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Putting cloth back on baby bums is easier than it sounds, says Canberra support group

Genevieve Jacobs 30 July 2019 23

Modern cloth nappies are making its easier to switch from disposables, says Canberra Cloth Bums. Photo: Erin Barrett.

It’s a sobering thought when you consider that the first-ever disposable nappy is probably still mouldering away in a landfill somewhere.

Plastic-coated, full of absorbent fibres and laden with human waste, it’s estimated that disposables could take up to 500 years to break down completely.

That realisation pulled Canberra mum Emma Black up quickly when she had her daughter. She’s now among a small but growing number of people who want to challenge the assumption that cloth nappies are just too hard to use.

Emma founded Canberra Cloth Bums, which runs information sessions through the Canberra Environment Centre and new parent groups, and holds regular ‘Nappycino’ events. These are organised by parents on a voluntary basis in their free time and the group welcomes anyone who is interested in knowing more.

“I started with cloth nappies when my daughter was five months old,” Emma says.

“I literally knew nobody else who was doing it. I suppose it was a combination of wanting to reduce our environmental footprint and realising how huge the impact of disposables was on our rubbish, and thinking that cloth nappies were a nicer option for me.”

Her concerns are borne out by the fact that in the last ACT kerbside domestic waste audit, disposable nappies (and all they might contain) made up 6.1 per cent of our waste stream.

“A lot of people don’t realise you are not meant to put poo in the bin. It’s on the packages but often in really tiny letters,” Emma says.

Canberra Cloth Bums offers support to parents who aren’t sure how to start with cloth nappies. Photo: Handmade by Hey Penny.

She’s also insistent that this isn’t about being the nappy police.

“I started with my daughter in cloth when we were at home together, then transitioned to feeling more confident about cloth when we went out and overnight.

“Disposables can definitely have a place, but I want to give people support to have a fresh look at how much easier cloth is these days,” Emma says.

The move is made easier by the fact that nappies have changed a lot in recent years. They are easier to put together, there’s no folding and pinning and washing systems have also changed too.

“It takes me about an hour per week to get the nappies done and the new dry pailing systems are really effective at minimising smells,” Emma says.

“When I first looked at it, there were family members who were totally convinced I wouldn’t do it for more than a month – my mother told me not to bother investing too much money in it because I’d never last. There is resistance and that’s fine, it’s not for everyone. But it’s great for people to see cloth as more accessible.”

One of the objections that’s often raised about the newer varieties of cloth is that the cost per nappy is high. But Emma points out that while the initial investment is greater than disposables, the nappies last for years and can be passed on to younger siblings or friends’ children.

If you use cloth nappies full-time over around two-and-a-half years and factor in water and electricity, Emma says the costs are likely to be between $450 and $750, while disposables will cost between $1000 and $1600 for the same time period, depending on whether you choose basic or more expensive brands.

In June this year, Brisbane City Council introduced a Sustainable Nappy Cashback scheme which offers parents the chance to win cash draws each month when they enter proof of their cloth purchases, and Emma would like to see a similar rebate operating in the ACT to encourage cloth purchases.

“Even people who want to use cloth can get overwhelmed because it’s so uncommon these days,” she says. “Canberra Cloth Bums is trying to take the anxiety out of it.

“In this new world of Keep Cups and reusable shopping bags, I think modern cloth nappies should hold a bigger place.”

You can find Canberra Cloth Bums on Facebook. To find out when their next information session is, email canberraclothbums@gmail.com. The Canberra Environment Centre also has a cloth nappy library where you can check out the different options before buying.


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23 Responses to Putting cloth back on baby bums is easier than it sounds, says Canberra support group
Poppy Griffiths Poppy Griffiths 9:31 pm 01 Aug 19

Washing the cloth nappies was part of having a baby... just part of life/your routine...… nappies were popped into a nappy bucket with Napisan… soaked, then into the washing machine. Might sound a bit silly, but I loved seeing the nappies flapping around on the clothes line... n they had such a clean, fresh smell about them when dried. I remember using a Bo-baby type of liner, that was also washed, n that kept the moisture away from baby's bottom

Erin Barrett Erin Barrett 1:44 pm 30 Jul 19

Luke Barrett cutest baby toes I’ve ever seen 😍

Michelle Fitzpatrick Michelle Fitzpatrick 10:56 am 30 Jul 19

Whilst I dislike the disposable nappies and what they must be doing to our environment, I do like the fact that the babies bums of today do not seem to suffer the horrible effects of nappy rash caused by the cloth nappies in my day.

