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  • Melissa Willis

How to diaper more "sustainably"?

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

This article has been written for modern parents who want to lighten the load on their baby’s bum as well as mother earth’s lung.

When I came home with my first bundle of baby joy, the hospital gifted me a hamper to start us off on our parenting journey. Baby powder, oil, bath wash, socks, and a newborn pack of nappies and wipes. As a first-time mom, I assumed all these brands to surely be the holy grail of necessities. My mom’s chat group was filled with reams of insight, experience and suggestions - which nappies were best for skinny thighs, fat thighs, sensitive skin, leakages, etc. All these helpful tips were so welcomed by an inexperienced mom. These conversations, and the content that drove them, ran all day and all night turning one mom’s best practice into another mom’s go-to routine. I remember the day I was confronted by a fresh perspective. I attended a talk held by my birth coach and we spoke about “the chemicals we put on our babies’ skins?” The chemicals? What chemicals? Who sells chemicals to mothers for their babies? The reality hit me at a time I was already feeling so overwhelmed with making daily (and hourly) decisions for my baby. Just because certain practices have become the norm, it doesn’t mean they are safe or truly the best practice at all.

Why ditch mainstream nappies?

Popular nappy brands have for decades brushed over the consequential side-effects of the ever-growing pile of waste in our environment with appealing marketing phrases like “extra leakage protection”, “zero feel technology”, “extra stretch”, “economic pack”, “air fresh cover”, “wetness indicator”, and “for gentle skin”. They are cheaper, more readily available and have found their way into hospital wards, daycare centres and nursing rooms.

Did you know we make up to 3000 nappy changes in our baby’s first year of life (Healthline, 2020)? That is a lot … a lot of bum-time in a chemical nappy … a lot of landfills… and a lot of choices. All parents want the best for their babies, with the added benefit of convenience, performance and an affordable option. But what if the “best” is jeopardising our children’s ability to thrive on a planet that is suffocating. Landfills host a significant contribution to global warming (Pubmed, 2020).

Nappies are the second most generated waste product by weight. At this very moment, we have more than a century’s worth of diapers lying in landfills. The single diaper we use today, will not degrade in our great, great, (great!) grandchildren’s lifetime.


The chemicals in nappies

The majority of nappies today are filled with un-degradable polyacrylate stuffing and artificial dyes (Karpisz, 2021) that pollute our soil and waterways when left to degrade in landfills. In addition, the toxic materials and fragrances used in their linings are in a 20+hour contact with our baby’s skin – posing a whole new set of other underlying health concerns. What happens in the landfill, stays in the landfill. Nappies and plastics ditched in landfills end up poisoning our marine life and entering our food chain, making their way to the dinner table and into our bloodstreams.


In some countries, like Singapore, a lot of waste is incinerated. This burning process also releases invisible toxins into the air, which ends up polluting the air we all breathe. So even though our nappies aren’t piling up somewhere in a landfill, they are lingering unseen in the skies.


'Plasticenta': evidence of microplastics in human placenta (Pubmed.org, 2021)

In a recent study, six pregnant women agreed to a clinical trial to measure the presence of microplastics (tiny bits of plastic), specifically in the placenta. Microplastics were found in four of the placentas on both the fetal and maternal side as well as and in the amniotic sac membranes. The microplastics contained polypropylene (BPAs) and predominately pigments derived from paints, adhesives, polymers (thickening agents), cosmetics and personal care products.

A workable solution to nappies and landfills

I hear you; the thought of cloth diapering made my husband gag and left me slightly weak at the knees at the thought of another chore. I found a solution that works for my family and my growing desire to act for my planet. It’s not perfect, but I feel it’s a step in the right direction.

More and more biodegradable nappy brands are becoming available across the globe. Admittedly, most of these eco-friendly brands do cost a little more. But this is where we as parents can weave a little flexibility to consider a different way of doing things – perhaps a combination solution with cloth nappies? This hybrid system between cloth and disposable diapering will make a massive impact on your family’s disposable footprint.

It just takes one switch a day, or a weekend switch-out to make a small impact that will result in a new habit that lightens the load on our Mother. I hope you can join me and encourage friends to make the switch that works for you, your babies and this place we call home.


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