Real Nappy Campaign

Promoting change in the Early Years

Why a Real Nappy campaign?

It is now widely recognised that there needs to be a behavioural change away from plastic, “disposable” single-use nappies, towards reusable cloth nappies.


Single-use nappies are made using plastics, elastics, adhesives, paper pulp, and chemicals. They are resource expensive, using up oil, and lots and lots of trees. Nappies do not readily degrade and could leach toxins into the ground. It’s estimated that it could take hundreds of years (some estimate more than 500 years) before nappies begin to break down. It also takes more water to make one single-use nappy than it does to wash one for a child’s lifetime. Lots of poo is left in the environment instead of going through our sewage system.

Disposable nappies are great for emergencies and travelling, but should not be used on a daily basis. It costs 3x as much to get a disposable nappy to landfill or incineration than it does to buy it! We have got into a bad habit, without thinking things through. We need to change this if we care about our children’s future world.

The numbers are mind-bloggling! Currently in the UK about 8 million disposable nappies are thrown away each day! Every child will go through up to 6,500 nappy changes before he or she is potty trained and there were 680,000 babies born in England and Wales in 2018; those children alone have the potential to use more than 1.5 billion (billion!) disposable nappies in their first year.

We can stop this …

By doing this!

In a nursery

In a childcare setting the cost of disposing of single-use nappies by incineration is around three times the current cost of buying them; for Tops Day Nurseries that equates to around £1,000 per nursery per year with a fortnightly yellow bin collection. Yellow bins go to incineration plants, and may be used for energy depending on your waste company. Incineration does produce toxic fumes but these are filtered out by commercial incinerating companies in the UK.

If your nursery provides an all-inclusive service to parents, you will save hundreds of pounds per child by using real nappies instead of disposables, and that includes the cost of laundry. You will need to invest in the nappies initially though, the return will come over 2 years. You will also need to consider buying another washing machine or using a laundry service to cope with additional volumes of laundry, and ideally you need drying line space outside. At Tops we don’t provide an all-inclusive service so the parents provide the nappies and also launder them if they are washable.

If your nappy waste goes into the general waste instead of into an incineration bin (which is not illegal, just not responsible) then the nappies are likely to end up in landfill because no one has yet come up with a way of recycling them due to the cleaning/hygiene challenge. (There is one factory trialling this in Italy).

Download our Infographic

Download our Infographic

What’s happening?

A Nappy Library pilot project … and a campaign targeting the UK’s Early Years Sector

The UK currently boasts some 22,000 day nurseries and 400 grant maintained nursery schools, employing about 500,000 people. Not to mention the nation’s childminders and nannies. It’s a huge sector, and in the right cultural climate, in their unique position as childcare experts, nursery owners and managers, childminders and nannies have real potential to influence the parents that know and trust them.

GECCO is taking advantage of it’s close relationship with the Tops Day Nursery chain of 30 childcare settings to fund a pilot ‘Nappy Library’ project, encouraging behavioural change amongst their own staff (some 750) and then the parents of the approx 3,000 children that attend. We will be measuring the impact.

Many day nurseries currently refuse children to attend in real nappies because it is perceived as being risky and problematic. The pilot ‘Nappy Library’ project at Tops seeks to test those perceptions through use of real nappies, role modelling, and sharing both pros and cons. If the results are as good as we hope they are, we can then take that message further afield, for others in our industry to learn from and (fingers crossed) to replicate.

Traditionally Nappy Libraries are community projects run by volunteer parents. The unique aspect of the GECCO campaign is reaching parents through the day nurseries that their children attend, with colleagues in those nurseries being fully trained in the use of cloth nappies within the setting, and then supporting parents to make the change.

How & when?

The idea was first piloted in April 2019, when GECCO spent some funds raised through a Charity Whisky Auction to put together 10 hampers of real nappies and accessories which were issued, free of charge, to Tops Day Nursery staff with young babies. These staff committed to feeding back to us with their thoughts and experiences and, if they got on with real nappies, to become Tops real nappy ‘experts’ for parents to go to for advice when considering or actually making the change themselves.

We then purchased enough contents to make up 30 hampers – one for each of the nurseries in the Tops group, stocked with about £100 worth of new and second hand real nappies, a wet bag (for transporting wet/soiled nappies), nappy liners and boosters.

The idea behind this was that each nursery will lend the hamper, for a free trial period, to any parents with children who attend their nursery. We realised, of course, that nursery staff would need to be trained and practised in the use of real nappies before they could comfortably expect parents to make the change from “disposable”, and to support them through the process.

Real nappy training 

On 14th May a training day was held for Nursery Managers at Tops HQ in Southbourne, ensuring they are fully informed on the use and care of real nappies. Two local mums from the Wimborne ‘War on Waste’ group – who run their own Real Nappy Campaign – attended to talk through the hampers and to answer any questions.

We have also designed a Real Nappy training workshop which will be delivered to both staff and parents at Tops to support the changes that need to be made in the nurseries and at home.

Following the training Tops Babbacombe in Torquay reported:

“Katie changed her first reusable nappy on Thursday and has mastered the technique, no leaks and the nappy fitted the baby perfectly, parents were over the moon.”

Next steps – Tops parents try real nappies

If parents enjoy the real nappy 2-week trial they can of course go on to buy their own nappy supplies, and for Tops parents we have agreed a discount code with the company supplying bamboo nappies for our trial hampers. Alternatively of course a wide range of real nappies are available from any of the growing number of online and retail distributors and community Nappy Libraries.

GECCO may soon be making bespoke real nappy hampers available for Tops parents to rent in a monthly bases, direct from the childcare setting. That’s the next stage though, and involves buying a lot more stock. We will be fundraising to make that happen as soon as possible

Keep an eye out on our social media, or return here to the website for news of how we are getting on!

Cheryl Hadland introduces GECCO, Tops and the Real Nappy Campaign

Real Nappy Campaign Updates