Both have their positives and negatives.

    Katie Claire Katie Claire 11:14 am 30 Jul 19

    Might depend on the bub, but mine had worse rashes from disposables than MCNs. That was actually my tipping point when she was about 5 weeks old- nappy rash was almost gone, put a disposable on for an hour and it came back with a vengeance. She hasn't worn a disposable since then, and she's 2 1/2 now.

    Jenni Zimoch Jenni Zimoch 11:36 am 30 Jul 19

    Modern cloth wicks the moisture away,just like disposables.

    Taryn Graham Taryn Graham 11:50 am 30 Jul 19

    Definitely! The cloth nappies of old (generally toweling, maybe with a flannelette liner) resulted in terrible nappy rashes for my eldest (20 years ago). However, the modern cloth nappies have a fast absorbing top layer, which pulls the dampness away from the skin and into the core of the nappy. As a result, there is not wet fabric resting on bub's skin, which in our case, was certainly the cause of any rashes.

    We are also, I feel, more aware of skin sensitivities nowadays and so if rashes are being caused, are more likely to consider other causes (such as type of laundry detergent) than previously.

    Michelle Fitzpatrick Michelle Fitzpatrick 11:53 am 30 Jul 19

    Jenni Zimoch thanks that’s good to know.

Izzy Fabbri Izzy Fabbri 7:36 am 30 Jul 19

Reggie Shearing go Koa !

Kerry Jackson Kerry Jackson 6:58 am 30 Jul 19

And nappies last forever. 25 years on and am still using old ones as polishing cloths etc

Eoin Wotkinz Eoin Wotkinz 11:51 pm 29 Jul 19

Where does the water used to wash them go?

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:25 am 30 Jul 19

    The same place as the rest of the waste water, down the drain and ending up in the Lower Molongolo Water Quality Control Plant, before being released into the Molonglo River, which flows into the Murrumbidgee River. This photograph is of the released water from the Plant, possibly the shortest stream in the ACT, but also likely the one with the best flow 🤣 - all those toilet flushes, showers and that washing machine water after treatment.

    Eoin Wotkinz Eoin Wotkinz 2:09 am 30 Jul 19

    Julie Macklin that’s nice and all but we still have a long way to go in relation to disposal of sewage sludge otherwise it’s the tail wagging the dog. Culture shift is going to be a harder sell to new parents. In my case, a lot of good intentions went out the window when the reality of parenthood hit. Maybe us disposable nappy people should just learn to be better parents 😉

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:35 am 30 Jul 19

    Eoin Wotkinz Baby waste would break down a lot better than the plastic in nappies. Are you questioning the treatment at the Lower Molongolo Water Quality Control Plant? What can you tell us about the failings there, that you would think that disposable nappies are better than flushing the waste, washing the nappies and reusing? I do agree with one thing. The sludge could be used as fertiliser, as it is in some places, and it's a wasted resource. But then it's more wasteful to send disposable nappies to landfill.

    Jessykah Crosland Jessykah Crosland 1:23 pm 30 Jul 19

    Parents pretty happily changed their actions from cloth to disposable nappies, doesn’t really seem easier to find a new way to process the new disposable nappies, than it would be to get parents to switch back to reusable, especially considering modern cloth nappies are far superior to those of old.

    Eoin Wotkinz Eoin Wotkinz 2:55 pm 30 Jul 19

    Jessykah Crosland yeah maybe. Its always easier to change to something easier though. People are inherently lazy and changing back to cloth would be a seriously tough sell. I know where I’d be putting my money if I had to make a bet. It may seem a bit pessimistic but it’s realistic. Its more likely someone will develop an eco-friendly disposable nappy and method of processing before the nation turns their backs on something as quick and easy as disposable nappies.

Melissa Hobbs Melissa Hobbs 9:52 pm 29 Jul 19

Well done Emma!

Jenni Zimoch Jenni Zimoch 9:38 pm 29 Jul 19

Modern cloth nappies are so much better than the old white terry squares!

And once you get into a routine easy to use.

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