Roadtest: The Pros and Cons of Cloth Nappies

Image: Kingston & Merton Real Nappy Network

This article was originally published on 1 Million Women.


It’s amazing how things that are environmentally savvy also tend to be economical.

Almost four months ago I entered into a new phase of life. I became a mum. It has been exciting, rewarding, exhausting, and illuminating. One of the biggest surprises was discovering just how often a newborn baby ‘goes to the bathroom’ and just how expensive single-use diapers are. I had no idea.

It didn’t take me long to learn that it’s not unusual to change a baby as much as ten times a day which over the course of a year amounts to over 3500 nappy changes. For babies like mine that seem, to fill up a nappy that was put on just five minutes earlier, that number might be far higher!

By the time a child reaches that most highly awaited milestone of being fully toilet trained, most parents will have paid over

I love picking out cute nappies to match my baby's outfits

I love picking out cute nappies to match my baby’s outfits

$3,000 for single-use nappies and that doesn’t include the cost of wipes. Not surprising, the environmental ramifications associated with nappies are frightening as well. In the United States alone, enough single use nappies are disposed of each year to fill Yankee Stadium 15 times. And as a non-biodegradable product, that means that this giant mass of diapers just sits in landfills, growing year after year, generation after generation. The feces contained within the nappies also leak out and contaminate ground water but that’s an even bigger can of worms that we’ll open up another time.

As a greenie from way back, I was always planning to use cloth nappies when I had children but I’ll admit the process of actually doing this had me pretty intimidated. Most of the baby supply stores in my area didn’t carry cloth nappies and the Kmart and Big W type stores only sold the old fashioned ones that my mother’s generation used. They are basically square shaped towels that you fold and pin yourself in a form of bum origami. I did buy a few packets of these but, in the end used them mostly as burp cloths.


A few nappies from our growing collection

A few nappies from our growing collection

After my baby had finally arrived, I stumbled upon what are known in Australia as “Modern Cloth Nappies” or “MCNs”. They cost anywhere between $10 and $30 a piece and are easy to use, come in lots of different colours and patterns (so great for an Australian summer – who needs clothes!), and best of all – can be adjusted in size to fit your little one from the time they are about one month old until they are fully toilet trained. There are many types of MCNs. The ones that I use have a pocket in the back where you insert a large, absorbent microfibre pad. The moisture from the urine gets sucked into this pad and your baby’s bum stays dry.



There are also many nappy companies run by what the cloth nappy community call “WAHMs” (Work at Home Mums). Supporting these companies gives you the opportunity to not only save yourself some money and help the planet, but you also get that awesome feeling of knowing you’ve just helped out a fellow mum.

I purchased most of my nappies from one such WAHM company called Little Aussie Monster for $10 to $15 a piece. I didn’t have enough money to purchase enough nappies all at once to move into cloth straight away (most people recommend you have at least two dozen cloth nappies for a newborn – less for a toddler). Instead, I would buy two or three nappies each payday until I built up a collection large enough to kick disposables out of my life completely!


I’m only a few months down the cloth nappy road but I’m really surprised by how much I am enjoying it. I find that the cloth nappies do a better job at preventing blow-outs than the disposables and are much more stylish. If I were to move back to disposables at this stage in the game, it would be like exchanging all of my clothes for plastic hospital gowns! I just could not do it.


For those of you with little ones, do you use cloth nappies or have you thought about it?  Let’s discuss in the comments!

The two plastic bag habits by grocery stores that annoy me most

Plastic bags.  The nemesis of the environmentally-minded.  They are an old issue but they are still a big issue.  And there are two things about them in particular that make me want to scream.


.. But first, let me please preface this by saying that honestly, I could live in a world with disposable plastic shopping bags and not feel the need to go on a crusade.  I get that people use them as rubbish bin liners and without them just end up buying plastic bin liners anyway.  And I don’t resent people that re-use them in that way.  It’s what I do.  Mostly because even though I try to remember to say “I don’t need a bag, thanks!”, I sometimes forget and suddenly all my purchases are being put into one and I don’t always have the energy to ask them to take the stuff OUT of the bag.  But the stats say that only 3% of plastic shopping bags are ever re-used so the bin liner argument probably isn’t grounds to keep them.  But alas, this isn’t even what pisses me off about single use shopping bags.


Here is my first major pet peeve about them –


  1. Is it really necessary for merchants to put ONE SINGLE ITEM into a bag?  I mean, is it really that much harder to hold a bottle of juice than to hold a bag holding a bottle of juice?


