Eco-friendly nappy options
The nappy choice a parent makes will be determined by their baby’s needs, their own lifestyle, budget and personal preference. Many parents use a combination of cloth and disposable nappies and even move from one solution to another as baby grows. Whatever you decide to use has to work for you.
The three categories of eco nappies available are: fully cloth, hybrid and fully disposable.
- Fully cloth - this humble nappy has come a long way from the days when parents needed a degree in origami to successfully use one. The latest varieties are shaped, fitted and fasten without the need for pins. There are certified organic cloth nappies and nappies in a variety of colours and patterns for the fashion conscious.
- Hybrid - this system is comprised of a washable cloth outer with a disposable pad insert. The pads can be composted given the right conditions.
- Fully disposable - only three years ago, the first eco nappy was introduced to Australia and since then many have followed. Unfortunately, there is no disposable nappy available that is 100% biodegradable and all environmentally friendly disposable nappies have varying levels of environmental credentials so consumers need to do their research before buying. Some environmentally friendly nappies are partly compostable, most have excluded the use of unnecessary lotion and perfumes and the more forward thinking brands have opted away from bleaching their nappies white purely for aesthetics.
Better for baby
The less time a child spends in any form of nappy the better, and the elimination technique, when successful, can leave your baby nappy free from birth. This is a method where parent and baby communicate the need to eliminate through the use of signals. The parent then holds the baby in a secure, close position over an appropriate receptacle.
With today's lifestyle and pace of life, this is not a practical option for most parents. Some form of nappy will be used, therefore parents need to look at the effects of their nappy choice on their baby. The skin is the largest organ on the body and it readily absorbs chemicals that it’s exposed to, so choose nappies with fewer chemicals and regardless of whether you choose cloth or disposable, try to give baby some nappy-free time everyday.
Better for the environment
The environmental impact of cloth versus disposable has been hotly debated and a recent UK Environment Agency report 'A Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies in the UK' seems unable to find a clear winner. The report was commissioned with the aim of determining once and for all which nappy choice was better for our environment. The panel included representatives from the manufacturers of disposables and cloth nappies along with independent representatives from environmental agencies. The report concludes "For the three nappy systems studied, there was no significant difference between any of the environmental impacts - that is, overall no system clearly had a better or worse environmental performance".
Many have rejected this report as incomplete and out of date - the nappy industry is moving very fast - however it points to one fundamental truth, no matter which option parents choose they can follow through using that option with best practice.
Best practice for going green
- Cloth nappies - use an energy efficient washing machine. Wash in bigger loads as unsoiled nappies can be washed at a low temperature along with the rest of your laundry. Only soiled nappies need to be washed in hot water. Use an environmentally friendly washing powder and air dry whenever possible. If soaking, don’t use a sanitiser as line drying provides a natural sanitising and bleaching effect. Avoid unnecessary conditioners and use washable liners.
- Disposable nappies - be aware that excrement should not be disposed of with household garbage. Scrape all excrement into the toilet where the sewage system will deal with it appropriately. These nappies should also not be added to your compost as human faeces can carry diseases which can be transferred to your compost. Choose an environmentally friendly disposable with high credentials. Look for a nappy that has been independently assessed.
90% of parents and carers use disposables over cloth. The large manufacturers of synthetic nappies will only move to making nappies that are better for the environment and baby if they believe this is what parents now want. By choosing an eco disposable, consumers are voicing their vote for a disposable nappy with a light environmental footprint and are putting pressure on the synthetic nappy companies to clean up their act.
Choosing your nappy brand
As we all know, the impact a disposable nappy has on the environment is directly related to the substances used in the manufacture of the nappy, the amount of resources used and how well the nappy works i.e. how many are needed in any one day and, of course, the method of nappy disposal. There are many things to consider when purchasing nappies. Here are some pointers to help you on a greener path.
Does your chosen brand have the following...
- A biodegradable backsheet? The ideal backsheet should be made from a breathable material.
- Biodegradable gel? Granules in the core of the nappy should be environmentally safe materials, as an example, those based on maize starch.
- TBT - TBT (tributyl tin) is an environmental pollutant with a hormone-like effect. The smallest concentrations of TBT can harm children’s immune systems and impair their hormonal system.
- Is it chlorine free? Using unbleached wood pulp in the manufacturing reduces the bleaching agents used to make the nappy and reduces the toxicity of products against your child’s skin.
- Degradable packaging? Every little bit helps.
- Are they compostable? The inner contents of some eco nappies have been proven to break down within 8-12 weeks.
The Good Environmental Choice Award (GECA) is the only environmental labelling program which indicates the environmental performance of a product from a whole product life perspective. Look for this logo on products when purchasing.
 'A Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies in the UK', UK Environment Agency.