Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nappy happy

Which nappy is right for you and right for your baby?
I have heralded the benefits of cloth nappies in previous columns, but I had a request from a reader to write a general guide to today’s nappy options.
While it goes against my moral fibre to even mention disposable nappies, it’s hard to ignore the fact that around 91 per cent of Australian parents use them on their babies.
So, with this in mind, here’s a rundown on nappy options and some tips to help you choose wisely.
The main things to consider are cost, convenience, environmental impact, care and maintenance, and the health of your baby, so you will need to work out an order of importance when making your decision.

1. Disposable nappies: Made from various chemicals including sodium polyacrylate (a chemical associated with toxic shock syndrome), chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide bleach, polypropylene/polyethylene (plastics), crude oil and glue (to hold it all together).
The layers of a disposable nappy usually consist of the polyethylene film on the outside (13 per cent), an inner absorbent layer of cellulose pulp and absorbent polymers (70 per cent), a layer next to the skin of plastic polymer polypropylene (10 per cent), and other materials such as tapes, elastics and adhesives (7 per cent).
Due to the high amount of plastic, disposables can cause excess heat around the genitals, and scientists have recorded airborne chemical gas emissions of styrene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, isopropyl benzene – all of which are toxic.
Many disposable nappies also include artificial fragrances, lotions or essential oils, to mask the smell of a soiled nappy.
The production of disposable nappies creates a by-product called dioxin which is known to cause cancer and other diseases. The amount of dioxin in the nappy itself is not enough to cause harm (unless your baby puts the nappy in their mouth), but dioxin in the environment is harmful.
Disposable nappies also pose the risk of disease transmission from the incorrect disposable of faeces. Since most parents do not tip the poo into the toilet, live viruses are disposed into regular household waste. Untreated sewerage is a health hazard and leaks into our water.
Disposable nappies are the most convenient for families as you simply throw them away after use. There is no washing or folding involved and they generally fit babies very well, and offer protection against leaks.
Some parents find the leg and waist elastics leave marks on baby’s skin.
The cost of disposables is very high. It is estimated to cost more than $3500 per child over two and half years.
2. Eco-friendly disposable nappies: A number of these nappies have come onto the market but consumers need to be aware of just how “environmentally-friendly” they really are.
Biodegradable disposables use a non-chemical absorption method and are made of renewable plant-based materials such as wood pulp, cotton and corn.
Eco-friendly disposables contain no bleaching agents, fewer chemicals, no perfumes, dyes or latex.
They usually cost more than non-biodegradable disposables, making them the most expensive choice for parents.
Very few eco-disposables are 100 per cent biodegradable (many still contain some plastics and absorbent gels which are not biodegradable), and none of them will actually break down properly unless they are in the right soil and compost conditions.
Many parents feel that any improvement in biodegradability is a step in the right direction towards reducing landfill, as well as using more natural materials.
Quite often the way councils dispose of rubbish contributes to whether biodegradable nappies break down.
Rubbish is usually compressed and sealed under tonnes of soil which minimises oxygen and moisture, essential ingredients for decomposition.
If councils implement waste-minimisation programs such as composting, they can only accept 100 per cent biodegradable nappies within the compostable waste.
Compost Australia has endorsed Eenee Compostables as being the first 100 per cent compostable disposable nappy acceptable for commercial composting. This nappy is available at Cairns Enviromart in Aumuller Street.

3. Cloth nappies: Made from a range of absorbent fabrics, including cotton, bamboo, hemp and polyester. Liners and covers are often made from silk and wool, and some also include elastic, Velcro, polyurethane (laminated fabric for water proofing) and snaps made of either plastic or metal.
Bamboo and hemp are the most eco-friendly, as cotton is a thirsty crop often treated with pesticides and other chemicals. Cotton fibre also holds less moisture than bamboo or hemp which are renowned for being super absorbent.
Organic cotton nappies contain no synthetics, dyes, bleach, pesticides, heavy metals or formaldehyde, so are better for a baby’s sensitive skin.
Cloth nappies range from old fashioned terry squares which you fold up yourself taking more time to change your baby, to modern styles which are shaped to fit, just like disposable nappies.
Modern cloth nappies are taking off across the world as the most eco-friendly and user-friendly cloth nappies.
There have been huge advancements made in modern cloth nappies and the manufacturers vary from one-off originals made by work-at-home-mums to big companies employing factories in China, India and Egypt for manufacturing.
Cloth nappy designers aim to make reusable nappies more appealing, by breaking down the myths associated with cloth. They aim to make them easy to use, and improvements have been made to prevent leaks and avoid nappy rash.
Cloth nappies are the cheapest option for families on a budget.
A cloth nappy set can cost anywhere from $200 to $1000 depending on the styles and brands you buy. A set will last for many years and can be used for more than one child.
Cloth nappies need to be washed, and advocates recommend using environmentally-friendly washing detergents, and line-drying (not tumble drying) to lesson your impact on the earth.
Manufacturers go to great lengths to educate consumers on best washing practises in order to save water, detergent costs and make cloth nappies more convenient.
For example, most cloth users no longer soak nappies like our mothers and grandmothers did.
Associated products include biodegradable flushable liners (to make cleanup a lot easier), washable wipes and washable nappy sacks.
All of the nappies above, with the exception of terry squares, are available in different sizes for different ages. Some cloth nappies come in one-size-fits-all, with the ability to fold or snap into smaller or larger sizes.
It is worth noting that as yet there are no known studies into the long term affects of disposable nappy use on children, and that despite the chemical content and high cost to the weekly grocery bill, convenience seems to be the main reason parents choose this option.
You can reduce your environmental impact by flushing poo rather than putting it in the bin with the nappy; use biodegradable nappy bags or brown paper bags for disposal so there is less plastic waste; use nappy bins where provided; when using cloth nappies use biodegradable, phosphate-free detergents; use a front-loading washing machine; don’t use fabric softener; wash using cold water and dry in the sun; buy more nappies and wash full loads, instead of small loads every day.
Finally, no matter what nappy you choose, it’s important for parents to read the instructions and change their baby regularly to avoid rashes.


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