Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

In Which Ollie and I Seek To Reduce Our Environmental Footprint


Oh, the nappies! Three children, three hideous amounts of nappies packed into various landfills in England and Germany and South Africa. I try to squash the thought down, just as I squash down the lid of an over-flowing nappy bin. One day my kids are going to accuse me of despoiling the environment and I’m going to have to join an environmental group and pick up litter every day for seven consecutive years to compensate for the planetary karma I have incurred.

Convenience is such a weak excuse for using disposables. And we use them for so much longer than our mothers used cloth nappies because they hold everything so much better. One woman of my mother’s age had three sons in five years and each was potty-trained by the time he was eighteen months old because she needed the terry-cloth nappies for the next baby. Received wisdom now says babies should be potty-trained between two and three years old, which means we give the nappy-makers another eighteen months or more of our consumer Euros. And that’s not to mention the four and five-year-olds who are still in night-time nappies. It seems that we become addicted to the disposables just because they are too damn convenient, right along with Big Macs and frozen pizzas. Being convenient doesn’t make them good for us.

I really wish I’d had the resolve and the energy to take on reusable nappies. I so admire people who do. It takes a commitment that I have had not had. And if you are a terry-cloth nappy user, you will also tend to potty-train your babies earlier, which is also an astonishing commitment.

So my eighteen-month-old fella, who is a really quick learner, is showing “signs” as the books and his grandmothers say. He is intensely aware of what’s going on in his nappy, and always tells us afterwards that he’s got a “bum-bum”. If I said that potty-training is entirely my very worst part of child-raising, even worse than not sleeping for a year, I would not be exaggerating. I just loathe it, and frankly, you can train and train all you like, but they are not potty-trained until a certain synapse connects with another synapse in the brain and goes click. Up till then, it is just good timing and good luck.

So the question is, do I have the commitment, energy and resolve to try to potty-train a baby who is showing the signs, but who could remain in the training phase for another eighteen months? Hmmm. Not sure. I would dearly like to reduce our environmental footprint just a little, but I just don’t know if I have the stamina.

So for now, while I percolate the topic, we are trying to be more environmentally sound in other ways. For instance, we walk a lot. Our town is compact enough that we can get almost everywhere by foot: school, kindergarten, ballet, music, friends, play-grounds, the river, the pool. Lily and Daisy are big enough now to ride their bikes and Ollie and I and the stroller trot along behind. The only things I need the car for on a weekly basis are the supermarket and swimming-lessons, which are in another town.

So, this week, Ollie and I tried going to the supermarket by foot. The round-trip only took an hour! Ollie slept throughout, I enjoyed a great walk, and I when I got there I only bought exactly what we needed (no treats, no extras) because I couldn’t carry more. So we had exercise, saved money, breathed fresh air, and released no carbons. We still put five nappies in a landfill, but we did something good to compensate for it. And I’m still thinking about the potty-training.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

13 thoughts on “In Which Ollie and I Seek To Reduce Our Environmental Footprint

  1. This strikes me as exactly right — the way to environmental perfection is also the route to the mental hospital. But your plan to balance things out is such a good one, and it sets a fabulous example. As for potty training, you have all my best wishes and admiration. Enough said. xo, BL

  2. Exactly. I try hard to balance things. Since I live in a rural area, I have to drive over 25 miles in order to visit my friends. So I compensate by hanging my laundry out to dry when the weather serves me, gardening organically, not using the air conditioner until it is 85 degrees.

    I never had to potty train my child. I adopted him when he was 14 1/2. You have my admiration and best wishes. All I know is, most people my age know how to use the toilet, somehow we learned. So don’t despair.

  3. I have also had to numb a guilty conscience on the disposable nappy front. Three children also have been through an incalculable number of nappies and now we are on a farm here in SA we really are pooing on our own doorstep, as we have to dispose of our rubbish in a pit which gets burned practically under our noses.

    My youngest came out of nappies voluntarily, just after she was two, but two years later is still creating an inordinate amount of washing, the synapse hasn’t connected in a meaningful way yet, or she just can’t be bothered. So one day I counted 12 pairs of trousers in a row on the washing line – one days worth! And the night nappies, just her left using them thank goodness, but my son only gave them up just before he was six.

    I have also read that the energy consumed sterilising and laundering terry nappies isn’t so great for the environment either, but I don’t know whether that is put about just to make us feel better!

