It’s been nearly three years since my partner ordered some worms and kickstarted our adventures in vermiculture. Since then we have kept many, many generations of worms alive and used their castings (waste) on our little container garden. Maybe a good time to share my experience with worm farming in a small Sydney apartment.
They are firmly outdoor pets. I find enough (large, creepy, crawly, and sometimes all of the above) critters indoors, that I don’t want to attract any more thanks very much. Our worm farm lives in a shady spot on our patio and teems with life, not just worms. Bokashi is a better bet if you want something to store your food scraps indoors.
Worms are lower maintenance than I expected. After having a baby, I didn’t my little friends for months at a time. Did they mind? Uh no, I think they thrived on a break from scraps. The population boomed. It’s easier to overfeed than underfeed, which takes me to my next point….
The capacity of a worm farm is not nearly enough for a small household’s scraps. Even when I minimise food scraps (generally don’t peel veggies, eat the leaves/stems, etc)., we have too much food scrap for one worm tower. I would suggest that a worm farm can reduce or complement organics recycling, but not bring it to zero if you are like me and prep and cook most meals at home.
Eggshells don’t really breakdown. I no longer add eggshells to my worm farm.They make a mess of the compost that comes out and make it more difficult to mix into the soil.
Adding scrap paper dramatically improved the worm farm. I learned that when I add torn cardboard or scrap paper to the top tray, where the worms eat, I didn’t need to turn the mixture as often to aerate.
Worm farms are a bit messy and I don’t think there is any getting around that. They don’t smell and are low maintenance. Great if you have a bit of outdoor space (my tomatoes seem happy). However, capacity is an issue, and a worm farm can’t address the volume of food scraps that a household generates. We still need systemic change in how we handle our food scraps. Aussie farmland needs more carbon than is being returned from the cities – a regional issue, not a personal one. And a pressing once, since carbon helps soils retain moisture.
Most of my compost goes into a food scrap bin that my local council collects and sends to a small anaerobic co- digestion plant in Western Sydney. The facility produces gas which is used to generate electricity and the remaining sludge is used as fertiliser. More and more councils are offering food scraps collection – does yours?
I wrote the first draft of this post after we’d used cloth for six weeks. In true new parent style, I’ve finished it six months later. We’ve now we’ve avoided sending approximately 1,700 nappies to landfill. That’s already about 30% of all the nappies our boy will need until toilet training, or $680 saved.
A cloth nappy generally lasts two to three hours, which is the recommended time frame to change a baby anyway. We’ve occasionally pushed to four more by accident than intent and gotten away with it. At the beginning, we averaged twelve changes in 24 hours, but it got easier at about three months when we fell into a decent rhythm of eat, play, sleep. Now we average seven daily changes.
We haven’t had any mucky explosions like those memes designed to scare first time parents. A very small amount escaped on one occasion where we had a too loose waist + baby carrier, but literally, it was the smallest amount. We’d get occasional wee leaks as I learned how to tell if he needed changing, and when I’d squish him in a too small onsie. But hey, leaks happen with disposables. We haven’t needed larger clothing for his fluffy bum as long as the clothing has some stretch. Plus, no nappy rash to report.
My favourite cloth nappy styles
I love all the styles for different reasons. Flats weren’t on my radar, but I’m glad I bought a flannelette set on impulse to round out my stash. Quick to dry and cheap as chips, but also, the best for getting a perfect fit around the leg to contain everything. Paired with double gusseted covers, bombproof. We reuse covers a few times if they aren’t wet or soiled, which reduces laundry wear and tear and the number we needed to buy. Many of my flats are simply muslins or glorified towels, and will have uses beyond the baby years. On a tiny newborn, full sized flats can seem ultra bulky, but as they grow, they evolve to a less affronting nappy to baby ratio. I mostly used a Pickman fold for a front wetting boy, with a stay dry layer I made by cutting a larger piece of microfleece into large rectangles. This is a similar fabric to the lining of a pocket nappy. Not ideal from a fibre shedding perspective, but this is what worked for us. He outgrew being fussy when wet, so we don’t use them anymore except for overnight.
