An Introduction to Eco-Friendly Diapers & Nappy Types

It’s no secret that your baby will go through thousands of disposable diapers until they’re ready to graduate to cloth underwear. This comes with a hefty price tag – on your wallet and the environment as well! 

For the uninitiated, diapers and nappies are terms that are used interchangeably; Both are used to make sure that it is easier to keep your baby clean. The differences in semantics are purely due to historical usage.

The History of the Humble Nappy

History tells us that the world’s first nappies were made of a ‘cloth’ with fibres fashioned out of any natural material available to caregivers at the time. During the summers, the babies would typically wear nothing and with time, this evolved into long gowns which allowed the children to do their business anywhere and at any time. 

Following this, industrial mass production of cotton and terry cloth allowed a softer choice of cloth for nappies. With some resourcefulness, nappy-typing techniques were improved to ensure that leaking was kept to a minimum.

1942 saw the advent of the most convenient child-product invention in the form of disposable diapers. With this invention, companies decided to commercialise the production of diapers and by the year 1948, Johnson and Johnson became the first company to sell disposable diapers. 

Unfortunately, however, with prolonged use over the past few decades, the convenience of these disposable nappies has taken its toll on the planet’s landfills. Experts opine, that at present, disposable diapers are the third-largest single consumer item in landfills. Studies have shown that the average baby uses seven nappies a day. This amounts to almost 6,500 nappies in two years!

It is this problem that motivates entrepreneurs worldwide to focus their efforts on creating nappies that are kinder to the environment while being gentle on their little ones’ skin. Let’s dive into a few of these.

Types of Eco-Friendly Nappies

For some background, the nappy in its most traditional form has over time to what we commonly see today. The basic structure of a nappy could be divided into two parts – the diaper core and the diaper chassis. The diaper core is the part of the nappy where the pee and liquid poop get absorbed while the diaper chassis is the part that attaches the core to the body. The materials used in constructing these two parts are where the types of nappies differ. Broadly, these nappies could be divided into disposable, cloth, and biodegradable.

Disposable Diapers

As the name indicates, disposable nappies are used once and thrown away. Their popularity rose quickly as they conveniently dealt with two major problems that those using cloth diapers faced i.e., poor absorbing capacity and the need to wash them frequently. Science allowed for the material utilised in these diapers to be made of a special polymer which allowed it to absorb 800 times its weight. This allowed babies to wear them for a longer period. As we now know, however, the environment suffered greatly with the non-biodegradable nature of early diapers; the plastics used to manufacture these nappies meant that they would sit in landfills for hundreds of years, and when disposed of in large water bodies, they would break down into microplastics, leach chemicals, damage marine life and potentially contaminate the water.

The eco-friendly variant, however, is made from renewable plant-based materials and is commercially compostable. Well-made compostable disposable nappies are safe for a baby’s sensitive skin and are made with wood pulp, a plant-based breathable biofilm, no oil-based plastics, and no chemicals – making them gentle on the earth.

Little and Brave, with this in mind is proudly doing its part for the planet:  our own commercial composting plant in Auckland diverted over a thousand tonnes of organic waste from landfill, and produced over a 100-tonnes of nutrient-dense compost with our Eco Nappies!

Cloth Nappies

While the specific materials that made up cloth nappies have become more advanced with time, the way that these functioned remained much the same. Cloth nappies had the advantage of being accessible, cost-effective and an agreeable material for a baby’s skin. However, many struggled with the frequency of changing and washing these as leaving them on for too long caused rashes. 

There are different types of these nappies, depending on the materials and functions used to make them. Some of these are listed below.

Unfolded, Flat Cloth Diapers

Flat cloth diapers are possibly the earliest style of cloth diapers and are likely the ones our grandparents and parents are most familiar with. They are made up of pieces of absorbent white 100% cotton fabric that can be folded to custom sizes. They dry very quickly, and are very inexpensive, but require folding and pinning. They must be used with a cover or wrap to be waterproof. Flats are sometimes hard to find now since many caregivers prefer the convenience of pre-fold diapers.

Pre-folded Cloth Nappies

Prefolds are not waterproof on their own. They can be laid inside a waterproof diaper cover or wrapped and fastened around your baby with pins.

Fitted Cloth Diapers

Usually made of absorbent cotton, bamboo, or hemp, fitted cloth baby diapers have a contour shape similar to a disposable diaper, with elastic or gathered edges at the legs and back to contain messes. A fitted cloth diaper functions in two parts. It features an absorbent diaper with a waterproof cover. Used on their own, fitted cloth diapers are not waterproof, and must be combined with a waterproof cover

Pocket Cloth Diapers

These diapers are a two-part system, with a waterproof outer, and a stay-dry inside layer made of wicking materials – generally microfleece or suede-cloth. The two layers are sewn together with an opening to allow parents to insert absorbent material into the pocket. Hence the name – ‘pocket’ cloth diaper. 


Diapering options can be overwhelming for first-time parents, or even parents looking to make a switch to a more environmentally feasible option. Just remember that although there might be an initial learning curve for diapers before you master their application, the results of a pollutant-free, plastic-free, and less wasteful nappy are something the planet will thank you for every day. Switch to Little and Brave Eco Nappies today, and start making your kid’s future brighter, and cleaner.