Have you seen the picture of disposable nappies circling the globe 90 times over? It is a powerful graphic demonstrating how many disposable nappies are thrown away each year. I saw this image when I was twelve years old and it left a memorable impression on me. Today, approximately 5.6 million disposable nappies 1 are thrown away every day in Australia, adding up to more than 2 billion nappies per year and the numbers are only increasing.

A year ago, when I was well into my first pregnancy, I happened upon an article by Jannine Barron titled the ‘Ultimate Guide to Cloth Nappies’ while browsing the magazine rack. The image of the globe popped into my head and so I opened the magazine to skim the article to find out…what you did with the poo! After all, that is really what it comes down to. I read that a paper-thin flushable liner can be placed between the skin and nappy, making it easy to ‘toss the poo into the loo’. I promptly bought the magazine and went home to learn more about the ‘Modern Cloth Nappy’.

Having never seen a Modern Cloth Nappy or ‘MCN’ as they are referred to, in my family or peer circles, this article was indeed the ultimate guide. There were no pins needed or folding terry cloth squares into triangles or even soaking required; the cloth nappy had evolved into the MCN and it is an efficient, durable and dare I say, cute little product. I came away with an attitude that ‘this is possible’ and ‘I could do this’ even though I was an apartment dwelling busy mama to be. I found that there were three key points that I could not ignore.

  1. You will save thousands of dollars, potentially up to $5800, if you start from birth.
  2. You are doing the environment a favour. It takes 200-500 years for disposable nappies to breakdown…leaving a ‘stinking’ legacy for our children’s grandchildren.
  3. You are protecting your little ones from 24/7 chemical exposure. Disposables can contain endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and sometimes-even heavy metals.

Modern Cloth Nappy x 3

Our little girl is now seven months old and she has had a ‘cloth bum’ since the day she was born. I am happy to report that YES, the Modern Cloth Nappy is a viable and realistic alternative to disposables –even for us urban apartment dwellers. We simply love them, including my hubby. They go on just as easily as a disposable but have snaps or Velcro instead of sticky glue. They work a treat in regards to absorbency and containing ‘explosions’ and we can count on one hand how many times we have had issues. We wash a load every other day, and do not find this an arduous task or time consuming. In fact, it would take us longer to walk the three blocks to the store to buy a pack of disposables and back than it does to put the washing on or out. We have travelled overseas to the east coast of America, been on road trips up and down the NSW coast and never had to purchase disposables. Plus, they are so darn cute with their sweet and cheery colours and fun prints; we actually look forward to the hotter days so we can show off her nappy du jour!

Nonetheless, we can’t help but notice that we are very outnumbered in our choice of a cloth bum in our baby world. Our peer group, my mother’s group and even the Midwives and Doctors we saw had never seen the MCN. Our Doctor even exclaimed ‘what are these fancy things’ as he was unsnapping the nappy to perform her hip check at 6 weeks old. In 2009, Choice Magazine suggested approximately 5% of Australian families used cloth nappies full time. In 2012 this number had risen to 10% but the rise does not take into consideration the many families who use cloth nappies part time or for a short period of time.

In our circles, we are the only ones using cloth and had it not been for my serendipitous moment at the newsagent, we might not have known about the option either. Somewhere along the line, as the cloth nappy was evolving, the marketing prowess of big businesses successfully made disposables synonymous with nappies and indispensable for the majority. Funnily enough, the first disposable nappy was sold in America at Saks Fifth Avenue, a high-end department store! They were a luxury item! Disposables were designed to be easy and convenient and with that there was a high cost.

