Super Absorbent Gels
Most disposables contain a super absorbent gel, including sodium polyacrylate crystals, a chemical deemed unsafe and banned from use in tampons in 1985 because of its association with toxic shock syndrome, but approved by the American Food and Drug Administration for use in baby's disposables. As mothers we ought to be very much concerned by the distinct lack of research into the effects of extreme dryness on babies thin skin and genitalia,and fears of these super-absorbent chemicals entering the body through broken skin.



Chlorine Bleaching
Chlorine bleaching is much less prevalent than in earlier days of bleaching wood pulp for white paper product, but many disposables still contain extremely toxic dioxins created by this bleaching. There is much debate over whether there is actually a safe level of dioxins. (Costello A et al 1989 The Sanitary Protection Scandal. The Women's Environment Network)



The 'cloth like cover' and 'stay dry liner' are usually made of polypropylene, a petrochemical, or petroleum derivative which is non-recyclable and toxic when incinerated. The 'breathable cover' is technically true, but the breathability is so minimal to be of negligible effect, typically less than 3% of total weight evaporated in a 24 hour period. The plastics used in disposable nappies use PCBs in their manufacture, and the waste from this manufacturing is poured out into our rivers and oceans. PCBs are fat soluble, and therefore pass quickly from water to living tissue, and accumulate in the food chain. In otters and minks, the accumulation of PCBs has caused disturbance of the neuro-endocrine system, affecting puberty, ovulation reproduction function, and foetal and neonatal survival. Would you consider the same plastics and chemicals up against your baby's skin for two or three years healthy, or responsible? And why bother with a 'cloth like cover' when you can have the real thing?




Airborne Emissions
An independent study conducted by Anderson Laboratories in 1999 showed airborne emissions of some disposable nappies producing acute respiratory toxicity, including asthma like reactions, in laboratory mice. The researchers suggested further research into a possible link between disposable nappies and the increasing prevalence of childhood asthma. Chemical gases such as toluene, xylene, ethyl benzene, styrene and isopropyl benzene have been found to be in air emissions from disposable nappies.



Raised Scrotal Temperatures
Disposable nappies raise temperatures in the genital area, and for boys, elevated scrotal temperature has been suggested as slowing down the development of baby boy's testicles. Wolfgang Sippell, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Kiel in Germany :
”This alarming information is based upon the fact that the cells supporting sperm production are laid down in the first two years of life and this development is dependent upon temperature. Testicles need to be cooler than the rest of the body so that is why they are external. Studies over the last twenty five years have shown sperm counts to have fallen as fast as 2 per cent per year. Other factors can play a part in these figures but evidence suggests that use of disposable nappies could be a contributing factor. There is no doubt that disposable nappies trap the heat-especially in the height of summer-and there is concern about the long term effect this could have on both sexes, apart from being most uncomfortable”



Disease Transmission through Faeces
A potentially serious problem associated with disposable nappies is the ease of disease transmission via faeces left on the nappy and then disposed of in regular household waste. More than 100 enteric viruses are excreted in human faeces, including hepatitis and polio (the live vaccine is used for immunization). Viruses can live for months creating risks to both sanitation workers and contamination of groundwater in landfills” ( Primomo J et al (1990) The high environmental cost of disposable diapers, Journal of Maternal and Child Nursing, 15 (5) 279-84)



How many parents do you know who actually scrape poo off a disposable into the loo?
Imagine all those enteric viruses being leached into our waterways, out into the big blue.



Modern fitted cloth nappies do not have the environmental disadvantages of disposables
When assessing the environmental concerns of cloth and disposable nappies, it is important to look at the whole life cycle of a nappy, not just the impacts we can see with our own eyes. This includes cultivation, manufacturing, transportation and waste impacts. The results of a Landbank Consultancy study conducted in 1991show that-


  • It takes a full cup of crude oil to make the plastic for each ‘disposable' nappy
  • It takes as much energy to produce one disposable as it does to wash a cloth nappy 200 times
  • both nappies use similar amounts of fossil fuel
  • disposables take up to 500 years to decompose in landfill sites and can harbour up to 100 different types of virus

Impact per infant per year

Cloth nappies

Disposable nappies

Factor of difference


2532 MJ

8900 MJ


Waste water

12.4 m3

28 m3


Raw materials (non renewable)

25 kg

208 kg


Raw materials (renewable)

4 kg

361 kg


Domestic solid waste

4 kg

240 kg


Land for raw materials (total for German infant population p.a.)

1150-6800 ha

29,500-32,300 ha

4 to 30

(Link, A (2003) Disposable nappies: a case study in waste prevention. Women's Environment Network)

Although we do bear slightly more of the environmental cost in terms of water and detergent, this is a drop in the ocean compared to the environmental costs saved at the point of production. The fundamental point to note here is that as parents, we can act to minimize the environmental footprint of the cloth nappy by changing the way we wash and dry nappies, ie by drypailing ,with eco friendly detergents, cold water, in water wise and energy efficient washing machines and by drying + sanitising our nappies out in the sun.Cloth nappies are renewable, recyclable and reusable. They use fewer resources, create less waste and help build a less toxic environment. Organic nappies are even better.

In 1999 it was estimated that using an average of six nappies a day over two and a half years produces around 734 kg of solid waste per child. Multiply that by the number of babies born in Australia each year and that's a lot of disposables taking up space in landfill. In fact, 800 million disposable nappies are used in Australia every year, which amounts to 111,220 tonnes of solid waste. This requires 145,000 cubic metres of land fill area. That's roughly 8000 nappies for just one baby, which can take anywhere from 75-500 years to break down!


Modern cloth nappies are simple to use, easy and efficient
Perhaps the greatest concern of families looking at converting to cloth is the perception that it takes a lot of time we don't have, to wash and care for your cloth nappies. That simply isn't true.
With dry pailing your nappies, and the wonders of the modern washing machine, cloth nappies are a lot like the way one might use a disposable. You rinse off the poo, and store them in a lidded nappy bucket for a couple of days, but instead of throwing them out with the rubbish, you throw them in the washing machine, where an extra rinse, and less detergent than you would ordinarily use, produces clean soft cloth nappies ready for hanging on the line to naturally bleach, deodorize and sanitise. Most cloth nappies can just as easily be tumble dried if need be.
Once you have a system in place, your choice to use cloth will be fast, easy, efficient, and a routine you will grow to love.


Bamboo + hemp are even better than cotton

  • Bamboo and hemp are better for baby because both fabrics are naturally anti-microbial,and that property has been scientifically tested to remain after extended washing. Your baby's body is naturally protected from bacteria, mould, mildew and fungus, which helps minimize nappy rash.
  • The superior absorbency of both fibres allows for a slimmer fit and design which is less bulky on your child. Bamboo terry is also silky to touch.
  • The excellent breathability of bamboo + hemp make it more comfortable to wear, warm in winter and cool in summer,
  • In terms of sustainability, hemp wins hands down. Hemp is unbleached which makes it safer for the workers who manufacture the fabric
  • hemp is four times more durable and has eight times the tensile strength of cotton (tests conducted by Patagonia Inc see ). That means that hemp nappies last longer and stand up to rougher treatment, definitely something to value of you would like to put more than one child in cloth.
  • Both bamboo + hemp are better for the EARTH because their cultivation does not require pesticides. Furthermore, hemp does not deplete the soil-hemp leaves actually return Nitrogen back to the soil, improving it's fertility.
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