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Sep 06

Zero Waste Week: switching to reusable nappies.

Reusable nappies, Blueberry

Did you know that this week is Zero Waste Week? It’s a chance to focus our attention on reducing the waste burden on landfill. We are all for being green in our household but I freely admit that we are not particularly good about going out of our way in the name of the environment. I cursed the day that Europe put paid to normal light-bulbs and plunged our house into a flickering, slow-to-get-going, pseudo-candlelight and my clothes recycling from months ago is still waiting in the porch to go to the recycling centre. Helped by our council’s mixed recycling wheelie bin collection and by having a compost heap, we aren’t completely hopeless. As a busy mum though, I struggle to get everything done at the best of times without having to add clutter and complications to our existing week’s challenges, although that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty about it.

This year’s Zero Waste Week theme is ‘Do ONE more thing’. Our one recent lifestyle change of which I am quite proud is our switch to reusable nappies. When pregnant with Roo, I read up about the huge impact on landfill that nappies have, the potentially harmful chemicals in disposables (don’t panic – there is no reliable and irrefutable scientific proof on this yet) and the amount you could save by using reusable nappies instead of disposable nappies.

If you’ve not come across these stats yet then here’s a taster:

  • 3 billion disposables are thrown away every year in the UK. 90% of these going to landfill.
  • It takes between 200 to 500 years for a disposable nappy to fully bio-degrade.
  • Reusables for use on multiple children can cost anywhere from around £100 up to £350 whereas disposables cost (for us at least) around £200 + a year for just one child.  Add in the cost of an extra child and buying pull-ups and that cost sky-rockets.

With this in mind, I always intended to try out reusable nappies with Roo. As a new parent though there was already so much else to get to grips with. Pocket nappies, terry towelling nappies, birth-to-potty nappies, wear-them-over-your-head-in-despair nappies…the world of reusable nappies also seemed completely bamboozling. I was tempted on a few occasions to pick up a trial pack from Mothercare or Boots but they involved more money than trialling disposables and I was scared of getting it wrong. I also admit I was put off by the sometimes quite vocal ‘real nappy’ movement that using reusables seemed to give you instant membership to. I admired the enthusiasm of the real nappy parent warriors but I just wanted to get on without fuss and keep my baby clean and comfortable. There are already so many pressures out there for new parents to contend with. From how you feed your baby down to where they sleep, what classes they take or how you transport them – parenthood is a minefield of decisions, judgement and cliques. I felt no need to add real nappies to my already confused new personal identity as a mother. I retreated defeated in a haze of new parent befuddlement and told myself I’d make the change when Roo was a bit older. I never did.

Crawling in Reusable nappies, Blueberry

On the move in reusables!

When Baby arrived earlier this year and with Roo not potty trained yet, we were suddenly thrown into nappy chaos. Our general waste wheelie bin was full in no time. We ticked off the days anxiously until the next collection whilst our indoors bins were over-flowing with backed up rubbish. My guilt over sending all those nappies to landfill increased but with an extra child to adjust to, the thought of throwing reusable nappies into the mix brought me out in a cold sweat.

Roll on the summer and I made a u-turn. With no shade from the sun for our outdoor bins, this summer’s heatwave brought unpleasant side-effects. Two weeks worth of nappies sweating away in a baking black (why black?!) bin made the whole front of the house stink. We couldn’t open the front windows because of the smell and we had to contend with maggots on more than one occasion. Inside, Baby’s stained clothes from her frequent disposable-nappy-defying ‘poosplosions’ were constantly festering in a bucket to soak. It was the final tipping point for me. After one particularly stinky, maggot-ridden week I started properly researching reusable nappies.

Before Roo, I was recommended to start my journey into reusable nappies via The Nappy Lady. If you’ve not come across this wonderful woman and her team yet and are flirting with the idea of reusable nappies then I cannot recommend her enough. Her comprehensive questionnaire covering everything from your budget, number of kids and even whether you live in a hard water area is a worthwhile investment of your time. In return, Wendy (the Nappy Lady in question) will do all of the hard-work for you in wheedling out from the mind-fuddling maze of millions of reusables out there, just the right nappies for your children. She also tells you how many reusable nappies you will need, what extra kit might be helpful and how to care for them and will guide you through any potential pitfalls and dilemmas of the early days.