I mean if I was buying a big black dildo or something, I’d be all for it.  Bag that shit up!  But juice??  My favourite phrase in the world is “would you like a bag?” because it at least gives you a chance to think about it and be like, “oh duh, no I don’t need a bag for this one single thing”.  Or if you’re a girl, you might think to yourself, “My purse is gigantic.  I might as well put these two lip glosses I just bought into my purse instead of the TINY plastic bag that they’ll give me” ..  because let’s face it,  you’re NEVER going to use that tiny, useless bag again because it’s way too small to serve any kind of practical purpose.  Nope, you’ll just throw it away as soon as you get home.  Of course you imagine it’ll go to a landfill like it’s meant to but there’s a good chance it’ll fly off the back of the garbage truck on the way there.  I’ve seen sooooo many bags fly off garbage trucks and I’ve seen soooo many animals with bits of plastic bags inside them.  I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.


And here’s another thing that just kills me –


2.   Is it really necessary for merchants to wrap “wet” items in separate bags to save your other items from the moisture?


Often I bring a re-usable bag to a shop and will buy something like a bottle of coke.  The merchants almost always start putting the coke into a plastic bag to “save” my re-usable bag from the condensation.  This happened to me just the other day and the conversation went a little something like this:


“oh I’ll just put that in my bag here”

“but it’s wet, I’ll just wrap it up for you”

“no it’s ok, I don’t mind”

“you don’t want a bag?”

“no, it’s ok”

“you sure?”

“yeah, I’ll be fine”

“oooohhh kaaaaaayyy”


Ummmm.  Hello, have you not considered that I brought my own bag because I HATE PLASTIC BAGS??!!!  I mean I get that I’m not in the Pacific North West anymore and there is a very different culture here around the environment but I’m sorry, a tiny bit of moisture won’t hurt anything but plastic bags do  .. all the time!  Enough already!  I’ve realised that the wrapping cold items in separate bags thing is considered good service but it just drives me totally insane.  The coke bottle incident happened at my local convenience store which is about 200 metres from the Pacific ocean!  It just kiiiiiiiiiiiiills me.


Will we ever wake up?


Extreme simple living – voluntary homelessness!

Some of you would remember when I did a personal experiment on simple living and vowed not to buy anything for myself (sans the usual grocery items) for a month. It was a challenge but really helped me to identify the luxuries in life that were free or that I already owned. I saved quite a lot of money that month and it put me on a path of thinking harder about the financial and environmental consequences of my daily purchases. I realized that I had fallen into a pattern of absentmindedly buying stuff to ignore the feelings of boredom or glumness that were showing up in my life. I also realized that the practice wasn’t really accomplishing anything. I had fallen into debt and I was becoming irritated by all the clutter, further adding to the rather shitty emotions I was experiencing.

Even shittier, I started feeling really guilty about what I was doing because I knew I didn’t want to be so actively participating in our culture’s emphasis on constant acquisition. It was costing me a lot and I knew it was stupid to get sucked into the modern day acceptance of credit card debt. I was also feeling guilty because we live in a world of finite resources and it felt selfish to be consuming so much when so little of it was necessary and almost none of it contributed to a more fulfilling life.

A few months after the month long experiment I completed a three month experiment which I called a ‘consumerism detox’. Even though this challenge was three times as long I found it easier. I had sort of realized by then that it’s actually ok to sit and wait and want something for a while and that you don’t have to just immediately rush out and buy (or charge) whatever it is that you’re wanting. I had also started to get used to enjoying what I already owned – my books, my movies, my internet connection. In the end I was more excited about getting rid of stuff than getting new stuff, especially on the day I de-frumped my closet.

Well it’s now been nine months since I completed the three month challenge. Since then I’ve continued to live a more simple life although I haven’t had any specific ‘rules’ to live by. I paid off my car and almost all of my consumer debt (just about one more month to go on that) and have just began a new experiment, this time with no specific end date in mind. I am sure it will seem extreme to many of you but I have actually become willingly homeless.

I have moved out of the house that I shared with two friends and into a storage unit with no plans to get another place any time soon. My friends were going to be moving out of the house we shared anyway and since I am away most of the time with work I don’t really want to waste my money on rent when I could pay the same (or less) and just get a hotel for a few days or camp out somewhere. I usually only have a week or so off in between work assignments so my plan at this stage is just to cruise around when I am off work. Go visit people, travel, volunteer, work on the film that I have been needing to head up to the Atherton Tablelands to get footage for, stuff like that.

The only problem that I can see with it is that I am one of those people that loves to be at home. The idea of not having a home is a little confronting but I do think that this experiment will be character building and will (hopefully!) allow me to save up to actually buy a little place somewhere in the next year or two – hopefully somewhere peaceful in the hinterlands and not to far from the beach.

I shall keep you posted!

To see how I’m going with this, click here

What do you really need this Christmas?

