Changing times: Cloth Nappies

Changing times: Cloth Nappies

Working for a sustainable building consultancy means incorporating sustainable practices into your everyday life. So, when children came into the picture, Bronwyn Byrne decided to continue this trend.

From separating waste, green cleaning, and reducing energy usage in the home to concepts such as net zero and carbon offsetting – greening the home is an integral part of the Solid Green team members’ lives.

Before my son was born, I decided that I was going to use cloth nappies instead of disposable nappies as nappy waste has a significant environmental impact. There are many things that can be argued when it comes to this topic. Like the fact that you must use water and perhaps even electricity to wash cloth nappies, which has its own environmental impact. Or considering the manufacturing process of disposable nappies. So, I decided to focus on waste impact.

When I started this research, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how popular using cloth nappies has become in South Africa. Of course, this made the investigation a lot easier and I was directed to the SACNU (South African Cloth Nappy Users) website, which was a great place to start. SACNU also has a Facebook group where you can buy and sell second-hand cloth nappies. I was also lucky enough meet someone along the way who had experience with cloth nappies and could give me valuable advice. Most of the cloth nappy users and suppliers also have neat calculations on how much you can save by using cloth instead of disposables – this wasn’t really my primary focus but has become a bonus considering how much money can be saved.

One of the main criteria I tried to adhere to was purchasing a local product. Unfortunately, I was unable to meet this completely as a lot of the materials used to produce cloth nappies are imported. However, I did come close to my goal because most of the South African suppliers have a locally made product. I also later learned that even the natural fibres used to produce the nappies are still mixed with synthetic materials to meet the absorbency and waterproofing requirements of a nappy.

There are 2 types of cloth nappies on the market – flat/traditional cloth nappies, which follow the principle of the original re-usable that you fold and secure with pins or removable snaps. And modern cloth nappies, which are more like disposables in their format and the way that they fit and have built-in snaps. Modern cloth nappies also tend to come in 3 formats and the difference comes down to personal preference. I have tried a few different types and they have all done the job.

The only downside for me was the washing. Not just the environmental impact but the time. You can use your washing machine, but I found that I was washing nappies once a day and then putting them back together really took up a lot of time. I also found that they would not always dry in time if it was cold or rainy. Which led me to acquire more nappies – I did not have to wash as often and learned how to use my washing machine more efficiently by running shorter cycles and using bath water to rinse the nappies.

Taking a more waste-conscious approach to nappy-use has definitely led me to appreciate the intricacies of a more traditional way of life before everything became so disposable.

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