  4. Nappies. Oh Christ, the guilt. Mountains and mountains of the things. Our dudelet has managed to drop the day nappies at two and a half but still needs them at night. And the washing mounts up and up…

    We did try ‘green’ nappies (there was never any question of our capacity to deal with washable ones – we both have jobs and there aren’t any grandparents available) but they seemed to set into concrete after about one pee – very uncomfortable (we assumed). Though after experiencing what comes out of a nappy if it bursts, we did go through a period of anxiety about what horrors we were wrapping around his dear little bottom.

  5. I feel for you. My parents tried using cloth diapers, but I have such sensitive skin that a rash broke out in response to the detergent–and this was back in the 70s when the variety was much more limited.

    Also have the same problem with sanitary napkins; I realize I need to employ a more enviromentally friendly means dealing with “Aunt Flo,” but there’s a lot to be said about the ick-factor.

  6. As long as we do what we can, every little bit helps in the grand scheme of things!

    I actually just returned from a trip to Germany and learned you have unbleached cotton nappies available that compost much more easily than the nasty cartooned plastic variety we have here in North America. If I can get my hands on some of those it might ease my conscience a bit.

    My 6 month old & I were out on a nature walk the other day with another Mom & tot we met at baby group a few weeks ago and she proceeded to pull his pants down to reveal a bare bottom and held him over the bushes where he relieved himself on-cue! Can you believe it at 6 months old?! Apparently she started this from birth and he can now even sleep through the night without an accident. Hasn’t used one diaper. I had read about this on the internet but never thought I would witness it in person! And get this, he never cries, he just smiles and coos all the time. I’m in awe when I’m around these two…and of course she makes him only organic babyfood from scratch. I’m such a rookie!

  7. You know, the chemicals you need to wash out terry nappies are every bit as bad for the environment as disposables. If that is any consolation! I only have one child and potty training was indeed a nightmare. To the extent that at the age of 3, after an unfortunate experience, he refused to poo for days on end and we had a VERY miserable 6 months or so while he got over it. So I say there is no need to rush, let nature take its course, and stay sane. Mad people can’t be good for the environment either.

  8. I’ve been at the stage for several months where I’ve been saying: “Is 8 months too young to potty train? Is 9 months too young? Is 10 months too young?” I have no environmental conscience whatsoever about the number of nappies Kiko gets through. If he was in cloth nappies, I’d waste even more water on laundry than I do now and I already feel guilty about our load of washing per day. But the nonsense out of this boy at nappy change time is driving me insane! He has now started escaping and crawling away at top speed and I have to catch him (several times), and then there are the tantrums, and the weeing on the carpet, and I will not go into details about the pooey bum prints. I can’t wait until he’s out of nappies. I have a friend who started potty training her daughter at 9 months and the girl was completely toilet trained by 18 months. But her son, who is now two, is not toilet trained yet. I think it depends on the child. I’ve got this awful feeling Kiko’s synapses are going to take a long time to connect in that department…

    “Bum-bum” is so cute. My friend (of the potty-trained 9-month-old) taught her children to blow raspberries when they needed a number two.

  9. I can’t remember the term for potty-training a baby from birth, but I am lost in admiration for the mothers who do it. They must be so patient, in tune with their babies and intuitive. If I had heard of it with my first, I might have considered it (no, get real, I wouldn’t have, I was too sleep-deprived and insane). Anyway I don’t think it would have been a possibility for me: three kids, freelancing from home and attempting to have a social life, let alone keeping a house ticking over, is more than enough for me.

    As to the environmental cost of washing cloth nappies, I’m sure you’re right Litlove and Kit, so that lets me off the hook. But I do still carry guilt – perhaps I need to look into the more environmentally gentle nappies TrendyGal mentions.

    And as for the potty-training, I don’t know if I can bear it. I might just wait till next summer when the little fella can go around in the garden bare bum-bummed and learn then.

    Either way, it’s no fun.

  10. What do they do in places where there are no nappies? Is it like the menopause, just a western thang?

  11. No, I think people either wrap rags around baby’s bots and then wash them out and re-use them. Or, they do what TrendyGirl describes and use intuition and timing to “catch” babies’ poos and wees.

  12. Both of my girls were clean during the day by 18 months and nights by two. I did use disposables but if I’d known then what I know now I would definitely have used cloth nappies (as I did with my son). I would have had a washing machine, though – all that boiling nappies in a big pot on the cooker lark was just too time consuming! I know it was more environmentally friendly but it sure as heck wasn’t mum friendly!

  13. Pingback: Going green « Aphra Behn - danger of eclectic shock

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