Hi everybody,

In the lead up to Christmas I have been pondering the question of “what do you really need?” The answer, of course, is very little. I love the saying that all you need is “someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to”. I guess there are a few other things you need, as well – something to eat, something to drink, shelter from the elements, etc. – but none of us really needs very much and I suspect that everyone reading this has most, if not all, of what is really necessary in life.

I can understand as much as anyone the desire for more. I’ve recently moved to a warm climate and I have been having fun buying new dresses and summer clothes. Luckily, though, I have learned to recognise when I become enchanted with the idea of a possession that costs money, contributes to clutter, and won’t really enrich my life. Last June I made an effort to not buy a single item (aside from the necessary groceries and toiletries) for the entire month. It was a great exercise and I definitely saved money but the big take home was I realised that if I could just resist leaving an item momentarily and walk out of that part of the store, the desire for the item would leave almost instantly.

It’s easy to see how constant consumerism can drain your personal finances and make your house a cluttered nightmare but when you start thinking about it from a global perspective it starts to become really frightening. In essentially every moment of our lives we are influencing the lives of people all over the world – not to mention the world, itself! I was saying to a friend this afternoon that even if you so much as use a public toilet and wash your hands you have to wonder about who made the soap and what the working conditions where like, what was in the soap and where will it end up after it goes down the drain, how did it get here and how much carbon was released in the process, etc. When you think about everything in this way you start to realise how dangerous our culture’s incessant consumerism is – and I know I am fearful of what the future effects of it will be.

I don’t want to go all negative-town on you guys but I was just curious about if any of you keep this sort of stuff in mind when it comes to your holiday giving and receiving? A few years ago my brother gave me a Kiva gift card which was really awesome. With Kiva you loan money to people in under-developed countries for entrepreneurial endeavours. I loaned my money to this old man who wanted to buy some ladders to pick coconuts. As Kiva gives out loans, not grants, I did get the money back eventually and when I got the email saying that my loan had been repaid I was actually in a tight money sitch and so it was a super awesome moment! I’m sure it was awesome for him, too, when he got the loan and was able to buy his ladders! Lately I’ve also been giving out gift cards for movies, restaurants, etc. a fair bit. People are always stoked about them and they don’t contribute to material consumerism or clutter which is exciting to me. Gift cards are also super cheap to send (esp. if you have relatives overseas like I do) which makes it doubly awesome!

Want to help the environment? Be a little cheap!

To decrease my spending and wasteful ways I have come to appreciate SO MUCH all the free things in life like the radio, the library, free podcasts, and hand holding (aww).

Another thing that I’m learning to love is thrift stores! I still have a slight aversion to buying clothes at thrift stores although I’m starting to get over that. I’ve always, though, been really into them when it comes to furniture (not couches – yuck – but old wooden hutches, book cases, etc). Every single piece of hard furniture that I own was either given to me or purchased at a thrift store – and I have some killer pieces! I’m also really into buying old kitchen stuff from thrift stores – casserole dishes, teapots, china, wine glasses, etc.

I really like the look of sexy, modern pieces mixed with really old, interesting pieces. There is something sort of sterile about a house (or wardrobe) made up completely of brand new stuff. And similarly, someone who hasn’t bought a new item since 1974 is just weird. I think you need a mix.

Also, I have been gifted some unwanted cosmetics/bath goods and clothes, lately (thanks Shaz and Lesh!) and that has been just awesome. If I didn’t constantly throw stuff out (and therefore had stuff I didn’t want) I would throw a clothes swap with my friends. It’d be fun to put on a chick flick, order a pizza, and have everyone throw their old frocks and purses and things in a pile for people to try on.

It all got me thinking – the environmental impact of keeping up with the Jonses’ .. or Kardashians, for that matter – is just huge!

All the new stuff we buy costs energy and resources to make and then has to be packaged in disposable plastic crap, and shipped in big, dirty trucks around the country or world to get to us. Actually, there are so many more costly, energy-zapping, resource-squelching steps than just that. Most things are manufactured in one area (with all the supplies similarly manufactured and trucked into that area) and then shipped somewhere else for labeling, then shipped somewhere else for packaging, then shipped to a storage warehouse, then eventually shipped to a store where you will buy it and then throw it away five minutes later.

OMG we are wasteful!

Imagine what the environmental impact would be if we all acquired 20% of our possessions from “second hand” sources. It’d be massive! I know, I know .. the word “second hand” sucks! I cringe at it myself at but hey, “vintage” is second hand, right! “Antique” is second hand! It can be cool.

So .. my point, what is my point? Ah yes. Free community resources and cheap, used stuff is awesome! It not only helps you get your finances under control but it makes a huge positive environmental impact, too. This probably seems obvious to most of you but I think we could all do with bringing less new crap into our homes.