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Make 2019 count - Reusable cloth rather than disposable plastic

by Gael Pawson 12 Jun 2019 09:00 BST
Modern reusable nappies are very user-friendly and can save a huge amount of landfill (even if you only use them part-time) © Gael Pawson

Reusable cloth instead of disposable plastic

In the fifth article in our series of ideas to help sailors make their lives more sustainable by the end of the year (see our piece introducing the challenge) we look at some key reusable products you, your family, or your sailing (or non-sailing) partner can use that are better for your own health as well as the planet.

If we all changed as many of the disposable items we use to reusable alternatives we'd make a huge impact on our sustainability. It's not just the products themselves, but the chemicals used in them and in their production. An important point here is it doesn't have to be all or nothing, every time we reuse instead of using a throwaway item we are reducing our impact. Remember too, it's not just about what you personally can change, but helping to inform others, so PLEASE don't stop reading if you're the male of the species as you too can help to make a real difference here.

Just a few of the disposable things we can cut out are: nappies, sanitary products, baby wipes, kitchen roll.

Reusable sanitary products

Women's sanitary products are, perhaps one of the biggest unnecessary wastes of a modern society; on average a woman will go through 11,000 products throughout her life. From a teenager I had no idea there was any alternative to throw-away products - at that time it was also considered normal to flush them away. Fortunately that thinking has changed, but as a society we still know little about the low-waste alternatives, partly because we're not too comfortable about talking about the whole subject. So no apologies here for plain-speaking, it's about time we did start talking about it in the interests of reducing waste and improving female comfort.

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups are literally life changing for many women and are absolutely brilliant for sailing. I stumbled across the Mooncup, one of the popular brands, about 10 years ago. I'd already switched to biodegradable products when I saw someone asking asked why the company I got them from wasn't selling cups. Curious, I hit Google and decided to give a cup a try.

A menstrual cup is a medical grade silicone cup, which is inserted like a tampon, and collects the flow (for up to 12 hours!) and is simply removed, emptied and re-inserted. It can be used overnight, for swimming, and once it is properly adjusted, you barely notice it's there. Not only does it save a huge amount of plastic and money, but it also is much comfier than the alternatives, with no nasty chemicals or plastics causing irritation or upsetting your natural balance. It does take a bit of getting used to, but especially for anyone who's used tampons, it is a pretty simply switch. Simply keep one in your lean, green washbag and it's there to pull out whenever you need it. If you're worried about leaks you can combine their use with 'period pants' (washable underwear with a specially absorbent gusset) or re-usable pads.

Olympic gold medallist Hannah Mills uses a Mooncup and describes them as "amazing". She explains: "Mooncups are great in so many ways, they reduce plastic and cotton production/waste, are so comfortable and especially when sailing, make a day on the water when you have your period just like any other day."

Club and circuit sailor Elaine Watkin Jones is also fan: "It gives me the freedom to be on the water or on my mountain bike for over six hours. It's so comfortable I don't even know it's there."

Washable pads

I have to admit that I was rather sceptical about these before I tried them out. If you team them with a handy carry bag which has clean/dirty sections, and reusable intimate wipes, you quickly become used to using them and it's not really any more hassle than disposable options. You also avoid all the nasty chemicals you get with disposable products, and they are definitely more comfortable and natural feeling.

As well as washable towels you can get reusable tampons too; check out sites like Earthwise Girls and Babipur.

Reusable nappies

A staggering eight million single use nappies are thrown away in the UK every day - yes EVERY DAY. It wasn't that long ago that we were all using washable nappies, and there's a definite move back - but to modern designs that are a far cry for the terry nappies our mothers or grandmothers used.

Every single nappy saved from landfill make a difference - perhaps you start off just using one a day. There are a lot of converts to 'cloth bum' nappies and with a bit of searching (ask on a local Facebook parenting forum, for example) you should find a 'nappy library' locally with options to hire a set to get you going. Many people are also very happy to pass on their second-hand kits, often for free.

The Nappy Lady is very helpful to navigate your way to the right nappies for you. They are a bit of an investment and it does involve extra washing but you soon get used to it and you can always do a bit of both. I used to keep my first child in a disposable until he'd had his morning bowel movement then make the switch to cloth for the rest of the day, this time we are using cloth pretty much all the time and only using disposables when travelling.

An extra bonus of cloth is that it's generally felt that they can help with toilet training earlier as your child feels the sensation of wetness more and this helps them make the transition to a nappy-less life - it certainly seemed to work with my eldest son.

Reusable wipes

Okay kitchen roll is made of paper and it's compostable, maybe we are already buying recycled roll to boot, but it still takes up a lot of resources to manufacture/recycle and get to us. Most baby wipes on the other hand end up in landfill. Reusable wipes for nappy changing are an easier switch than you may think, and again generally kinder on a baby's bum - using them with my second child I found I barely needed to use nappy cream.

They are great too for feeding time (we have different colours for different 'applications' in our house) for kids and adults alike, wiping up spills, hands, faces. They are so easy to rinse and re-use and pop in the washing machine, we have almost eliminated our use of kitchen roll. I also have an 'out and about' wet/dry bag (ours is from Cheeky Wipes) so we use them travelling as well with the result that we have used just one pack of baby wipes in the year since our second child was born.

We haven't gone as far as using them to replace toilet roll - although some people do - and maybe one day in the future we'll be ready for that, instead we've switched to getting our roll in bulk from Who Gives a Crap, which is at least 100% recycled and plastic-free.

Make 2019 count

So there you have it, more ways to Make 2019 count. Check back on our other ideas; Buy less, buy smarter, Kinder cleaning and Greener, leaner, washbags and keep an eye out for the rest of our features to help you reach the end of 2019 living a more sustainable sailing life.

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