By Graham Gordon
No greater joy hath man than to see a line of clean nappies dancing freely on the washing line under the midday sun, with full knowledge that they will soon be dry, freed of their worst stains and with only the faintest aroma of urine. The summer of 2014 is full of many of those fond memories, only to be followed by winter and a house full of nappies strewn over driers and radiators, a more potent aroma in the air and the dehumidifier working overtime to dry them in time for the next day.
Then there was the nightly game of nappy chicken – leaving the dirty nappies long enough so that my wife would offer to rinse the most offensive ones before putting them in the nappy pail, while I cooked tea or cleaned up downstairs.
I’m glad we did it, but am also glad that two and a half years on, we’re nearly done!
When we knew we were having kids we faced the similar question to many parents who want to make choices that reflect their values – do we go for reusable nappies? We were convinced by the facts. Disposable nappies account for 3% of household waste in the UK, sit in landfills and take years to decompose. They also use more of the earth’s resources – raw materials to manufacture, as well as energy in production and transport.However, for the first few months we were in a small flat where we struggled to dry our regular clothes, never mind adding an extra load. So we postponed starting until we moved house when our daughter was nine months old and our second was on the way.
Then we were faced with the myriad of decisions to make. Poppers or fasteners? Bamboo or toweling inners? Just daytime or nighttime too? Reusable wipes? What patterns will the girls like? What will show through light coloured clothing? Does one size fit all? Fortunately the nappy lady was on hand to send a few samples and offer clear advice, so we got our kit and started the journey.
Then there are the ongoing joys, challenges and compromises.
Saying there were joys would probably be an exaggeration, but there were little moments of relief: a poo that lands directly on the liner and can be whisked out without further action or seeing the rubbish bin less than half full when it had previously been overflowing with disposables. Also, when cleaning up after a particularly bad day, regretting my acute sense of smell, if I allowed myself a moment of reflection I would mull over how much I loved my daughters and was happy to do this – or in fact anything – for them.
And the challenges: a nappy wash every second day; seeing that telltale wet patch on both legs that indicates a leaky nappy; or simply having to carry a pooey nappy around in the changing bag all day.
We treated ourselves to disposable nappies on holiday – partly because we had so much stuff that the nappy pail didn’t fit in the car, but really because we just wanted a holiday! We opted for disposables at night too, not willing to risk daily wet sheets or massive reinforced night nappies.
We also relaxed our standards over time. From a bottle of beautiful soapy water with essential oils for the reusable wipes (first child), we moved the just water (second child). When the wipes disintegrated, we didn’t replace them and have spent the last few months on disposable wipes.
What would I do differently? I’d get more nappies and wipes at the beginning so that there was less pressure to get everything clean and dry. I’d get bamboo inners at the start with higher absorption, but longer drying time.
Would I do it again? Definitely, but that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to this summer when we can pass on what’s left of the nappies to the next people!
About the author: Graham Gordon is a dad to two small girls living in south-east London. He works for an international NGO leading their policy team.