to get out the stains. However, the prefold diapers do get stained, no way around that. But we don’t worry about it; it’s not like they show and the baby is just going to poop in them again!
EWP: Is there an ick factor to cloth diapers? How do you deal with it?
KC: We seldom have blowouts and have NEVER had the infamous “up the back” poo everyone talks about with infants. However, you definitely have to get your head around throwing a poopy diaper in your laundry machine. Our baby is exclusively fed breast milk, which means we don’t have to do anything special to our laundry because the poo is water soluble. We use rubber gloves when handling the dirty diapers. If you have a dog (we do not) it might be a problem to leave the dirty laundry bin open like we do. We also only wash diapers (no other clothes) in these loads, which means we are doing more loads of laundry and using more water. I think this is just a mental thing of not wanting to wash our clothes with dirty diapers. It seems silly now that I think about it.
EWP: Washing tips or any other advice for cloth diaper newbies?
KC: We also make our own wipes and solution, which is a pretty natural next step. It’s very easy… we just bought a spray bottle and combine two cups warm water with two tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s [castile] soap (it’s gentle on skin and made locally) with two tablespoons of coconut oil. We have NEVER had a diaper rash, which I think is due to the coconut oil protecting our daughter’s skin. We use baby washcloths for wipes or cut up old t-shirts.
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