Tops Day Nurseries is the UK’s first B Corp nursery chain, meeting rigorous standards in social, environmental, economic, and governance impact. Sustainability guides operations across 32 locations, eliminating single-use plastics, implementing a glitter ban, and adopting eco-friendly practices. Caring for over four thousand children daily magnifies the impact of sustainability actions on parents and children. The latest sustainability strategy for the chain is the use of reusable nappies.
Tackling the Disposable Diaper Dilemma
During potty training, a child uses around seven thousand nappies, contributing to landfill and incineration with environmental consequences. This is an area of opportunity for nurseries that want to reduce their carbon footprint. Manufacturers craft the majority of nappies from synthetic materials that lack biodegradability, requiring hundreds of years to decompose. It’s likely that the diapers you used as a child persist intact in a landfill somewhere. Chemicals in disposable diapers harm the environment, affecting oceans, plants, and animals essential for sustenance.
In a nursery chain like Tops Day Nurseries, the decision to remove disposable nappies should not be surprising as they could be disposing of around five thousand nappies every day. In an environment where sustainability is a serious concern, disposable nappies are against the circular economy that these nurseries are trying to promote.
Manufacturing & Distribution Of Nappies
The absorbent pad in disposable nappies, capable of absorbing 15 times its weight in water, consists of a hydrophilic polymer and a fibrous material, such as wood pulp. Nonwoven fabric, crafted from various plastic resins, secures the absorbent pad in position. The production of the diaper requires unsustainably sourced materials like water, wood, crude oil, chlorine, acrylic acid, and polyester, among others. Additionally, they use fossil fuels to run factories and different distribution vehicles. The industry had a market value of $79.1 billion dollars in 2021, and it keeps growing while our forests and natural resources are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Similar to disposable diapers, we emphasise the significance of sustainably sourcing and manufacturing reusable nappies. Crafting these nappies with high-quality materials is crucial, as it ensures comfort for children and allows for multiple uses before requiring replacement. Tops Day Nurseries chose Little Lamb’s diapers as they have the STeP certification by OEKO-TEX® which confirms they are sustainable and safe for babies. These nappies originate in Turkey, emphasising the importance of maintaining ethical work conditions and minimising the carbon footprint through road freight shipment. These diapers, made from bamboo, a sustainable plant that thrives with minimal water and causes no harm to the ground, are delivered straight to your doorstep.
Use & Disposal Of Nappies
Using disposable nappies is straightforward: remove the used one from your baby and replace it with a new one. Usually, parents use a disposable wipe and potentially one-use plastic gloves before wrapping everything in the nappy. After that, they deposit the wrapped bundle directly into the bin liner, which waste collection companies later collect for incineration or leave in a landfill for hundreds of years. This process leads to bacteria from the nappy leaching into the landscape instead of undergoing treatment at a sewage farm. It exemplifies the linear economy, where resources are extracted from nature to produce a nappy used only once and then discarded, providing little to no value. The disposal process involves attempts at decomposition in a landfill, oceans, or incineration.
In the case of Tops Day Nurseries using disposable nappies, parents provide a package of nappies, which the nurseries change throughout the day. After use, these nappies are placed in a designated bin, later collected by waste collection companies at a cost. Some nurseries include nappies as part of their service fees.
Little Lamb – Fitted Reusable Nappy
The poly fabric wrap renders it waterproof, featuring an elastic Velcro for secure fastening to contain everything within the nappy. The fitted nappy, crafted from absorbent and gentle bamboo, receives additional support from both the booster and fleecy liner. During nappy changes, it’s necessary to wipe down or scrape the waste from the booster or liner into the toilet using a homemade wipe or a small shower head. Afterward, the waste goes into a wet bag, a waterproof bag intended for washing later. The nursery gathers all the wet bags in a bin throughout the day, and then someone picks it up for washing.
A concern for parents and the staff in the nurseries before they make the transition is the additional time you need to scrape the poo out of the nappy into the toilet before placing it in the wet bag. There will be about a minute difference against disposable diapers for each change which is a real concern for the nursery managers that have a greater child capacity, but like anything, practice makes perfect, and staff can learn how to manage their time and do it faster over time.
Disposable nappies cost approximately £0.20p on average, which may not appear substantial. However, children go through over seven thousand diapers before achieving full potty training.Seven thousand single use nappies for £0.20p make for £1,400 in total. They seem cheap and easy individually, but the total can hurt the family’s budget and damage or environment. Reusable diapers are not as easy, they will involve in different set-up costs.
