Babies are mucky little pups at the best of times, but not only are they responsible for spit-up stains and sticky fingerprints - they're also major pollutants of our lovely planet Earth. The average child goes through around 5,000 disposable nappies until they're potty-trained, which adds up to around 400,000 tonnes of waste every year. In fact, researchers from Lund University in Sweden found that having kids is one of the most destructive things you can do to the environment, with each child being the equivalent of 58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year!
But seeing as we've already had our bundles of joy, is there anything we can do to reduce our environmental impact and help preserve our beautiful planet for our little ones' future? There's plenty, says Sofi Chabowski, founder of eco-friendly children's store Egg & Soldiers and mum of four, who's been pioneering reusable nappies in the UAE since she had her first child five years ago. But... Aren't reusable nappies a real hassle, when new mums have already got enough on their plates? We asked Sofi to convince us about the practicalities of going non-disposable, and look at some other things we can do to go green...
Disposable nappies are SO convenient. Why would I change?
Reusable nappies are chemical-free, environmentally friendly, and cheaper than disposables. Disposable diaper companies legally don't have to disclose what is in their products, meaning any number of harsh chemicals can be coming into direct contact with your baby's skin. And then, there's the cost! You can cloth-diaper a baby from birth to potty training for as little as Dh600-Dh4,000 depending on your choice of product, and the same diapers can be used for subsequent children. Disposable diapers will set you back Dh5-6,000 per child.
"The most commonly used mainstream nappies will take up to 500 years to break down in landfills - the first ones ever made still haven't broken down"
But aren't disposable nappies biodegradable?
No! The most commonly used mainstream nappies will take up to 500 years to break down in a landfill (the first ones ever made still haven't broken down). Even many of the 'eco-friendly' disposables on the market now that claim to be biodegradable are questionable. Landfills provide far from optimum conditions for decomposition, and are carefully managed to prevent complete decomposition, as that would release too much methane into the atmosphere.
OK, but, how easy are they to use?
Really easy! It's the same basic process, except you wash them instead of throwing them in the bin. The fit of cloth nappies is different to disposables, so it takes a little practice to get it right for your baby, but it's easy once you understand how.
And how comfy are they for baby?
Would you rather wear cotton underwear or disposable underwear? I know which I'd rather! People are often concerned that cloth will make a baby hotter than wearing a disposable, but tests have shown cloth is around 2ºC cooler as the fabric breathes, while disposables don't.
Right then. How much washing I am I going to have to do?
I do a load every other day. And in terms of lasting, I am currently using the same nappies I used for my first baby (Kaya, now 5) on my fourth baby (Zenia, 6 months). Some brands last better than others, depending on quality.
Aha! Doesn't the washing process negate the 'greeness' of reusable nappies?
Of course that has an impact, but the manufacturing process of both has a far more significant impact. With disposables, every nappy has been through a manufacturing process, while with cloth, you only need around 20 per child, and even those can be used on subsequent children. Then, we consider the disposal process. Disposables are used once, thrown away and don't break down in landfills, while cloth is used over and over again and, when that nappy does eventually end up in the bin, it will break down much, much faster, particularly the natural-fabric ones. The overall environmental impacts of the two nappy systems are different. With disposables, the impact is largely waste and landfill; with cloth it is largely energy, water and detergents. The onus is on the disposable nappy manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of their product, whereas it is on us as the users of cloth nappies, to reduce their environmental impact. No one is forcing you to boil wash, to tumble dry or to iron. Take those out of the equation, and cloth nappy environmental impact goes right down. The environmental costs of using cloth nappies can be substantially minimised by the parent in their decisions on whether to soak, how frequently to wash, whether to tumble dry etc. But parents have very little control over the environmental costs of disposables.
We live in the desert. Is there any point in trying to be green when we've already got such a high carbon footprint?
I think every little bit helps. It's right that we automatically have higher carbon footprints in the UAE as we live in the desert, which means we need to do even more to counteract that. And the fact that we live in a hot climate certainly simplifies the use of cloth nappies, because they dry in record time. See, no excuses!
OK, but... aren't they kind of yucky?
Cloth nappies tend to be much better on containment than disposables, for the simple fact that the elastic is much more secure on a cloth nappy, giving a better fit. So I personally find cloth to be less messy than disposables when it comes to those infamous 'poonamis'...
A bucket full of dirty cloth nappies will smell of ammonia (urine) as the poo is flushed down the loo, most commonly using a paper liner. A bucket of dirty disposables will smell of poo, as you tend to leave it in the nappy and roll the whole thing up. I put a couple of drops of tea tree oil around the edge of my cloth nappy bucket to mask any smells.
You've convinced us! How many nappies will I need?
I usually recommend 20 for a newborn (10 per day, washing every other day). You can get away with less as they get older, as you tend to change baby less frequently.
That's a point - what if I can't face using disposables with a newborn but want to switch later on. Possible?
Absolutely. You can switch at any time, or use a combination of the two. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. It takes a little getting used to in the beginning, but after a week you'll be sorted. It can also feel unusual for baby as cloth nappies are bulkier than disposables (they support their hips much better and cushion the base of the spine too!) and there will be a slight adjustment as they get used to feeling a little wet, as disposables keep baby feeling constantly dry. Feeling wet actually helps with toilet training toddlers, as they make the early association between relieving themselves and feeling wet.
And... the cost?
Prices vary hugely. In general, the cheapest are the most involved on the user's part (such as folding the absorbent part and using a separate waterproof cover) and the most expensive tend to be the easiest/most convenient. They vary from Dh65 for a pack of six cotton pre-folds, to Dh115 for an all-in-one style, with an organic cotton inner. I have put a number of 'starter packs' together: the Economy Birth-to-Potty pack, which contains all the nappies you need from birth to potty training, is Dh659.
Eggs & Soldiers store is located on the Ground Floor of Times Square Centre, eggsnsoldiers.com
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