As a society, we are addicted to disposable nappies. In the UK, nappies account for around 3% of consumer waste.
And every single baby that wears disposable nappies adds between 4,000 and 6,000 more to the mountains of non-biodegradable waste in landfill.
While there are situations where disposable products are necessary and helpful, the routine use of disposable nappies will inevitably have to lessen at some point, because we just can’t go on burying and burning plastic in these kinds of quantities. The UK’s only nappy recycling centre closed down in 2013, and the company behind it has struggled to keep momentum going.
So it’s up to consumers to change their behaviour. And that means switching to something less convenient.
Disclaimer: when my first child was born, I wasn’t really in the right headspace to watch and dry nappies. I was also still working when he was tiny, so that added pressure too. I don’t want anyone to feel guilt-tripped into using products that they can’t afford, or perhaps don’t have the spoons to deal with right now.
Changing the way you care for your baby is like reducing plastic around the home. None of us can save the world by ourselves, but any small changes we are capable of making are positive steps towards a bigger goal.
Trying Reusable Nappies
I have some sensory issues with poop, so the idea of washing nappies in my washing machine with my first child would have had me rocking in the corner. Of course, I’ve had the benefit of almost six years of poop-washing to desensitise me slightly.
Still, if reusable nappies are going to work, they need to be reasonably free of mess.
Thankfully, washable nappies have come a long way since I was a baby. (When I told my mum I was trying them, she was reminded of terry towelling squares and safety pins — still available, of course, but a step too far for me.)
So I decided to try out two brands of reusables: Tickle Tots and Close.
Cloth Nappy Jargon: A Crash Course
I’m not a cloth nappy expert, and there are tons of websites out there that will describe this stuff better than I can. I just need to explain a few terms before I talk about the cloth nappy tests we did.
Most modern reusable nappies consist of an outer waterproof shell and a pad. There are different names for the nappy types, depending on the way the pad and the shell fit together, like ‘two part systems’, ‘AIOs’, ‘AI2s’, ‘hybrids’ and so on.
The pads themselves are sometimes called ‘boosters’ or ‘liners’. And then there are ‘liners’ to collect poop, which are different again.
Essentially, all you need to know is that hybrid (or AI2, or 2) nappies have a shell and a liner that pops in and out. You can use the liner for one poo or a couple of wees before washing it.
All in ones typically have a pad inside the shell, so you use it once and wash the whole thing.
Boosters clip on to provide added absorbency, and liners collect poop. Most liners I found were made of plant fibre, so they could be flushed along with the poop to keep the majority out of your washer.
All of these nappies are suitable from 9lb to toddler, ish.
Tickle Tots Hybrid
The Tickle Tots system consists of a shell (the outer layer of the nappy), a four-layer pad to absorb moisture, and then there’s another booster pad that’s optional; you can clip that on too if you want to. You have to buy the poop liner separately. That looks a little like a fabric conditioner sheet.
The pads provided are made of bamboo and ‘suede cloth’, which is a man-made material. The shell is PUL. There’s no microfibre, hemp, or charcoal option for this nappy. I’m not a fan of microfibre because of the pollution issue it presents anyway.
Putting the nappy together, and taking it apart, is dead easy. You can adjust the size by poppering up the front to fold it over. My baby Sophie wees a lot, and this nappy coped fairly well with the deluge; the double-edging around the legs works well. I felt a little dampness now and then, but that could just be me getting used to fastening them.
The prints on the outer shells are nice, although not my favourites. The first poo explosion occurred when I’d forgotten to put a liner in, and the poo did stain the shell after a 40-degree wash.
The biggest issue is maybe the drying time for the pads. I put mine through my dryer with the rest of a load, and they were still noticeably damp afterwards. Unless you live in a very hot country, it’s worth buying spares so that you aren’t having to run radiators to get them properly dry.
Testing Biodegradable Nappies
Biodegradable nappies are a more environmentally friendly version of the ‘regular’ disposable that we see on most supermarket shelves.
The need for waterproofing means that most biodegradable nappies do contain plastic of some kind, but that’s not to say they aren’t worth using.
Beaming Baby claims that its nappy is much more recyclable than a non-biodegradable version. What’s more, its nappies contain fewer chemicals.
I tested both Beaming Baby and Naty nappies on my glamorous assistant, 13 week old Sophie, to see how they perform.
Naty Eco Nappy
Naty nappies have the advantage of being (relatively) easy to find on supermarket shelves. I picked mine up from Waitrose.
I tried Sophie, who weighs 13lbs in their size 3 nappy.
Beaming Baby Biodegradable Nappy
Beaming Baby nappies are the more ecologically sound of the two. They can be purchased easily online.
Sophie weighed around 13lbs when I tried her in a size 2 Beaming Baby nappy.
Biodegradable vs Washable: My Verdict
The main outcome of this test was my own feeling of regret at not ditching disposables sooner. I have no real issue using them in certain situations (for example, when travelling, or when skint). But the alternatives were really rewarding to use.
My ideal combo is Close nappies for simple daytime use and Beaming Baby for situations when a reusable nappy was impractical.
The Naty nappy is nice, but I probably wouldn’t buy it again because I didn’t feel the eco credentials of the nappy were strong enough. Had I not been buying the nappies for this article, I wouldn’t have bought them at all because the blurb on the pack just didn’t convey a good enough reason.
I also felt, out of the washables that I used, the Tickle Tots nappy threw me in at the deep end. The complicated language on the pack made it quite difficult to decipher what the different parts were for.
Beaming Baby nappies are expensive, but if you can afford them, they are a good stop-gap for the times a washable nappy isn’t suitable.