How one nappy can create positive change

Posted by Lauren Carter on

It started with a folded pile of fluffy, white nappies. We remembered our mothers folding them for our siblings, back when disposables were new technology but not normalised yet. We considered the cost and the rubbish pile that would result from all the disposable nappies our baby would need, compared to our pile of fluffy white fabric squares. 

The parenting books warned us not to be martyrs about washing nappies, that we had bigger things to worry about and that the environmental harm probably wasn’t that big anyway. We researched and de-bunked this pretty quickly. New mums at the mothers group raised eyebrows. The health nurse worried that it’d be too much work. We set aside the free sample disposable nappy the hospital sent us home with and did what felt right. We hung those cloth nappies on the washing line, in the sunshine, all beaming and fresh, and knew we were on the right track.


One day, a work colleague handed us a big bag of baby clothes for our growing babe. Amongst the hand knits and grow suits was a nappy cover. I googled the name on the label and discovered the world of modern cloth nappies. Next came the parenting forums - such a great support in those isolated early-parenting days. Before long, we’d found a circle of supportive families who shared clothes, nappies, cups of tea and stories of other ways of doing things. Friends who also researched and questioned things, acknowledged (and sometimes rejected) what had become normalised in the industrial shift away from ecological processes. We felt encouraged to look into the home-birth and water birth we’d felt discouraged from last time. And so our next two babies were born at home, in water. Then we decided the industrial education model wasn’t right for our kids, and we embraced unschooling.

We realise now that we’d begun a lifelong process of research, analysis, taking responsibility for ourselves and doing what feels right for our children and the planet they’re going to inherit. We studied permaculture and realised we’d been implementing the permaculture principles in our home for some time. From there, waste-free living was a no-brainer. It felt straight forward and simple. To this day, we can’t imagine why it took us so long to arrive at living waste-free, but we’re glad we did as we can see that reducing our waste encapsulates climate solutions. Waste is an indicator of the work to do on climate.

Now, making choices that challenge norms seems much less daunting. We’ve avoided the waste of tens of thousands of disposable nappies. We’ve diverted tonnes of waste from landfill, avoided recycling waste, dispensed with education waste and transport emissions (all those trips commuting to kinder became long mornings at home and walks around the neighbourhood). We’ve converted our suburban lawn-filled backyard to food growing plants, and we’ve made ripples beyond our own home, encouraging others to make choices for positive impact. We’ve also normalised this way of thinking and feeling, and the practices that come with it, for our kids. 

Sometimes that one simple choice you make is just the beginning. It’s where you learn the value of following your own head and heart; exercising your decision-making muscle. It might seem benign, but it just might change the direction of your life, and your impact on the planet, for the better. Then the next time a choice presents itself, to do what’s right for the planet and the people you love, you can dive right in. 

With our own simple beginnings in mind, we’ve decided to join our friend Erin, The Rogue Ginger, in requesting our council introduce a rebate on cloth nappies and reusable menstrual products, for local residents. You can see our petition here. This has the potential to reduce at least 4% of landfill waste generated in our municipality, and clean up kerbside recycling streams. Once food and organic waste composting is implemented later this year, that percentage will rise. A rebate will mean babies born in our area won’t leave a legacy of waste, contaminating the soil where they live, for generations. It’ll also be much more affordable for more people to access reusable options, which will save the council and residents money in the longer term. It’ll mean a clean, fresh start for all of us. Who can tell the positive ripples of change that will happen beyond that.

As for that pile of nappies of ours, we can report that 18 years later, they’re still in circulation, dusting and cleaning up spills, mopping the floor, cleaning up muddy puppy paws. As each cloth gradually wears out, we place it in the compost, or as sheet mulch in the garden and it finds a new use as worm food, enriching our soil and leaving a positive impact in more ways than one.

climate solutions waste-free

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  • Hi guys!
    I am an enthusiastic modern cloth nappier and have used them with my three children now aged 5.5, 3.5 and almost 1. Could you explain to me how you made them work for night times? This is like my last piece of the puzzle. I always found we had leaks/rashes or need multiple changes. I would love to get this sorted for our last little one.
    Thank you x much love

    Alyce young on
  • This is great. I love how one decision sparked so many more. I would love to know what type of cloth nappies you used if you’d be willing to share what style, even if not what brand? It sounds like mostly cotton if you are composting them? I’m wary of many of the modern city nappies that are made up of mostly synthetic liners and outer shells. Love the idea of wool but it is quite expensive to get started. Thanks!

    Sharolyn on

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