Fluffy Bums


Eat, sleep, poop, repeat – the life of a new-born baby. Babies bring with them lots of joy and sleepless nights but also what can be a fairly hefty environmental impact. It is estimated that from birth to potty training a child can go through between 4,000 and 6,000 disposable nappies which, along with the packaging they come in, generally end up in landfill or incinerators. A disposable nappy can take up to 500 years to decompose and even with improvements in materials some of the so-called biodegradable nappies can take 50 years to break down in landfill. Aside from the environmental cost, there is the financial impact of buying and disposing of nappies which can run to thousands of euro per child by the time they are toilet trained. So what’s the alternative? Sorcha McPhillips gives us an overview of some other options.


As with many attempts towards more sustainable practices, the answer is to look at what previous generations did before convenience culture brought with it massive waste. Time to return to ‘fluffy bums’, the term commonly used for cloth nappy wearing children. Long gone are the terry cloths and huge safety pins of the past; the washable nappy has had a makeover. Essentially, a cloth nappy involves an absorbent fabric and a waterproof covering to cover the babies bum with options from new-born to toddlers.

There are thousands of colours and prints available and lots of different materials used including bamboo, organic cotton and charcoal. Over 7 million trees are chopped down each year to produce disposable nappies for the UK alone. Reusable nappies use 3.5 x less energy, 8 x less non-renewable materials and 90 x less renewable resources to make than “disposables”.


If you are willing to make the leap to cloth nappies then reusable wipes is a natural next step – anything from cut up old clothes to towels can be recycled as wipes. A simple DIY system involves a plastic lidded box to hold a small number of wipes dampened in water with some people using a drop of baby wash, or dry storage and a small squeezy drinks bottle filled with water etc to use as required. Used wipes are added to your nappy bin until wash day.

If you to want to buy something specific for the purpose you will find lots of brands (including the popular Cheeky Wipes) online from Irish retailers. You could also check out Facebook groups such as Irish Cloth Essentials which features ‘work at home parents’ with small businesses selling wipes as well as nappies and handmade clothes. A certain Swedish home-store sell ten packs of terry wash cloths for €3.50 which are a popular alternative to disposable wipes.


Using cloth nappies could not only massively reduce your little one’s carbon footprint but also save you lots of money. Cloth nappies can be picked up on free sites or second hand but even when purchased new there are lots of options to keep your costs down. You need approximately 20 nappies per child for a week, depending on how often you intend on washing them. Other than that just a bin or a bucket with a lid to store them in between washes. Also, if you’re planning to have more children in the future using these same nappies on subsequent children makes them essentially free. And then, you can sell the whole lot using sites like eBay or Facebook and recoup part of your initial outlay.


Another plus with cloth as opposed to disposable products is the impact on babies’ delicate skin. Research done at Bristol University shows that children in cloth nappies are no more likely to have severe nappy rash than children in disposables and further evidence has shown that cloth can reduce skin issues as babies are not exposed to the various additives, bleaches, gels and dyes that most disposables contain. It’s not all good news though – there is of course the additional labour involved with cloth. It’s much easier to fire a nappy in the bin and think nothing more of it than it is to wash, dry and repack them ready for next time. It makes it less of a chore if you can set aside an hour once a week to repack them while listening to music or watching TV; before long it becomes second nature.

Re-usable nappies do still generate carbon emissions in their manufacture and in the energy used to wash and dry them. However, arguably, parents and guardians have more control over the carbon emissions created by reusable nappies. Buying second hand, reusing for each child, washing a full load on a more energy efficient setting or by hand, and hanging them out to dry rather than tumble-drying can all reduce the environmental impact. It really depends on how much time and energy you have! For more information on cloth nappies, and to borrow a kit to try out at home, visit www.clothnappylibrary.ie and for support along the way check out the Cloth Nappy Chat Group (Ireland) on Facebook for advice on sizing, washing and drying.

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