Northern Ireland

Nappies are a-changing but how quickly in Northern Ireland?

Nappy pins on white Terry Towel Image copyright GrabillCreative

Although I have no memory of it, I know for a fact my mum used Terry Towels and safety pins for my nappies.

It wasn't something she had taken a long time to mull over - there just weren't many choices about.

And in the 1970s and 1980s, disposable nappies were still too expensive for the average household budget.

Today's disposable nappies are much cheaper to buy but they are still more expensive than the alternative.

Estimates suggest parents spend about £800 on nappies from birth to potty training for each child.

The equivalent figure for reusable nappies is about £250.

And because they are reusable they can be used again for siblings.

The problem with reusable nappies is that there is a bit of work involved with them.

Buckets of bleach

You can't just rip it off, throw it in the bin and forget about it.

And when people think of reusable nappies - they tend to think of towelling, safety pins and buckets of bleach.

And who wants to go back to that?

Image copyright Not Specified

The convert

Karen McKenna's two-year-old son Ollie has been wearing reusables all his life.

The mother of three, from Belfast, explains that she made the swap because her second child was suffering from "constant nappy rash" and she hasn't looked back since.

"The reusables are just so soft, they're kind to skin, they are of course better for the environment and they are more eco-friendly if you're putting two or three babies though them.

"That's going to save you so much in paying for disposable nappies."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionA Belfast woman tells why she thinks reusable nappies are best

She says even washing them is not a big ordeal the way it used to be.

"Now you just have your simple nappy bag, you tip any solids into the toilet, everything else goes straight into the bag.

"You don't have to look at it for a couple of days until wash day. It all goes in the machine.

"You rinse, you wash, another rinse and you dry. It's as simple as night. You are not up to your elbows in any way."

Image copyright Not Specified

Belfast City Council is encouraging people to give reusable nappies a go.

George Lyttle is in charge of a scheme that allows parents to try out a variety of nappies for free for two weeks.

And then - should they want to buy - they will get some money back.

Image caption Can more parents be encouraged to change their spots when it comes to nappies?

He says there's been a big improvement in reusable nappies - some are all-in-ones with removable pads, others have inner parts and outer parts, some are made of cotton and some bamboo.

And there's not a safety pin in sight.

Mix and match

Apart from the patterns on the outside, they don't look unlike disposable nappies.

"You'll see with most of them they have different studs or the Velcro goes right across," he said.

"That means the nappy will get bigger as the child gets bigger, so if you buy the set when the child is young, you can use the same ones right up until they're potty trained."

Mr Lyttle admits you do have to change them more often because they aren't as absorbent as disposables.

But he says parents can make it suit them.

"One option is to not go completely for washable nappies - you can mix and match.

"You might want to put them in a disposable overnight and then have them in the washable ones during the day."

He practises what he preaches and used exactly such a combination for his two children.

Environmentally friendly?

According to Mr Lyttle, it all depends how you wash them.

"For a disposable nappy most of the carbon emissions are during the manufacture and the disposal.

"With washable nappies it's all around when you are using them.

"If you use them and wash them at a very high temperature and tumble dry them all the time until they're dry they are pretty much the same as far as carbon emissions are concerned."

Image copyright Henfaes

So it's best, he says, to wash at a lower temperature and line dry.

And when you consider that the average child goes through about 5,000 nappies before being potty trained, that's a lot of nappies going to landfill.

But is that, plus the financial savings, enough to make parents think about making the change?

This year, Belfast City Council has had about 50 applications to the scheme so perhaps there's a way to go yet.

More on this story