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Eco-friendly Nappies

by Vicki Penfold

FILED IN: Children · Issue 4

After having a baby in 2002, Vicki Penfold was shocked not only at the enormous cost involved in using disposable diapers, but also at the devastating environmental consequences. After nearly two years of testing, Vicki has developed a re-useable nappy which is friendly to baby, your budget and the environment.

After having a baby in 2002 I was not only shocked at how much money I would spend on “disposables”, but also highly concerned about the effect that the use of these nappies has on the environment. Moreover, I was uncertain about the unknown effects that the chemicals contained in “disposable” nappies would have on my baby.

When I first started using nappies in 2002, the only alternative on the South African market to disposable napies was the “Terri nappy”, which is the one that you have to fold, use a safety pin and a plastic waterproof with. This just seemed to be so “old-fashioned” and far too much effort for me, especially since I had seen fitted nappies used by friends who had bought them overseas, where they are readily available.

I wondered why there was nothing like them available in South Africa. That is when the Bio-Baba “project” started!
I called a dress-maker friend and gave her a pattern to make up some samples which were duly tested on my son. Every month the design would change, the layers and types of fabric would alter, until, finally, after 18 months of changes and testing Bio-Baba was born!

Bio-Baba nappies incorporate an all-in-one nappy, liner and waterproof with clever features like:-
• Multi-padding for extra absorbency
• Wide-band Velcro for snug fitting
• Tab fold feature which protects Velcro during washing
• Soft breathable outer waterproof… not plastic!

What are disposable nappies made of?
How do they get to be so white?
How do they manage to absorb so much?

Disposables are made mostly of soft, fluffy pulp which is produced by chemically treating wood fibres. The pulp undergoes a whitening and softening process when it is exposed to chlorine-based bleaching agents. This produces a multitude of toxic chemical by-products which are released into the environment during manufacturing.

For example, substances called organochlorides are produced. These are found in large quantities in wastewater released into the environment, and they remain in minute quantities in the paper fluff itself.

One of the most well known organochlorides is the dioxin group. Dioxins have been called the most toxic substances ever produced and have been associated with birth defects, miscarriage, cancer and genetic damage. No one knows exactly how much exposure to dioxin is required for disease to develop. They are toxic in very small amounts.

Another chemical found in “disposables” is sodium polyacrylate. This substance is what turns your baby”s urine into gel. Sodium polyacrylate can absorb 100 times its weight in liquid and makes for a very absorbent nappy! However, it has been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome in tampon use and is no longer used in their manufacture. It is still used in disposables though. Moreover, as much as clever TV adverts would have us believe that this astonishing absorbency and resultant “dryness” makes for a better nappy, this is simply not true.

Perfectly absorbent cloth nappies such as Bio-Baba do the trick without chemicals.

Also, studies show that wetness is not the prime cause of nappy rash. If it was, all babies in cloth nappies would have a rash.
In addition to the notorious “landfill” stories that everyone has heard about, disposable nappies
• require more energy than cloth nappies to produce
• use more non-recyclable materials
• produce more solid waste and
• need more land for growing the natural materials used in nappy production
than cloth nappies do.
If you only use disposable nappies, your child will have used the equivalent of 45 trees worth of paper before it is 2½ years old.
From birth to toilet training, a child will use approximately 5400 disposables (at an average of 6 a day over 2½ years).

Vicki can be contacted via email


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  1. hi V icki, I came across your nappies on the website and was wondering if you had an agent selling them in bloemfontein. I represent bambino and call on all the baby shops in the area. One can also call on all the nursery schools and creches to introduce the product. If you looking for an agent please mail me so we can have a chat.

    Thank you


    Comment by janine

  2. Where can we get hold of Biobaba nappies? I would LOVE to support this worthy cause.

    Comment by Elash

  3. Where can we get hold of Biobaba nappies?

    Comment by Shameemah

  4. Hi Everyone

    Thanks so much for your support of Bio-Baba eco-friendly nappies!
    Bio-Baba has gone from strength to strength and now offers the most versatile cloth nappy on the market - the Bio-Baba Super Slim. This nappy has an increased hemp content and is super-absorbent; it can be used for everyday nappies, night nappies, swim nappies and potty training.
    Should you wish to contact me - please email: thenappyguru@biobaba.co.za or visit http://www.biobaba.co.za - you will be able to order them online shortly; they are also available at Kids Emporium in Green Point Cape Town.

    Comment by Vicki Penfold

  5. Hi Vicki

    Are you the lady that was on Free Spirit about a year ago who lost her brother in the tsunami in Thailand? If so, I’m sorry for your loss. I would love to meet with you as soon as Possible regarding your nappies for my baby.

    Thanks so much
    Kind regards
    Tamara - 083 233 0720 / 011 792 2680 (W)

    Comment by Tamara Mota

  6. Hi
    I am due to give birth to our first child in 7 weeks! So am getting ready and buying things in advance.
    I have not seen your nappies yet, but will look out for them. Who in Cape town stocks them? I have bought some Mother Nature toweling nappies though.
    I am from the UK, and over there they do a Biodegradable Disposable nappy, that takes 20/30days to biodegrade and is free of harmfull chemicals etc, apparently there are more than one company in Europe doing these for mothers to use in the first month or so whilst getting settled into motherhood and getting on top everything…
    Have you heard about this? Does anyone in S.Africa import these or make there own here??
    Thanks, Sophie.

    Comment by Sophie

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