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Disposable Nappies: Are They Stinking Up Our Planet?

Disposable nappies may seem highly convenient when babies are abound, but there is an uglier side to keeping our bubs clean: disposable nappies pose serious issues for the natural environment that will last well into the future.

Disposable Nappies: A Brief Background

The idea of the disposable nappy first came to light in the early 20th Century. Its technology and ‘absorbent’ methods saw much development in the 1930s-1950s and many began to turn to the disposable in response to problems associated with reusable nappies (such as poor hygiene and skin rashes).

The first “official” disposable nappy was created and patented in 1948 and today, disposables have become an easy solution for parents and a major product for various manufacturing companies.

Disposable Nappy Use in Australia

(1) According to figures released in 2009 by IbisWorld, Australians use around 5.6 million nappies per day

(2) This means that over 2 billion used nappies go into landfill sites in Australia each year

(3) Over 95% of Aussie parents still use disposable nappies today, either all of the time or in conjunction with reusable nappies

(4) The nappy problem isn’t just confined to Australia; for instance, Americans use 27.4 billion disposable nappies each year, which is enough waste to stretch to the moon and back 9 times

Key Environmental Issues

Despite their modern popularity, the ease of disposable nappies and the sheer volume that we use each year poses significant environmental problems.

Manufacturing Impact: Disposable nappies require large volumes of pulp, paper, plastic and other raw materials in the manufacturing process and hence, significant amounts of water and energy are used. This contributes to energy waste and pollution on a large scale and also links to other problems associated with deforestation and non-sustainable sourcing.

Nappy Fact: According to The Good Human, disposable nappies use 3 times more energy, 20 times more raw materials and 2 times more water than reusables during the manufacturing process.

Landfill Problems: Disposable nappies also place a huge strain on landfill sites in Australia. When combined with other absorbent hygiene materials (such as sanitary pads and incontinence pads), this results in around 450,000 tonnes of landfill waste every year and also contributes to notable amounts of carbon emissions.

Decomposition Problems: Many disposable nappies are also not as biodegradable as we assume. Scientists estimate that once nappies end up in a landfill, they can take around 500 years to decompose.

Contamination Issues: When we defecate, our waste goes into the toilet for good reason: It is treated and sanitised before being recycled or put back into our environment. The waste in disposable nappies, on the other hand, goes straight into the bin. As a result, when the nappies are placed into landfill, certain bacteria and viruses are at risk of soaking in to our groundwater and causing subsequent contamination problems.

Nappy Fact: If you threw out a disposable nappy anytime this year, it wouldn’t fully decompose until the year 2514

Environmentally Friendly Nappy Solutions

Luckily, there are several environmentally friendly solutions available to Australian consumers that can decrease the impact nappies have on our environment.

1. Reusable Cloth Nappies

According to a study conducted by the University of Queensland, “reusable nappies have the potential for the least environmental impact” (assuming they are washed in a water efficient washing machine using cold water and then line dried).

Reusable nappies can be made from a variety of materials, including organic cotton, bamboo, wool and hemp. Some manufacturers argue that making nappies from these materials is much more beneficial for the environment, since these plants don’t require harsh chemicals and pesticides to grow.

Other benefits of cloth nappies include:

(1) Free of toxins and chemicals (like dioxin), meaning they can be much easier both on the baby and the environment

(2) Opportunity for waste to go into the sewer system, rather than into the garbage

(3) Ability to provide better absorption and a higher level of comfort for children

(4) Less expensive than disposables in the long term and therefore more cost-effective

Here’s a brief guide on how to use flat cloth nappies

2. Eco-Friendly or Biodegradable Disposable Nappies

Biodegradable or eco-friendly disposable nappies are also another alternative that can be better for the environment.

According to the Raising Children Network of Australia, these nappies are made predominantly from materials like bamboo and paper pulp. This means that the majority of the nappy will be compostable and will biodegrade in a landfill over time.

In addition to being disposable, some eco-friendly nappies can also be flushed down the toilet or even buried in the garden for fertilisation.

Many manufacturers of biodegradable and eco-friendly nappies are also committed to lessening our environmental impact on a whole, meaning they will often source their materials from sustainable suppliers and produce their nappies using environmentally conscious methods.

3. Hybrid Nappy Alternatives

Of course, nappies can also come in a hybrid form, combining a reusable and washable outer layer (or nappy cover) with a disposable nappy ‘insert’ that absorbs the waste. The insert can then be thrown away, while the rest of the nappy can be reused.

Nappy Fact: Research conducted by the UK Environment Agency and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2007 claimed that reusable nappies, if washed/dried efficiently, can reduce environmental impact up to 40%

What Next for Nappy Waste?

Of course, if we are to significantly reduce the effect of nappies on our environment and our planet, it is not only nappy consumers who must change, but the manufacturers and suppliers who make them, as well as the waste management companies and procedures that govern how disposable nappies are dealt with once they’ve been used.

Recently, an Australian-first recycling scheme is set to take place in association with hygiene recycling company, Relivit. Relivit will open a new plant in Nowra, NSW, which will process 30,000 tonnes of absorbent hygiene waste each year and extract materials for recycling, thereby reducing our “nappy” impact and lessening the need for disposable nappies to end up in landfill sites.