- Nappies: Little Lamb Nappy Complete Kit, comprising nappies, wraps, liners, nappy bucket, laundry bag, and reusable wipes, is priced at £194.20 for the initial set of diapers. As children grow, they will need bigger sizes adding another £200 for their growth, making the full diaper investment of around £400.
- Scraping: Use the reusable wipes to dispose of the poo from the nappy into the toilet. For increased efficiency, consider installing an additional shower head, which costs around £100.
- Washing: In order to get a full load of diapers in the washing machine parents of a single child would wait around three days. Children are usually potty trained by the time they are three years old. Assuming the same number of changes through those three years and the estimated cost of a load of 0.32p, it would amount to £40 in the cost of washing the reusable diapers of a single child.
Nappy Economics: Reusable vs Disposable Savings
These make the total cost of using reusable nappies on one baby around £540 while the cost of disposable nappies is around £1,400. Parents could save over a third of their money by changing to reusable nappies and significantly reducing the damage done to the environment.
For nurseries like Tops Day Nurseries, the cost of changing to reusable diapers is similar but on a grand scale. They are taking care of multiple children at the same time for long periods of time making the change a much larger initial investment but also generating a larger impact on the environment. As this change is of such a scale there are additional costs that parents do not have to incur, but also some savings. The purchase of the diapers can be made in bulk to get the cost down and the installation of the small shower heads can be done by the nursery’s maintenance team or a trusted contractor.
Little Lamb expects their reusable diapers to last 400 washes, 400 changes. Reusable diapers last 400 times longer than disposable ones, and their cost should be distributed over those 400 uses. Since the nursery cares for multiple generations of children, the diapers serve throughout their entire lifespan, adapting to each baby’s growth with different sizes.
With Little Lamb’s complete kit new parents would have 15 fitted cloth nappies, 5 wraps, and all they need to take care of their children. Parents can ensure they have an ample supply of nappies for more than a couple of days, enabling them to run a full load in the washing machine every two to three days as the baby progresses in potty training. Since their child will grow before they can take advantage of the 400 changes in each diaper, they can resell them or use them on their siblings helping them with the cost.
When deciding to launch this sustainability project, Tops Day Nurseries had a unique opportunity. They had a new location for a new nursery that had a garden, a garage and the building for the nursery. The garage’s size and location made it ideal for the chain’s first laundry hub. Before opening, we needed to carry out renovations on the property, presenting us with the chance to operate a more sustainable business. We installed solar panels and a rainwater harvesting system to supply natural power and water for both the nursery and the laundry hub, maximising the use of available natural resources. To convert the garage into a laundry hub, we installed multiple washing machines and drying cabinets, ensuring a thorough cleaning of the diapers and preparing them for reuse.
Staff at Tops Day Nurseries wholeheartedly embraced the shift to reusable diapers, witnessing firsthand the daily waste generation. The children themselves encountered no issues with the change, aside from more frequent changes, occurring every two hours instead of three. Additionally, the transition yielded two unexpected benefits: the increased volume of reusable diapers allowed younger babies to fall on their bottoms without harm. This heightened volume and reduced comfort also motivated children to become potty trained more eagerly than those using disposable diapers. Consequently, children in reusable diapers at Tops Day Nurseries achieve potty training earlier than the three-year-old average associated with disposable diapers. One inconvenience of this added volume is the size of clothes for the children, if they are wearing tight jeans the reusable diaper might not fit. But children are always growing so additional sizes and more flexible bottoms like leggings are always available
Tops Day Nurseries has made the change to reusable diapers in nine of their thirty-two locations preventing the generation waste and promoting sustainable practices. As they keep making this change in more and more nurseries the impact it will have on the environment will be great, no matter the cost. Consider the effects it would have if half of their capacity, two thousand children, stopped using disposable diapers through their care of 5 hours, that day Tops Day Nurseries would prevent 5 thousand disposable diapers from reaching landfill or incineration. The ability to prevent 5 thousand diapers from reaching landfill with half of their capacity in a single day is something unique and valuable. Tops Day Nurseries create employment, reduce waste, help parents save money on nappies and foster change.
Tops Day Nurseries, providing happy, nurturing childcare for the hours you need, across over 30 nursery settings in: Babbacombe, Plymouth, Bournemouth, Charminster, Copnor, Fawley, Gillingham, Corfe Mullen, Havant, Lakeside, Lymington, Taunton, Newport, Poole, Portsmouth, Salisbury, Southsea, Wareham, Wimborne, Winchester and Yeovil.