Our baby is long and slender and one size fits most (OSFM) nappies didn’t fit him snugly enough around the legs until after he hit 4.5kgs. Prior to that, we used our OSFM covers over flats.
At six months, we use a mix of pocket style nappies and prefolds under PUL covers, the latter mostly when we’re home. The pre-folds are just pad folded into the cover rather than snappy’d in an angel fold. Pockets are great for on the go, when it’s easier to pull out one piece from the nappy bag and do a quick change.
It will surprise no one that we also use cloth wipes. Nothing fancy. Orphaned terry socks work great by the way. One sock makes four small wipes.
It’s good to do a little research, like which brands work for slim vs chunky babies. How many brands or styles you try is really up to your tolerance level for tinkering and reselling anything that doesn’t work for you. As a waste educator, I enjoyed the discovery process. The Facebook group MCN Reviews Uncensored has honest user reviews of Australian available brands.
My cloth nappy wash routine
I’m much better at laundry thanks to Clean Cloth Nappies, a group of experienced cloth nappy users who share their knowledge to help those starting out to have a good experience. They are at cleanclothnappies.com or as a Facebook group under the same name.
I don’t find it useful to be a stark minimalist when it comes to the quantity of nappies in my rotation, which is inversely related to wash frequency. I think I have about 40 inserts. I sold my newborn fitteds when he outgrew them and bought a few more secondhand OFSM and inserts. In the beginning I washed every 2nd day and now every 3rd is fine. The absorbent inserts can take anywhere from a few hours to two days to dry – it depends if I hang them indoors or out, and on the weather. On a good day in the sun it might be just a few hours, but I’m often too lazy to venture that far and just hang them on the clothes airer indoors. Covers, even the pocket style, take next to no time to dry, and same for flats. Having some flats means not stressing if thick MCN inserts are dry yet.
I don’t pre-rinse anything coming off the baby, unless it’s super mucky, or I’m using someone else’s machine. Everything to date has been an innocuous, if brightly coloured, water soluble liquid. Babies can digest breastmilk so efficiently that there isn’t much in the nappy until they start eating solid food. Nappies go through a shorter prewash with a small amount of detergent and a titch of booster (oxygen bleach, which is essentially powdered hydrogen peroxide), then through a longer main wash, appropriately bulked to fill up the machine. Into the main wash go our socks, small towels, and kick around clothes.
I’m using Australian made Dirt detergent. I was sceptical of Dirt simply because this is a good jumping off point for evaluating self-styled environmentally-friendly products. When I saw positive reviews popping up for nappy laundry, I figured I’d give it a try. And it works. I also appreciate Dirt’s simple packaging return and refill model (Here’s a tip for affordable returns by post). The founder, Frankie, acknowledges that too often ‘recyclable’ packaging is not recycled, so reducing the amount of materials used in the first place is still very important. I found the wording of their refill program confusing, but essentially if you want to buy your goodies in refilled packaging, just let them know when you order and they will tag you as being okay to reuse an empty package returned by you or other customers. Send back your empties at any time – they are not refilling your packs specifically for you. One refillable pump container handles 30 standard loads but is only the size of a bottle of hand soap. I love that Dirt washed clothing and nappies smell like nothing at all.
I wash with hot water (60 degrees) because these are sanitary items and according to CCN, plant based detergents work better on hot washes. Now with extra hot washing, it’s valid to ask whether our electricity bill has jumped up. Not from nappies it hasn’t. From April to May we used 10.4 kwh daily. Last year for the same period, we used 8.9 kwh, which is still less than the average two person household in my area, according to my provider. Front loaders are more efficient than top loaders, as they heat cold water rather than using hot water from the tank. We use Powershop because the company supports the use of renewables.