Modern Cloth Nappy Range

Today, the cost of disposable nappies to our communities is not only the financial expense. For starters, from 2013 to 2014 $984 million Australian dollars per year was spent according to market research firm IBISWorld. Additionally the cost to our environment is wide and long, as landfill sites do not provide the conditions necessary for nappies to decompose. ‘They are in effect “mummified” and retain their original weight, volume and form. Human faeces can contain harmful pathogens and when faeces are placed in our landfill sites, as with disposable nappies, there is potential for public exposure via rodents, pets, insects, birds or groundwater’2. There are also costs that are not as immediately obvious but are certainly thought provoking. For example, children are now staying in nappies longer than generations before. Robin Baker, childhood nurse and author of Baby Love, Australia’s best selling baby care book, points out that in the cloth-nappy era, toddlers were much more likely to be toilet-trained soon after their second birthday. Today “nappy time seems to be getting longer and longer”, Barker writes in her updated edition. Huggies’ Australian website says 80 percent of boys and girls are fully toilet-trained by three and a half years of age. Looked at another way, that means 20 percent are still in nappies when they’re approaching the age of four.3

The good news is cloth nappy awareness is on the rise in Australia thanks to The University of QLD lifecycle assessment study in 2009 by the School of Engineering. The study concluded that cloth nappies have less environmental impact than disposables. Previously, there had always been debate regarding the impact of detergents and washing compared to disposable nappy production and waste disposal. I particularly love the ‘water comparison’ factoids that modern cloth nappy manufacturer GroVia share, as it cleverly shines a light on other areas in our life where water is used. According to their spin, growing the coffee beans in that one cup of coffee you love requires a 140 litres of water which is more water than a typical load of laundry. Or that irrigating your lawn twice a week for just one month uses the same amount of water as the entire nappy loads you will ever wash for one baby. But also, noteworthy, that it takes 34 litres of water to manufacturer just one disposable nappy.

As my baby girl’s ‘fluffy bum’ is out there for people to notice, I have found that it has naturally started conversations. People are intrigued and curious and mostly want to know more about the product and my experience with it. Come to think of it, there really is no other baby equipment or even activity used more in a home than the simple nappy! Yet most new parents do minimal or no research regarding the best nappy to use. Bottom line, it is all about education and it starts by sharing with your local community and groups and spreading the word from one family to another.

If you are interested in knowing more about the MCN and giving your bub a head start to a greener and cleaner future attending a Modern Cloth Nappy workshop, party, demonstration or consultation is the ultimate ticket. Workshops allow you to see and touch the product and work out which style will suit you and your family best without any pressure to buy. Plus, they offer you ‘insider information’ because cloth nappy users generally run them. Workshops run by retail stores usually have a participation fee, whereas attending a workshop or party run by a cloth nappy advocate will be free.

During the month of October, The Australian Nappy Association ran a social media campaign called ‘Cloth Shot a Day’ which saw fluffy bums pop up all over Instagram and Facebook, with more than 2000 photos shared. It was a fantastic effort and an incredible way to start the conversation about cloth and spread the word, or photos in this case, about the Modern Cloth Nappy. To see more and be inspired about the possibilities check out the hash tag #GetIntoCloth or #ClothShotADay.

In conclusion, the Modern Cloth Nappy is a very real option for full time, part time or even just night-time use for your little ones and the biggest surprise you will find is the joy and satisfaction that comes with using them. So let’s join together and revive the conversation, it is time to share and shout out loud about the wonders of the Modern Cloth Nappy.

Sarah Reid

Sarah Reid is a Manly Food Co-Op Member and Volunteer and a local Manly mother who blogs about her experience as ‘an urban apartment dwelling first time mama’. Sarah runs Modern Cloth Nappy workshops, parties, demonstrations and/or consultations. If you would like to register your interest for a workshop and see and feel the MCN, simply fill out the form online. Or if you have any questions, comments or would like to follow Sarah’s journey, simply visit her blog Mrs. Ladybeetle.

1. 2009 IBIS World Australia report ibisworld.com.au – (paid report)

2. http://www.mother-ease.com/

3. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/nappies-staying-on-children-longer-says-robin- barker/story-fnet08xa-1226726391991