Counting the Costs of Nappies – Climate Week Fashion Show

When we make the decision to have children, we enter into a minefield of decisions, whether we realise it at the time or not. Some are fairly minor decisions in the scheme of things – how will the baby be dressed, for example (although there are several debates in this area too, if you choose to have them – organic cotton?  Fair trade?  Traditional pink/blue or something else?) And then there are the biggies – where will the baby sleep? How will the baby be fed (more on this another day, no doubt) And, the subject of this post, what kind of nappies will you use?

For many parents, I suspect this isn’t a conscious decision, because the fact that there is an option besides disposables never crosses their minds.  It’s a shame, and the 70s have a lot to answer for! There are others, though, who debate long and hard about which route to take – should they use cloth or disposable.  Some will opt for cloth only to change their minds further down the line, for many reasons.  Some will seriously consider cloth abut still opt for disposable in the end.

And there are some who opt for cloth and stick with it.  This is what we did, and because of it, I sometimes find it hard to understand why people opt fr anything else.  Of course, I know that washing dirty nappies is not many people’s idea of fun (not mine either!), but it really isn’t as awful as I’d imagined.  Our nappy bag is a bit bulkier than most I suppose, but it’s a small price to pay when you consider the benefits.

When we had our first child, we bought a birth to potty pack of Cotton Bottoms nappies.  I added some extra wraps to it as we went along (I couldn’t resist the little green frogs!) but the pack we bought served us well.  It cost us a couple of hundred pounds as I remember, which seemed like a huge cost at the time, until we sat down and worked out how much it was in real terms.  I’ve just looked it up again to remind myself, and now I realise just how much money we’ve saved, I can feel a shopping spree coming on!

To work it out, I used this disposable v cloth nappy price comparison, which puts the average cost of using disposables at a whopping £1584 per child! (Prices at 2008 levels, including wipes but not nappy sacks).  Our nappy pack was about £220, plus I spent around £30 on wraps.  We used disposable wipes, so including washing, it cost us around £670 for child #1 – a huge saving of £914! This time round, we’ll still have washing costs and we use disposable wipes a lot of the time.  I also bought extra nappies – our daughter goes through them at a far faster rate than our son ever did (she obviously doesn’t agree with the whole “breastfed babies poo less often” idea).  I found a birth to potty pack (unused) on eBay, identical to the one we bought and it cost me £50 incl. postage, which was a real bargain – cheaper than buying just the nappies we needed individually.  So child #2 will cost us around £460, saving us £1124 on her nappies.  As you can see from the comparison site, by far our greatest expense is on wipes, and if we’d have gone down the reusable route, we’d have saved ourselves another £600 or thereabouts!  However, in total, we’ve saved over £2000 on the cost of nappies by using cloth.  Wow.

Of course there are other costs to using disposable nappies, and they are not only borne by the parents.  London households throw away a staggering 200,000 tonnes of disposable nappy waste every year and this costs Londoners approximately £20 million annually.  Real Nappies for London points out what a waste of money this is, and also points to the fact that cloth nappies,washed and dried in an eco-friendly way, have 40% less global warming impact than disposables.

To draw attention to this issue during Climate Week toddlers will be strutting their stuff at a very special fashion show on 24 March, in Coram’s Fields.  The toddlers will be wearing cloth nappies and will celebrate this growing trend amongst London parents.  The event is hosted by Real Nappies for London, a pan-London scheme that publicises the benefits of alternatives to disposable nappies.

“It’s an opportunity for Londoners to show off their babies in their favourite real nappies.  And believe me, there are some unique examples out there.   Real nappy companies have risen to the challenge of meeting Londoners’ passions for individuality, glamour and style.”

So says Hilary Vick, the event organiser. Expectant parents or parents thinking of making the switch from disposables are welcome to line the catwalk and enjoy the show.

But what have nappies got to do with Climate Week?  You may remember that the Environment Agency published a nappy life cycle analysis in 2005 that said disposables were no worse for the environment than disposables.  However, it was revised and the update published in 2008 acknowledged that using washable nappies – if you don’t boil them, tumble-dry and iron them, could save as much as 40% carbon compared to disposables.

“We’re not suggesting parents fold, pin and boil terry towelling nappies.  These days modern reusables are shaped and designed, so there’s no need to fold and pin.  They can be washed at low temperatures using eco-friendly detergents.”

(In fact, in our household, we wash nappies with soapnuts, since our children have very sensitive skin).

Some people think ‘eco-friendly’ disposables are the answer but even if the superabsorbent core is not made of petrochemical products, the environmental impacts of manufacturing, packaging, transport and disposal of 4000-4,500 nappies per baby need to be considered.  Between 4 and 9% of all household residual waste – not including recycling – is disposable nappies. And this doesn’t include all the nappy waste produced by Londons’ babies  – much enters the business wastestream via nurseries and hospitals.  Disposable nappy waste is one of the largest identifiable items of household waste.  Food is the largest at approximately 30%.

Washable nappies tend to win on all fronts.  Once bought there is no further transport impacts.  Nappies tend to be used on more than one baby.   Toddlers in cloth tend to potty and night train earlier.  And of course, there is the cost benefit, as outlined earlier.  It makes you wonder why the Government doesn’t do more to make new parents aware of the benefits – and the savings involved in using cloth nappies, especially in the current economic climate.

To find out more about the fashion show visit: or call the Real Nappies for London help line on 020 7324 4709.


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