Clothes can get pretty gross, right?
If anyone, like I do, has a farmer, mechanic or fishmonger in the family they know how disgusting and smelly clothes can be by the end of the day. And we all end up with pretty offensive socks once in awhile…
But we wash them don’t we?
We don’t get brand new clothes every day and throw the dirty ones in the bin. We stick them in the washing machine (perhaps after a soak or a rinse!), hang them on the line and put them back in the cupboard ready for another day.
So why do so many of us throw away our child’s underpants, multiple times a day?
It just doesn’t make sense.
For years parents have been sold on the ‘convenience’ of disposable nappies, and it is a booming industry.
Global company Kimberley-Clark reported $2.4 billion of sales in the fourth quarter of 2013 in personal care, which includes sanitary products and the famous Huggies disposable nappy brand (http://investor.kimberly-clark.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=821005). Most families will spend $2500 on nappies in the first two years of a child’s life.
Imagine the Victoria’s Secret lingerie I’d have if I could justify spending a grand on undies each year!
Unfortunately, disposable nappies also take hundreds of years to break down. Every disposable nappy ever worn is still out there – and that’s 800 million a year in Australia (http://www.greennappy.com.au/nappies-and-the-earth). They account for 5% of landfill, and they just keep coming.
Add disposable feminine hygiene products and that’s another ~$120/year expenditure for 30 – 40 years per woman – 3 billion sanitary pads and tampons are thrown away annually in the UK (http://plasticisrubbish.com/2013/11/04/wasting-away-how-much-rubbish-do-we-create/).
So why don’t we just wash them like we do everything else?
Modern cloth nappies and modern cloth sanitary pads are amazing.
To quote my Grandma, born in the 1920’s, “I wish we had pads as beautiful as you do now”. Grandma and her sisters had to sew their own from used flour bags and today’s are NOTHING like that. Today’s pads and nappies work brilliantly, are easy to clean, comfortable to wear and come in gorgeous colours and patterns.
Although the per unit cost is more expensive upfront, by the time you take into account how many times they are reused, they are far better value – $500 can set you up in cloth nappies for Baby #1 and be reused again for subsequent children, and I have a cloth sanitary pad still in service after 15 years.
Cleaning is easy – just a quick rinse (maybe a shake off in the toilet if there’s poo involved), throw it in a soak bucket of water, then whack them in the washing machine along with all the other clothes.
Sure, there are odd occasions, such as travelling, where washing isn’t an option and disposables have their role (yes, I’ve used them), but for most of the time, it’s just about developing a good habit.
And I’d rather my money went to an Australian home-based business, which are the majority of cloth nappy and pad suppliers, than some big multi-national corporate. Wouldn’t you?
Author: Ella Maesepp
Since 2003, Ella has been Ella is a keen advocate of the important role of individuals in tackling climate change and environmental degradation. She runs Katanning Eco-House, a domestic sustainability business based around her own family home and is also a Climate Media Centre Spokesperson, where she provides professional insight into a wide range of environmental topics.