I’ve questioned myself about the ‘extra’ water to launder cloth nappies. We are in drought, in spite of Sydney’s lush surrounds. Is my guilt warranted? Washing the dishes uses water, and we’re not switching to disposable plates any time soon. How do we decide when something is a waste of water or a use of water? I’ve already brought another human into the mix, which comes with an unavoidable lifetime of individual consumption, plus the baseline resources it takes in our society for hospitals, government, police, and everything that comes with our high standard of living. Then again, my one new human will replace an older human, and not even completely, since Australian fertility rates are declining. So while one the whole resource use per person is still far too high in our country, it seems silly to focus on nappies, which are a necessity whether cloth or otherwise. Disposable nappies have a water footprint too. I went looking for details and and course Sydney Water has a good breakdown of direct household water use, which is around 200L per person per day. Then there is the embedded water, which is the water from production of the food and materials we use every day – much harder to track down a stat for this, but the daily water footprint including household and embedded water for the average Brit is 4,645L (!). So an additional 35L (plus some for the detergent’s virtual footprint) per day for laundry that I use is marginal for a whole extra human. It’s actually nice that my boy’s water use is so low to begin with! As with many things, it’s all how you frame it, though I regret that some places around New South Wales are desperately low on water, this is no consolation. And it makes me deeply sad that it is so, as we’re not ‘saving’ water with disposables, we’re merely importing someone else’s water until they too become desperately low. I like that by washing nappies where I use them, I’m internalising the resource cost. How about we stop hosing driveways and watering lawns before we wag a finger at cloth nappy laundry? We could also not give away enormous aquifers of drinking water to foreign coal mine investors…just saying.
I’ve decided not to be bothered by it. We bathe our kid in the laundry sink and toss the water on the garden instead of using a hose. We bought a very efficient front loader a few years ago. Better ways to save water are to reduce meat consumption, turn taps off to lather up, say no to fast fashion, or let pee mellow in the bowl instead of flushing every single time. Don’t let perfect get in the way of better, I often remind myself.
Is it possible to travel with cloth nappies?
I’ve found day trips and short outings to be simple. We put dirty nappies in a wetbag and bring them home to wash. I replenish the bag as soon as I get home so I don’t have to futz around when trying to leave the house next. The size difference between two cloth nappies and two disposables is marginal, and I use the same size of nappy bag as everyone else I know.
What about long distance travel? I recently visited family in Canada for over a month. Since I knew I’d have access to laundry facilities, I brought 20 pocket nappies with me and left the prefolds at home. I checked one bag out of my allowance of two, and even with my ridiculous overpacking and a multi-season, multi-size baby wardrobe, there was plenty of room for nappies. It’s been completely manageable to use cloth, at least for this style of travel, which is to say, staying with family or friends and moving pretty slowly. The only concession I made was to use disposables on the flights, where I felt the additional absorbency might carry me through periods when I wouldn’t be able to change him (ascent, descent, seatbelt sign on), or he’d be better to remain asleep.
Cloth nappies for overnight
I used cloth overnight – up to 11 hours – from birth until four and a half months when my boy learned to roll. We started getting side leaks, night waking and 2am outfit and sleeping bag changes. This new and unfortunate routine started while in Canada, so I didn’t have my usual full stash of inserts to try to make a better overnight solution. So I tried disposables. It seemed to work and we had a few dry nights. Then we started getting leaks with disposables too! This was after trying a few different brands and me putting them on very carefully. Our stopgap solution became a disposable, plus a flat origami folded overtop, wrapped up with a Thirsties size two cover. Part of me feels vindicated that disposables weren’t the complete solution because it forced me to come up with a good cloth solution.
Back in Sydney, I was nervous to try cloth overnight again because I feared leaks would wake him up. When it became clear he had no intention of sleeping through the night anytime soon, I decided I’d be risking nothing to give cloth another whirl. I was also motivated by the dwindling stack of disposables – I did not want to buy more! Disposables may look slim when you put them on, but they fill a trash bag lightning fast.
With an arsenal of inserts to play with, I’ve put together a combination that has lasted without leaks for up to 13 hours of tummy sleep and up to five feeds. I used what I already had rather than buying any new night specific nappies, which can be pricey. My solution right now is a flannelette flat origami folded, a pre-fold, a thin booster insert and a long anchor insert borrowed from one of my pocket nappies (anchor to the front and folded over), all wrapped in a PUL cover large enough to wrap around this bulk.
