Politics of an Eco Nappy

By Fiona Walker

Fiona Walker shares the story of how the birth of her third child inspired her family to lead a less wasteful, more environmentally conscious lifestyle.



“Guess what...?” I would never have imagined that the reaction to my news of being pregnant - again - with my third baby, would have gone on to have such an impact on my lifestyle and mindset. You see, I’ve become one of those ‘hippies’ or ‘eco warriors’ or ‘green bores’ that a year ago I would have politely smiled at whilst they told me about their reusable sanitary pads, inwardly grimacing at the thought of washing out my ‘time of the month’ in my Hotpoint. But my thinking changed when my friend replied to my news of another impending arrival with: “Congrats. Another child bleeding the world dry”. 

Part of me wanted to dismiss her comment in my mind as bitter, black humour or jealous, but I couldn’t. What she said had stuck like mud. This was the ‘green booted kick up the bottom’ I needed and in some kind of fate alignment one of my ‘eco warrior’ friends got in touch with me a few days later to tell me that she too was pregnant but with her first. “Which reusable nappies did you use for your other two?” she asked innocently. I couldn’t answer; I suddenly felt ashamed. I’d never given using disposable nappies a second thought with my older sons. I just used to whack them on, whack them off and then whack them in the bin; not caring where they ended up. Having come clean with my friend, she then went on to educate me. The thought that every nappy that has ever been produced is still lying in landfill and will take up to 500 years to decompose really does not sit well with me. Nor does the thought of our oceans being swamped by mounds of plastic, something which the BBC documentary ‘Drowning in plastic’ hammered even more into my conscience.

After my friend’s phone call I feverishly began to investigate my options for reusable nappies. I came across TotsBots, a business set up in Scotland by a mum and dad to four children. I even spoke to the mum on the phone as she advised me on the best options. Each nappy was made of bamboo cotton and although some people think that you use more electrical and water power in washing them, Fiona Smyth explained that if I bought 15, then I’d only need to do a wash every 2-3 days on a 40 degree eco cycle. I was sold! 

When Baby Wilf arrived, he had the privilege of being my first baby to don a material nappy (my older two were now out of nappies, day and night). My husband was skeptical: “It’s a lovely notion but you have three kids under five. Cut yourself some slack and let me pop out and grab some Pampers.” Well I proved him wrong! Not only that, I re-educated him too - he’s a whizz with a bamboo liner now. 


Once I got the eco bug, I couldn’t stop. I started looking at other areas of mine and my family’s life where I could reduce waste. Before Wilf hit two weeks, I’d waved goodbye to wet wipes, kitchen towel, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, cling film and throw away drinking cups. If I went into a coffee shop without my reusable bamboo cup then I’d feel the guilt too much and abstain. I’d changed - even shopping for clothes wasn’t as fun as it used to be; now I take a moment to think about if I really need what I’m tempted to splurge on. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion (not that you can tell if you see me on the school run; harassed with porridge in my hair!) but I suddenly really didn’t feel the need to buy another throwaway top that I liked but didn’t love, which would no doubt end up in landfill within a few months. 


However, here comes the madness....I’m proud of how we live but in front of some of my mummy friends or strangers, I keep quiet. Partly because I don’t want to come across as a guilt-provoking ‘know it all’ but also because I feel unsure of their reactions; at what they might say behind my back: “Fiona’s really lost the plot! She’s wringing out nappies full of poo!”

This hit home recently when I took my children to an adventure farm. To my discomfort I realised that the baby changing facilities were communal. How was I going to hide the fact that I was using reusables? Then I had a lightning moment where I realised how absurd I was being. I’m doing a really good thing here! I’m not preaching, I’m not judging others, but I am making a small difference. Why wasn’t I proud of it instead of trying to hide it? So I waltzed in, started taking off Wilf’s nappy, took the bamboo liner full of his poo and flushed it down the loo (it’s biodegradable); placed his soaked bamboo cotton nappy in my ‘wet and dry’ bag and then began wiping his bottom with a reusable bamboo cotton wipe (cheeky wipes) before changing him into his new nappy (its outer layer has a lovely London picture pattern on it). I could feel two sets of eyes boring into my back as I did this. I looked back and smiled; the other two mums reciprocated. Once I’d left the changing room, I heard them both snigger and one of them say “Did you just see that?! Couldn’t imagine anything worse! Bet she breastfeeds him until he’s four too.” It felt like being back at school again when your mum sends you in with the wrong kind of shoes. 

This was all mixed up: I should be the one thinking it’s weird that people are using disposable nappies when they know what it’s doing to the environment. But then do they really know? I didn’t fully understand the impact of my nappy actions until my friend got through my ‘mummy fog’ and led me to the real impact of our ‘throw away’ society. This is what consumerism, brand brainwashing and advertising has done to us. If you think about it logically: throwing away dirty plastic nappies into a landfill is ‘bonkers’ but we have come to accept that that’s the way it is. A lot has to be said for the blessed olden days where babies had terry cloth nappies - that was the norm. Now we are in a world where convenience takes over most people’s thinking - how sad is that? 

I don’t want to guilt trip people or make them feel bad for their choice of nappies, I’d just like them to see my perspective and then just maybe they might start to see how doing one little thing like I did, can have a positive environmental impact. In addition, without sounding smug, you actually start to feel good about yourself too. Re-using really gives me a ‘lift’ and I suppose if I could just encourage one person to try out reusable nappies, like my earth conscious friend Holly did to me, then I’m passing on that little nugget of knowledge and wellbeing on to both mum and the planet. 

So, thank you to my friend who was underwhelmed by my good news 19 months ago. Without her comment, I may still be throwing Wilf’s smelly ‘off cuts’ into landfill to fester for another 500 years. Being environmentally conscious is good for the world and your soul. Go on, give it a go! One little shift in your buying habits is all it takes. Wilf doesn’t know it yet but he’s on his own little eco mission: ‘Zero waste’ babies rock! 

All images credit: Geoff Reardon.



Inspired? See Fiona's easy zero waste swaps for families and Melissa Hemsley's simple swaps to cut down on plastic at home.

See our favourite natural and organic baby skincare picks and easy plastic-free beauty swaps.

If you're not yet ready to take the zero-waste plunge but want to reduce your environmental impact, see Erica Watson's picks of nappies and wipes.



Politics of an Eco Nappy