• Katy Rigg

Plastic Free July // CLOTH NAPPIES

When my son was first born, he would easily get through about 10-12 disposable nappies in any 24 hour period. I used to have palpitations about this when I’d chuck a load in the outside bin and imagine what a whole pile of his nappies would look like after a week, a month, a year. And then I’d think about how he was just one baby, and that surely there weren’t enough landfill sites in the world to bury all the nappies that were ever used.

In the UK alone, we dispose of 3 billion single use nappies every year.

That’s eight million a day.

Each one of those nappies takes around 500 years to decompose in landfill, or they get incinerated and contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions.

I decided that there was enough guilt wrapped up in parenthood already without adding into the mix this niggling sense of shame every time I changed a nappy. When we went into lockdown, I decided it was as good a time as any to finally experiment with cloth nappies, especially as buying essential items had all become a bit fraught.

I was soon kicking myself for not starting before. I thought it would be messy. I thought it would make my house smell. I thought we’d have loads of leaky nappies, but in fact none of that was true.

That said, cloth nappies just aren’t mainstream anymore and you do have to do a fair bit of research before you get started. Many parents don’t have time for that.

If you are feeling the nappy guilt and want to experiment with reusables, but are not really sure where to begin, here are a few things I wish I’d known before my son was born so that I could have had him in cloth nappies from the very beginning:


1. Buying a decent cloth nappy system will feel like a steep initial investment; you can expect to pay a few hundred pounds for everything you need. But this should last your baby from birth to potty because of the adjustable poppers and/or Velcro. If they’re looked after well, the nappies can be used again for subsequent children. We have about 20 nappies and inserts and this is enough to keep our one baby going when we wash them on alternate days.

2. If you had to buy all the disposable nappies needed for your child’s entire nappy-wearing life, it would cost around £1000 per child.

3. Some local authorities offer a financial voucher to redeem against cloth nappy products. In Waltham Forest, we were eligible for £53. This helped us to buy around 5 Bambino Mio cloth nappies, which have become our favourites.

4. Single use nappies have hidden costs too. It’s estimated that 8 million pounds of tax payers’ money is spent on disposing of them every single year in the UK. If cloth nappies became more mainstream, this figure would start to reduce.

5. The online cloth nappy world is great! There are so many helpful parents willing to share their advice and expertise. You can buy and sell pre-loved cloth nappies, and even borrow from nappy libraries, which is a great way to experiment with the perfect fit for your child without having to spend lots of money. Check out The Nappy Lady’s website as a first port of call.

6. The washing isn’t too arduous. Everything gets stored in a nappy pail and then popped in the wash every 2-3 days. There’s no soaking or scrubbing involved. After a quick prewash, you can stick other things in with the nappies so you’re not having to run a half empty load or doing extra washes. Hanging out and folding the nappies is an extra ‘job’ that needs doing though, and this does require keeping on top of.

7. If you can keep on top of the washing, you never run out of nappies! No more emergency trips to the corner shop or sending your partner out in the dead of night when you realise you’re down to your last one.

8. They’re no more messy than a disposable nappy. You can buy biodegradable liners that catch all the messy stuff, most of which can either be flushed or put in the compost bin.

9. There’s no harm in starting with a bit of half an half. My philosophy at the beginning was that if I could cut down on just one disposable nappy a day, it was better than nothing. We still use a disposable nappy on our baby at night, but we are generally able to avoid the need for any disposables during the day. It’s so satisfying NOT throwing a nappy in the bin, I would find it very hard to go back now.

Is your family part of the cloth nappy world? If so, what would your tips be to help new parents get started?

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