Next, I’m keen to try a woollen cover over our nappies and find a cloth only solution. Wool can hold 35% of its weight without even feeling damp, so it wicks away moisture that would otherwise spread to clothing in case of leaks. My mother in law is knitting me a wool cover that we’ll trial over our nighttime setup.
Cloth from birth is worth it.
What I didn’t know about having a baby is that my day ebbs and flows according to naps and feeds, or skipped naps and feeds, ha. Trust me when I say that doing laundry seemed more possible than leaving the house many days. Cloth still relies on my labour, but I’m on leave from work right now and can’t easily do anything else in my fragmented days. I can fold nappies while watching my son. He liked one of the nappy patterns so much I fashioned it into a toy at one point.
With a baby, you’ll be doing more laundry regardless of nappies. Messy creatures that they are, soiling not just their clothes but yours too. Cloth doesn’t create that many more loads of laundry because you can chuck your miscellaneous items into the second wash (the main wash) instead of running a separate load.
From a waste avoidance and cost savings perspective, the greatest return on your efforts happens in the first six months because of the higher daily nappy count.
Cloth takes no more time to put on than disposables. If you need to encourage a partner, the best two pieces of advice I’ve heard are to hide the disposables or simply ‘forget’ to buy any, and to try velcro cover closures. Luckily, my partner has been supportive and we both change our share. I manage the washing and any folding/stuffing, while he handles the bragging to friends.
I’ve had nothing but positive reactions from friends, family and health care workers. Many from my parent’s generation remember using traditional terry towel flats, and are curious about the newer styles. Beautiful prints make nappies more akin to clothing than hazardous waste. There are supportive online communities. Friends I wouldn’t characterise as eco-warriors are doing it. It’s more common than I would have expected, and I hope it becomes more common still. To anyone considering cloth from birth, there is nothing to be afraid of. You’ll rarely have a chance to reduce your waste footprint so dramatically.
So there it is – some thoughts on our six months of cloth. I’d love to hear your experiences or questions in the comments below.
We’ve had this beauty for four years now. Secondhand to us, broken on adoption. Most people don’t choose to acquire broken items, but we’d just moved here from Canada and I was trying to stay frugal. I really wanted to get back to using cast iron after giving up teflon pans, with their unimpressive lifespans and bird killing fumes, years earlier. Besides, this specimen could still do what cast iron is best at – park on an element, retain heat, and be the best and most bombproof pan I know for cooking all sorts of food.
The older a cast iron, the smoother and more stick resistant the surface. Some say vintage is best. This pan isn’t vintage, just used, but still. And we follow no rules. Metal utensils, soap, acidic food – bring it on. It sort of gets more or less seasoned depending on what we’ve been cooking, but no matter what I do, the pan itself will outlive all of us.
Except for the handle. Which was evidently the reason it was up for grabs.
This pan has a heatsafe wooden handle that wraps around a metal rod, which screws into the base of the pan. Somehow the wood has become swollen and cracked, probably from sitting in water. As a result, the wooden part no longer fits tightly around the metal rod. I can’t properly tilt the pan, as the wooden part just slips loosely around the metal when I try.
The broken handle mostly doesn’t bother me, except if I’m moving the pan around or trying to pour something from pan to plate. Lately with child safety on the brain, I started to wonder how I might fix it.
I thought Sugru, billed as the ‘self setting rubber’, or ‘mouldable glue’ depending on which of their marketing materials you look at, could be my best solution. I’d heard of this product years ago during the crowdfunding campaign. It definitely made me curious, but I’d never had a reason to try it, and I’d never seen it in my day to day life either.
My handle project met all of the Sugru parameters. The materials are wood and metal, and the rod doesn’t get hotter than the heat limit (nor does the wood).
