Making the switch from disposable to cloth nappies

rose in cloth nappy

Okay, so I am now the proud owner of a whole set of cloth nappies. We are using the all-in-one cloth nappy where the inner and outer parts are integrated and you use a thin disposable liner inside. As an added bonus, they have pretty patterns on them. The pictures have absolutely no benefit to the environment whatsoever but they do make my daughter look particularly cute!

The practicalities

So far, the cloth nappies have been fine for use during the day but we have had some leaks at night even when using them with an extra booster pad. After several nights in a row of soggy baby and bedding we have reverted to putting a disposable nappy on at night time and using the cloth nappies during the day. This probably isn’t ideal for the environment but on the other hand the energy and water required to keep washing the bedding when the nappy leaks probably isn’t good for the environment either.

The cloth nappies are easy to use although there is definitely more washing to do. This isn’t proving to be too much of an issue at the moment while the weather is warm (ish) as we can often line dry the nappies in the garden.

On the down side, I did a long car journey the other day and had the windows open most of the way home because there was a particularly smelly nappy in the boot which I had to bring home for washing where in the past with a disposable nappy I could have put it in the bin. Apparently you can get a purpose-made bag to put the dirty nappies in which can go in the washing machine too and this prevents the smelly-nappy-in-car situation. This definitely sounds like a good idea!

On the plus side, we usually end up with a full to overflowing rubbish bin by the time it is due for two-weekly collection so I think we will see a big benefit here. This does act as a very visual reminder of the sheer volume of nappies we are sending to landfill too.


Cloth nappies do require quite a big upfront investment – it was a little over £200 to buy 18 nappies. However, we should save quite a lot on our weekly shop now we won’t need to buy loads of disposable nappies. Over a two and a half year period ,cloth nappies are estimated to save approx. £500 when compared with disposable nappies. However, if the cloth nappies are tumble dried then this does apparently increase the cost of using them.

Impact on the environment

About 8 million nappies are thrown away every day in the UK and these take hundreds of years to decompose. I genuinely struggle to get my head around those numbers… £8 million nappies a day… that is a truly scary amount!

In 2008, The Environment Agency published a report looking at the relative environmental impact of cloth and disposable nappies. They calculated that using disposable nappies would create approx. 550kg of carbon emissions over a two and a half year period. The same report calculated that cloth nappies would produce carbon emissions of 570kg over the same period if the nappies were washed at 60 degrees C (recommended by the Department of Health) and three out of four loads were dried on the washing line with the fourth load tumble dried.

I was really surprised by these figures as I assumed the cloth nappies would be much better for the environment than the disposable ones. I don’t know exactly how the figure is calculated and therefore to what extent it factors in the impact of nappies going to landfill.

There are also ways to further reduce the carbon emissions of cloth nappies such as washing nappies on a fuller load, using an energy-efficient washing machine and line drying rather than using the tumble dryer. If the nappies are used on a second child then the carbon emissions are significantly reduced too.  

The verdict

I am going to continue with the cloth nappies and batch them up for washing and line dry them to minimise the carbon emissions. The extra washing does create a bit more work but this isn’t a big issue. From a practical perspective, I am not quite sure how we will dry them in winter so we will have to wait and see what works best. My daughter seems quite happy in either type of nappy and (as previously mentioned) they do look rather cute on her. This really shouldn’t matter but when it comes to cuteness and babies sometimes I just can’t help myself! So greener and cuter… definitely a change worth making.

The various facts and figures above are from


Eco friendly food shopping

So the next area of my life that I have looked at as part of my green journey is food shopping. I love the convenience and variety that I can get from the local supermarket but I do have a few niggling doubts about how ethically supermarkets operate. There does seem to have been a lot of bad press lately about how supermarkets treat suppliers (milk prices being the latest story to hit the headlines).

Therefore, in an attempt to reduce my (currently rather large) carbon footprint it seems I need to tear myself away from the temptations of the supermarket and find some alternative providers for the weekly shop .

It seems to me that there are different considerations involved in shopping in a more environmentally friendly way. Sourcing items more locally where possible reduces food miles. Thinking about what we buy, how and where the product was grown and how much processing is involved in making it also has an impact on the environment. As does the type and quantity of packaging that items come in.

In an attempt to buy fresh fruit and vegetables more locally, I have started ordering from a cooperative who sell mainly organic produce which is sourced locally where possible.

Their website is:

They have an online shop so I can still order my shopping at random times of day (or night). This is surprisingly important as I have to fit it in when I get a spare 5 minutes. I say a ‘spare’ 5 minutes although I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a spare 5 minutes when you have two young children! So basically it is extremely useful to be able to shop online as it means I can place the order when I can crowbar 5 minutes into the rest of the day’s activities.

They deliver once a week to a local delivery point from where I can pick the shopping up between certain times on a specified day of the week.

The added benefit of this process is that they only sell fruit and veg when it is in season which means that I am starting to get a bit of a feel for what grows when. I have to confess to having very little awareness of this as the supermarket has lulled me into the false impression that everything grows all year round. It is going to take a little bit of getting used to because we will need to adapt what is on the menu at home to reflect what fresh ingredients are available at different times of year. My cooking does tend to get a little predictable so perhaps this will be a good thing as it may encourage more variety in what we eat as a family.

To supplement the fresh fruit and veg I will be buying locally, I am also going to do my first online shop from the Ethical Superstore.

They seem to sell quite a wide range of organic and ethically sourced goods. They appear to stock mainly non perishable goods and the focus is predominantly on the ethics of the goods as the website’s name would suggest. They have a wide range of products to supplement the fresh fruit and veg that I am buying locally. The main disadvantage of this is that it is a national organisation so the things I am buying are not grown/made local to me. The shopping is also delivered by courier which comes with the usual problems of what happens if we are out when they deliver whereas when I ordered from the supermarket I could choose a time slot on a day that was convenient. I think we can work around this – it simply requires a bit more effort and planning.

As well as shopping online from these two websites, I am also going to start to think about what I buy – can I substitute or even stop buying some things altogether if they can’t be sourced in a way that is environmentally friendly? Is it ok to eat things like bananas if they have to be flown in from abroad? Should I feel guilty if I buy things that come in lots of packaging? If processed goods have a greater carbon footprint then how do I cut down on these without creating a lot of extra work at home cooking everything with raw ingredients? Whilst we do already cook with a lot of fresh ingredients, when I start rummaging in the kitchen cupboards it is surprising how many things we use which are processed.

Based on my experiences so far, I definitely think sourcing our family’s shopping in a more environmentally friendly way is going to cost more. I can live with a small increase in cost though if it is likely to be healthier for us as a family and better for the environment.

I just can’t shake the feeling that in 20 years time when my children are grown up they will be asking me why I didn’t do more to stop climate change. When I am feeling less motivated and my enthusiasm for the green journey is waning I remind myself that I will need to be answerable to my children for the way I live my life now. When I think about it like that, I start to feel I am not doing anything like enough to reduce my impact on the environment.

So, as ever, I think it is time to remind myself that this is a journey to becoming more environmentally friendly and that even small steps which feel insignificant are worthwhile if they take me in the right direction.

In all honesty, I won’t be giving up bananas just yet though…