December 28, 2016

Bringing up a green baby from the bottom up!

No, this doesn’t refer to the colour of its skin, but to its point of view, to the size of its carbon footprint and the measures to which a parent can go to bring a human into the world and teach it to be environmentally aware.

If you are over sixty years old and were brought up in rural Australia, then chances are that your parents took for granted and carried out many green measures just as a matter of course.  I see the occasional new parent doing the same.  Who doesn’t spend some time agonizing over the safe, green future of their beloved children?

So let’s get practical here! 

There’s one thing that all babies do even before coming home from the birthing centre – they eat, and well, what goes in must come out.   It is therefore, wise for the new mother to make a few choices in advance.  You will need to think about nappies.

Disposable or not?

An endless debate.  If you have ever stumbled over a dirty disposable secreted on a beach or picnic spot, you will already have a view on this. Landfills are overflowing with used nappies.  Plastic/disposable nappies are made from dangerous chemicals that need to be handled by some nameless workers, mostly in Vietnam and China, are used once and then tossed to be someone else’s problem.  The desire for the multi-nationals to sell their products into the 3rd World mean they have to be cheap and this means that manufacturing is definitely no-frills.  But being ‘green’ means understanding where your waste originates and ends up and controlling that journey as much as possible.  The end user is responsible for understanding that there is risk to those working in the plastics industries, particularly in less controlled nations, and also from dumping a mix of PVC, adhesives, paper and faecal matter into our landfills. A baby will use around 5,000 nappies over their nappy-wearing life. That produces a mountain of waste equivalent to 130 black bin-bags full.

Reusable nappies, however, take a lot of water to wash and sanitize.  Or do they?

The London based Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) says that by using 24 nappies and laundering them in an energy-efficient washing machine at 60 degrees centigrade, parents can reduce global warming by 24 per cent. The water generally goes into the sewers or septic tank and in general, end up in a treatment plant, and less so these days, into the sea.  In Australia there are many sewerage farms where the solid wastes are pumped onto land that becomes parks, gardens and after treatment can even be pastures, Werribee in Victoria for instance.  In the UK, sewerage pumping rights to fertilize depleted land are highly prized.  Ask your local water authority where your sewerage ends up!

Note also that many of the products below are now available through nappy washing/delivery services and their water is recycled and chemical free, using high temperatures in place of bleaches.

The alternatives are way beyond the ‘flannelette versus towelling’ debates of the olden days. Below are some products and techniques that can be considered ‘green’, less dangerous to the world, leaving little or no waste.

Today’s sustainable choices include

  • Bamboo – soft, always feel dry on the outside.  Not as durable. Can be purchased as lining inserts and soak up a large amount of moisture.
  • Hemp – very durable, soft, easy to care for, high wicking. Very easily grown and processed even in areas of drought.  Nothing to do with marijuana by the way.
  • Organic cotton – are manufactured in varying weights,  The Indian unbleached, multi-layered nappies are soft and absorbent.
  • Sherpa – processed organic cotton, soft with Velcro fasteners
  • Terry towelling – moisture leaks through.  Needs a cover, they will last the lives of two babies in good order but the leakage is annoying.
  • Flannelette – wears out fast losing the fluffiness but as a car wash cloth it can last thirty years!
  • Microfibre – needs special washing. But carries the moisture away from the skin very efficiently. Synthetic.
  • Wool – has a distinct sheep odour (lanolin). Cannot be tumble dried.  Can be scratchy.  OK as a cover.
  • Velour –Soft to the touch.  Similar to microfibre.  Good cover material for cold weather.
  • Gauze – the Indian cottons mentioned above are a form of gauze.  This is a relatively traditional Indo/Asian solution, an alternative to the naked babies.  Cheap, basic.
  • Kaidangku – Split pants of the Asian nations. – not very practical for the mobile Aussie babies.  Would require a minder with a mop following them!  There is no absorbing of wastes.  It just drops onto the floor.

And then you have to decide whether to use:

  • flat
  • pre-folded
  • pocketed for extra absorption.
  • all in one – the liner, nappy and cover all sewing in one. These are invaluable for outings as they minimize the bags mothers need to lug.
  • pins, Velcro, buttons or clips or the Snappi fasteners
  • elasticized legs and waist.
  • contoured shape
  • patterned, plain, bleached, unbleached – the designs are fabulous, from animal prints, pastels to vibrant shades, white and ecru.
  • flushable cloth or paper liners
  • micro-fleece, Stay-Dry Liners – reusable
  • hemp/organic cotton doublers reusable
  • Mini Shower Diaper Sprayer to make cleaning easier.
  • A vinyl, flannel or other waterproof cover


Do I hear you screaming at the choice?  Wouldn’t  it be easier just to grab that pack from the supermarket?  Well, no, not in the long-term.  Note that all these items can be purchased online and it is actually fun to see what the creativity of parents has resulted in for their babies.