I ordered from Sugru’s UK shop since none of the local sellers had expiry dates into the future, and those who’ve used it all cautioned that the expiry was critical to success. I ordered two packs of 3 small portions for a total of 6 individual portions for 25 AUD which included a small amount for shipping. The packages are quite small, which is why I thought I might need the whole lot, but in the end I only used two. I chose black, to blend in with the singed wooden handle.
Sugru starts to set within 30 minutes, so it was important to have my workspace and project laid out before opening the package. I had a few backup projects, like broken wiring, nearby in case I had extra Sugru to use up from an opened package. And then I went to work on fixing my favourite pan.
Did Sugru work?
I started the project in the afternoon on a Saturday and checked the next morning. Not quite 24 hours as Sugru suggests, but I couldn’t wait to see if it had worked.
It worked! The fill hardened and all seemed to be fused together – wood, metal and this clever mouldable glue. I can tilt the pan 90 or 180 degrees an back with control. I’m pretty pleased about it. Now that it’s been a few days I’m starting to understand how much I must’ve been compensating for the handle. It’s so stable now, so comfortable. For $8 worth of material and a few minutes of my time, this was definitely a worthwhile fix.
I’ve always intrinsically valued the act of restoration. I’ve preferred a patina of use over brand-newness. My interest in reducing waste has only deepened my pleasure and delight in fixing favourite things and keeping them out of landfill.
I have a few more ideas for using the remaining Sugru. The expiry is 13 months away and this would make for a a fun fixer-noon with friends.
Have you ever tried Sugru? What was your experience? What’s the best thing you ever fixed?
People who want to start reducing their waste often ask – what is the best place to start? What are the tools worth investing in when building a kit? Are wax wraps worth the hype?
I’ve been ‘low wasting’ steadily for ten-ish years now. I’ve tested and tried many products marketed as sustainable or ‘zero waste’ along the way. Some have been great, and some terrible. The best I use daily and hold up to hard use.
What constitutes a zero waste product anyway? There’s no hard and fast rule, but I’d consider it anything that has the potential to displace a large amount of waste with regular use.
I don’t accept free goods, affiliates, discounts or payment for any products. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it invariably affects the editorial. So here’s what I believe to be unbiased feedback on stuff I’ve bought or been given (by friends) over the years, in hopes it might help you.
Zero waste products I wouldn’t buy again
Cora Ball – I don’t find it works well enough to capture plastic microfibres to justify its existence. I’ve written about my experience with the Cora Ball and the comments suggest I’m not alone.
Weck jars –I was swayed by their Instagram good looks, but ultimately reach for them last. They are fussy to use with so many separate parts (five for each jar!) and in my butterfingers, highly smashable. Their fluted shape is inefficient in the cupboard. On the plus side, you can use orphaned lids as fermentation weights or jewelry holders.
Bamboo clothes pegs – I bought these when our inherited plastic pegs were breaking. They were cheap and I remembered my mom using wooden pegs back in rainy Vancouver, so what could go wrong? Unfortunately mine developed mold over a winter of indoor drying on the rack. I’m trying to get rid of the mold, but next time I’d try stainless steel or recycled plastic.
Glass straw – My first ever reusable straw worked fine and all up until the glass shattered when I dropped it, which seems predictable in hindsight. It’s also bulkier than stainless steel options, so I didn’t replace it after it broke.
Zero Waste products I would buy again
Mason jars – These sturdy, sealing jars are the heroes of my kitchen. I use them for food storage, refilling, fermenting, freezing, measuring, and in a pinch, as drinking vessels. I don’t make preserves at the moment, but I have and they work for that too. The lids are lightweight, interchangeable, and the measurements along the side of the glass are invaluable. When I was allowed to eat raw sprouts, they made the perfect container for sprouting using a mesh attachment. I also use them to make lip balm and deodorant.
Swag bags – Sure, these are glorified damp towels, but I love ‘em. They keep veggies in good form and are space efficient in the the crisper drawer of our small fridge.
Stainless steel straw – I mostly use metal straws at home for smoothies or iced coffees, but these are small and light enough to pack on the go.