For me, reusable nappies had to be easy. I wanted something that could be used from birth to potty and was as close to using a disposable nappy as possible. Wendy came up with a couple of options and after ordering a few to try, we went with Blueberry nappies for daytime and Bamboozle Stretchies for nights. The night nappies are a bit bulky for Baby (though a perfect fit on Roo) and take a bit of practice to get on a wriggling baby but they have never leaked for either of the girls – not even when by some miracle I’ve slept in until 0800 and Baby has done her worst in them! The Blueberry daytime reusable nappies are much simpler for me and also come in lots of gorgeous prints. In all, it took me about a two weeks of constant use to be completely at home with using both types of nappies quickly and confidently.

Reusable nappies, Blueberry

The four parts to our daytime reusable. Pad slips inside the nappy, fleece liner  (or  you can use a flushable paper one) goes on top of nappy then the cover (at the end) goes over the lot for extra protection against leaks.

Another revelation is that the nappy bin used to store dirty reusable nappies between washes is not smelly. With the clever tip in action of covering the top of it with a damp muslin with a few drops of lavender oil on, it actually makes the room smell pretty good! Reusable nappies don’t need soaking like I thought they would (it actually can damage them) and amazingly, a 60 degree wash with non-bio powder is enough to get out any stains.

There are a few downsides – to keep the cycle of reusable nappies going you do need to keep them going through the wash regularly. We have bought more than recommended as I found I was having to do a wash before the nappy bin was full and also occasionally got behind. Whilst the day-time nappies are dry in a flash, the night-time nappies take much longer to dry due to their extra absorbency. Although you can tumble dry them, as well as being less eco-friendly, I actually found they take a frustratingly long time to dry out. As a result, I hand-dry all our nappies and we have laundry hanging out on a dryer most days. I am planning on getting a ceiling dryer to keep them out of the way.

Neither have we gone the whole-hog yet with reusable nappies. I do use them out and about but am yet to take them on more than a weekend’s holiday where I’m staying away from family yet (I’ll post back when I do) and we keep a stash of disposable nappies for emergency use and for when grandparents come to mind the girls for an occasional day. Still, if you think that by only using one reusable a day you would save on 365 disposable nappies a year going to landfill, I am a great believer in something is better than nothing.

Despite some of the minor frustrations, I do love reusable nappies and wish I had put aside my doubts and fears and tried them sooner. They are much easier to use than I had imagined, seem much softer and more comfortable for Baby than disposable nappies and will ultimately save us quite a bit of money. Despite a bit of bulk, Bab learnt to crawl after we switched to using them and Roo can use them too! Most importantly for us, our black bin is once again maggot free and no longer overflowing.

Reusable nappies, Blueberry

Up and mobile in her Blueberry nappy!

Even if we had never made the switch to reusable nappies though, there is one thing I have discovered through them that I wish I had known about back in my days of pre-reusable scepticism. Reusable wipes, with their one side of fleece and one of towelling, are beyond so much nicer and more effective than their disposable counterparts. I use them for everything from nappy clean-ups to post-dinner hand and face wipes. I’ve even used them to remove my make-up and clear up spills! They are super-soft, inexpensive, can be tumble-dried (or not dried at all if you will use them again soon) and you know exactly what’s in them. Why they are not sold in mainstream shops and used by every parent out there I just cannot understand.

So as this year’s Zero Waste Week draws to a close, I am finally free of my self-imposed disposable nappy guilt. From feeling like reusable nappies were something I really ought to use but were going to be a massive faff, I am a convert and infinitely prefer them over disposables. If there is something I would ever get truly excited about and recommend to every new mum though, it is reusable wipes. Even if my occasional use of the odd disposable nappy means I do not quite qualify as a fully-fledged member of the reusable nappy movement, I am unreservedly signed up to the reusable wipes one! Now I suppose I should start on the reusable dishcloths and other bits too…

Tell me all about your Zero Waste Week pledges! Have you got any simple tricks for reducing waste? Do you have any experience with reusable nappies or tips to share? Let me know! 

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

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2 comments

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  1. Rachelle Strauss

    I loved reading your write up and you make it sound so easy; I’d definitely be inspired after reading this if I was considering the switch. Great that you love the reusable wipes. Thanks for helping raise awareness of zero waste week and I hope you enjoyed it 🙂

    1. Kate Limburn

      Yes – the reusable wipes are definitely a revelation for me! A really obvious one too…nothing that revolutionary about a piece of humble cloth but I like them so much better than disposables even before you look at their green credentials! Look forward to next year’s Zero Waste Week!

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