It’s time to think outside the square!
Easy to Use - shaped & fitted, NO pins!
Easy to Clean - no soaking or bleaching
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Easy on the Environment - natural & reusable

 What are Reusable Nappies?

Reusable Nappies have come a long way since the days of terry toweling squares and safety pins. These days reusable nappies come in a wide range of materials and styles to suit all bottoms and budgets - and the best part is, they're simple to use, breathable, leak proof and they care for baby and the environment.

Let Your Washing Machine Do The Work...

Reusable nappies don’t need to be soaked anymore. Just flush any solid waste, then store nappies in a securely lidded bucket until wash day. “Dry-pailing” is easy, chemical free and safe.

It takes the fuss and smell out of using cloth nappies and does away with the inconvenience and hazards of a bucket full of water. On wash day, just wash your nappies with a small amount of detergent. Sun dry as much as possible. The sun naturally bleaches stains and sanitises your nappies.

How many nappies?

A set of about 20-24 nappies should be enough to see your baby from birth to toilet training.

(This figure assumes you wash your nappies every 2-3 days.)

Modern Cloth: What's New?

ALL-IN-ONE: A shaped absorbent nappy with a waterproof cover built-in, the all-in-one is fastened with either hook & loop or snaps. Like the fitted nappy, these come in various sizes from birth to toddler, with some being one-size so they grow with your baby. The ready-to-go option.

BOOSTER: An absorbant pad of material that is lain inside a nappy to give extra absorbency.

COVERS: Gone are the days of sweaty PVC covers! Improved materials are used today (polar fleece, nylon, wool & Polyurethane Laminates or PUL) that are easy to maintain and keep mess in while allowing your baby's skin to breathe. Covers can either be pull-up or use fasteners such as hook & loop (Velcro®) or snaps.

FITTED: Fitted nappies are shaped, ensuring no leaks and a comfortable fit. They typically have elastic in the legs and waist and most have hook & loop or snap fasteners attached. They come in a range of sizes or a one-size-fits-all style, in hemp, bamboo & cotton. Fitted Nappies are adjustable and are typically used with a cover.

LINERS: Liners help to keep baby dry and make disposing of solid waste far easier. They are made of microfleece - an inexpensive material that is durable and easy to clean. Alternatively you might choose a biodegradable or flushable liner.

LITTLE SQUIRT: This is a hand operated spray nozzle with a flexible hose. You connect it to your toilet system and use it to clean the mess from your nappies straight into the toilet.

POCKET NAPPIES: Similar to the all-in-one, pocket nappies are a cover and liner sewn together to form (as the name suggests) a pocket. The pocket is stuffed with an absorbent material (a flat nappy or a pre-sewn stuffer) to give the convenience of an all-in-one, with variable absorbency and a fraction of the drying time.

PREFOLD: Similar to a terry flat, but made of trimmer material and with thicker, more absorbent central panel. TERRY FLATS: A square of terry towelling, designed to be folded in a variety of different ways to adjust the "wet zone" and fastened by pins or snappis.


BAMBOO: Latest addition to the Modertn Cloth family of fabrics. Super absorbent and especially soft to touch, it's a highly renewable source, and so very environmentally friendly.Friendly to the Environment

FLANNEL: A traditional nappy fabric, it is a densely woven and brushed cotton.

FLEECE: Hydrophobic material, with heavyweight fleece used in the covers or the outers of AIO's and lighter weight or microfleece keeps moisture away from baby's skin.

HEMP: Stronger and more absorbent than cotton, it is porous (breathable) fabric with natural antifungal and antibacterial properties, making it ideal for Modern Cloth Nappies.

MICROFIBRE: A synthetic material made of a combination of polyester and polyamide and is used to make boosters or can be used as stuff

ers for pocket nappies. MINKY/MINKEE: A beautifully soft fabric made from 100% polyester. It can be used as a soft nappy inner or used with a hidden layer of PUL used as a nappy outer or cover. Lovely to pat :)

PUL: PolyUrethane Laminate- applied to fabric to make a moisture proof yet breathable layer. It can be used as covers or an outer layer on AIO's.

RAW SILK: Can be used as a liner to promote healing nappy rash as it contains a natural wax.

SHERPA: Is usally an 80% cotton(loops) 20% polyester(backing) fabric. The fibres have been brushed to give it a super soft fluffy feel and is used as an absorbent layer.

SUEDECLOTH: Is made from 100% polyester and is used as the inner layer of nappies to wick moisture away from baby's skin.

COOLMAX: The fabrics employ specially-engineered polyester fibres to improve "breathability" compared to natural fibres like cotton.CoolMax fabric was originally developed for clothing intended for use during extreme physical exertion — sweat can evaporate quickly so the wearer is kept dry. Other useful properties include resistance to fading, shrinking and wrinkling. As a result, CoolMax is found in a wide variety of garments from mountain climbing gear, to casual sportswear and underwear.

'Wick away' or 'wickaway' is a general term used for fabrics that are engineered to draw moisture away from the skin through capillary action and increased evaporation over a wider surface area.

TERRY: Soft absorbant cotton fabric covered in tiny loops.

VELOUR: A very soft blend fabric, generally 80% cotton or bamboo and 20% polyester.

WOOL: Used in soakers (a wool cover) and Longies (a cover with extended pant legs) it is super absorbent, and the loose knit means it will evaporate moisture quickly.