Beeswax wraps – Wax wraps are space saving workhorses. I don’t use them to cover bowls much, but use them constantly for half pieces of veggies, fruit or cheese where they take up very little space compared to using a rigid storage container. I use a larger wrap to keep plastic-free loaves of bread fresh. Wax wraps take up very little space in a drawer when not in use, and are ideal for a small kitchen. They can also be rewaxed an indefinite number of times.
Onyx stainless steel storage containers – I use these to pack work lunches, get takeaway, buy dry bulk goods or deli olives. I can chuck them into a warm water back straight from the freezer. They are lightweight and I trust the seal. I specifically mention Onyx, a Canadian brand, because they are one of the few that are airtight – many steel carry containers aren’t and I fail to see the point. One caution is that they are not insulated, so putting hot liquid inside will make them too hot to carry.
Travel utensil set – My lightweight, nesting plastic utensil set was a gift, but I’d buy it again in a heartbeat. I don’t go anywhere without it and the design is airplane friendly (nothing metal or too sharp). I think it came from an outdoor supply shop.
Produce bags – I use a combination of inherited, gifted or traded bags for small grocery items like mushrooms and green beans. Some are lightweight canvas – great for bread – but I prefer the plastic mesh for veggies so I can see what’s inside.
Coffee travel cup – Works equally well for coffee, or water, or wine. The design is just the right size for a barista coffee here in Australia and compact enough to live in my handbag, which it often does.
Pickle pebbles & pickle pipes – I survived for years without them, but these clever little tools have made it much easier to make small batches of different ferments, which helps me save space in the fridge. The pebble weighs the fermented matter below the liquid line and the pipe is a one way valve to safely release gases. The ferments I make at home help me avoid new glass containers.
Shampoo bars – I had to try a few brands before I found what worked for my hair, and now I love shampoo bars for being plastic free and compact.
Juju cup – I prefer this to the Diva cup I had before because the Australian made Juju cup is more flexible and has a larger capacity. Cup fit is personal, so make sure to do a bit of research on what will work for you.
Hannah pads – I was impressed that even the lightest weight of pads were enough to get me through a whole cycle when I wasn’t able to use my cup.
And zero waste products I have mixed feelings about
Silicone storage bags –I have a few Stasher bags and a few of another brand. I use them a lot, and they work especially well for freezing and camping. I like that I can see what’s inside, and thaw the contents super quickly in warm water. My mixed feelings are from not knowing how long they will actually last and having no local silicone recycling options.
Bamboo toothbrushes – I still brush with a bamboo toothbrush for travel, but find them less effective long term than my electric toothbrush. My dentist agrees. Many people love theirs and use them without issue, they just don’t work well enough for me.
Do you really need a reusable straw? Only you can decide. It’s a good exercise to visualise how you’d use something, and slow down the purchase decision, rather than impulse buying.
My best advice when acquiring ‘zero waste’ stuff, is to always consider your own lifestyle, not someone else’s. Lifestyle is unique, and evolves over time as we change households, countries, family size and so on. Not everyone cooks as much as I do. We are a small household at the moment – one couple, one bedroom, and one small kitchen with a small fridge. No dishwasher. Much of what I appreciate in a tool seems to be compatibility with small space living – things that are compact or have multiple uses. What works for me may not suit you. My sister travels constantly for work and loves her collapsible silicone coffee cup, since my metal style wouldn’t work for her. To some, a metal straw would languish in a drawer. I know plenty of people who don’t really find wax wraps all that useful.
If I could, I’d also remind my 2010 self that social pressure is social pressure, even if it’s ‘eco’. All those beautifully styled Instagram images can fuel the same sort of urges that lead us to overbuy anything. Consider if the zero waste influencer you follow is also hoping to sell you something from their shop/through affiliates or through sponsored content. It’s not WRONG for them to do so, but you might find reviews to be overly rosy when linked to their compensation. Greenwash is tricky stuff! I have been fooled many times. I used to believe the hype around eco plastics, nowadays my bugbear is misleading marketing for barely better products (eco friendly trash liners anyone?) that are significantly more expensive.
I’m curious, what have you found to work well or not well at all for reducing waste?