Cloth nappies offer a cheaper bottom line

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Zelda, 10 months, models the new cloth nappies. Photo: Holly Treadaway

The average baby needs 6000 nappies from birth to toilet-training. KATE MEIKLE meets a mum on a mission to educate parents about the benefits of environmentally friendlier cloth nappies.

GILMORE mum Emma Black is on a mission to educate parents about the benefits of using cloth nappies to help reduce the environmental impacts of disposable nappies.

Last year she founded a community group called Canberra Cloth Bums, which now has 400 online members and holds regular meetings and information sessions to encourage parents to give cloth nappies a try.

“People think of them as the old terry towelling squares and pilchers and the gross buckets of soaking nappies. Cloth nappies have changed and there are so many different styles now,” she says. 

Canberra Cloth Bums founder Emma Black… “Six-point-one per cent of Canberra’s waste is nappies. A single item making up that much of the waste stream is crazy.” Photo: Holly Treadaway

Emma tried cloth nappies for her now 17-month-old daughter Meredith when she was five months and found that cloth nappies were both environmentally and wallet friendly. 

“The last kerbside audit of Canberra’s household waste showed that 6.1 per cent of Canberra’s waste was nappies. A single item making up that much of the waste stream is crazy. Disposables also take up to 500 years to degrade,” she says. 

“Even if parents make a change by using one cloth nappy a day they are saving 365 disposable nappies each year from ending up in landfill.

“I’d like the next audit to show a reduction in the amount of nappies we throw out,” she says. 

After having her baby, Emma says she felt a passion to make a difference to the environment: “I got the ‘save-the-world’ complex! I wondered what I can do to save the world for her future and I thought I would start with making a difference on my patch.”

Emma says she has now become more conscious of her environmental impact in other areas of her life. For example, she now uses reusable baby wipes, carries reusable cutlery with her and gives food scraps to her neighbour’s chickens. 

“It’s all about making small changes and, in time, making it part of your routine,” she says.    

Cloth Bum mums, from left… Nejula Blake and Esme, 2; Erin Barrett and Zelda, 10 months; Emma Black; Mel Brookes and Emelia, 4 months; Miriam Hilton and Theo, 2; and Anita Das and Teddy, 6 months. Photo: Holly Treadaway

Canberra Cloth Bums hold regular information sessions at the Canberra Environment Centre in Acton with volunteers showing parents the different types of cloth nappies and how they might suit their baby. 

Because the majority of cloth nappies are sold online, Emma says that parents get a lot out of seeing and touching the products and getting advice before investing in a set of cloth nappies.

Although the initial financial outlay can be intimidating (between $500 and $800), once a baby has a set of adjustable cloth nappies, they will last them until they are toilet trained, says Emma. This compares with an average spend of $2000 on disposable nappies across a baby’s first two and a half years.

“Even with detergent, water and electricity costs, which are only about $200 across this time, in the end when you use cloth nappies you save a lot of money.” she says.  

And Emma promises that she doesn’t spend any longer than one hour each week washing the nappies! 

Being the only mum in her mother’s group who uses cloth nappies, Emma says that the friendships she has found from starting the group and connecting with like-minded mums who also feel passionate about using cloth nappies has been another positive aspect for her. 

“Everyone on the action group volunteers their time and is generous and kind with their knowledge. It’s a supportive group,” she says. 

Canberra Cloth Bums will hold a cloth nappy introduction session on September 1 at Canberra Environment Centre, Acton. More at or the Canberra Cloth Bums group on Facebook.  

Cheyne takes up cloth-nappy crusade

LABOR backbench MLA Tara Cheyne has secured the support of the Assembly to “explore whether and how the government might have a role in removing the barriers to people giving sustainable products a go,” she says.   

This includes encouraging Canberrans to use reusable nappies and sanitary products.

Ms Cheyne recently met with Emma Black, founder of Canberra Cloth Bums, advocates for the use of cotton nappies.

“These barriers might be financial, due to the initial outlay when purchasing sustainable products, or where people might have some anxiety about how to use the product,” says Tara. 

The motion suggested investigating the feasibility of a rebate scheme, a cloth-nappy “library” service, introductory workshops and more education material. 

“The purpose would be to give plenty of information about these products and make them as accessible as possible when consumers are making choices about what’s right for them,” says Tara.  





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Kate Meikle
Kate Meikle is a staff reporter for "CityNews"

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