Here are some additional hints to make choice easier. 

While flat, square, flannelette nappies are at the bottom end of the range price-wise, they are not as absorbent and as they age, become less so.  They pill and lose fluffiness fast.  High performers are the hemp/cotton blends or the microfibres.  Note that the latter have the disadvantage that the quick rinse sanitizers will affect their performance.  The latest design in the quality all in ones makes them easier to dry and long lasting, thus their high price can be justified.  As well, the need for those vinyl nappy covers is removed.  Note that the vinyl in the nappy covers (PVC) has been shown to leach harmful chemicals and they should not be used at all.  There are combinations of styles and types to provide a comfy and efficient bottom covering.  All are washable and take some time to dry and you will need multiples.

And the cost? 

The modern nappy of the über-baby is not cheap.  However, over the period of a child’s life, the cost-effectiveness is unchallengeable.  You may outlay up to $1000 for a set of top-of–the-range pre-folded, shaped nappies, covers and liners but the estimate is that you will save around $1500 compared with using the equivalent standard of disposables.

Washing is also a consideration. 

Be sure to study the labels before making a choice, don’t be wooed by the groovy prints until you have a trial run and know that the colours won’t run and that the shape will fit your baby.  Some companies are marketing sampler packs where you can test run all the different styles.  These are around $100- but it is a great idea, especially for baby number one!  You will find that most of the really good nappy washes are eucalyptus based.  There are also numerous recipes for homemade ones, but don’t be tempted to overdo the eucalyptus as it can burn.  Here’s one I know works:

Homemade Nappy wash
6 bars Sunlight Soap
1kg Lectric washing soda (you can buy this in the laundry aisle.)
2 bars Sard Wonder soap
4 tablespoons of Eucalyptus

Grate the soap and mix in a large container with the washing soda. Sprinkle the Eucalyptus over and mix more. The Sard removes stains, and the washing soda is a water softener and degreaser which works on nappy creams. The washing soda can be bought in crystal or powdered form by the kilo.

You can make a nappy soaking bucket with 2 tablespoons to ¾ bucket 2-3 tablespoons for a normal machine wash.  Dry nappies on the clothesline in the sun on a windy day and this is adequate for sanitising.  Change nappies often to keep the baby and its immediate environment clean, dry and happy!

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  1. What a facinating blog. I’ve bookmarked it and added your feed to my RSS Reader

    • Thanks and keep reading!
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  2. Thank-you so much for your comment! We have been passionate about the environment from birth. I just heard a speaker at the environment conference in the USA say ‘the cheapest energy is the energy you DON’T use’ and he did a whole list of ways to save (many of them obvious, but others more subtle.) I just purchased my Christmas lights and because they are energy savers (LED) I bought blue and will blue theme my Christmas as the white and other colours are a bit spooky! Today our solar power is going in and we are very excited about that and will post photos on the site later. All the best,

  3. JessIca Garner says:

    Im a mcn user (modern cloth nappy) and speaking from personal experience I can save it definately has saved us money. Im currently pregnant with baby no 2 and will be buying cloth nappys again. I’ll admit my first reason for mcn was to save money and second envenvironmental.

    For those that are intestested I started with the old style square cloth towl type nappies and absolutely hated them. They leaked every poo everytime and out the sides nearly everytime with a wee because the covers sucked, they were big and bulky and after about a month started smelling and lost what little absorbency they had. I gave them a go for about 2 months before I got the mcn.

    I used ‘snappy nappy’ one size fits most, where the liner goes into the cover. The cover looks similar to the layout of a disposable, and the liner goes in from the back, I double lined the nappys as well. I brought 20 nappies with extra liners and it cost me $520. As my daughter got older she did need to wear a disposable overnight as the cloth nappy couldn’t handle the extra overnight. I wash every second day, and the nappies are now just on their last legs so they lasted nearly 2 years. I buy the woolworths select nappies for overnight that cost $25 for 72 nappies, one of the more cheaper brands so I know I have saved my money.

    $520 for cloth nappies or if I only used disposables roughly $1700 (7-8 nappies a day, x 1 week x 52 x 2 years.)