Talking Point: The Nappy Mountain

Written by on 11 September 2013

There is nothing quite like a dustbin bursting at the seams to hammer home a need for a change in habits.

In the time it took to bring a newborn infant home from hospital, the rubbish collection went from one small black bag a week, to two large sackfuls straining under the weight of disposable nappies.

In Scotland some 450,000 disposables go to landfill every day, not a good statistic when all eyes are seemingly focused on upping recycling rates and cutting bin collections.

New parents can get help from organisations like the Real Nappy Project and even attend drop-in sessions (or ‘Nappuccinos’) which fill you in on the rainbow of options ranging from your bog-standard terry towelling to fancy products with names like Bum Genius, Smarti Pants and Tots Bots.

Full of a level of piety only a new parent can pull off, I have been a newly-converted zealot to the world of real nappies and have only been a short step away from chapping door-to-door to spread the good news.
Of course, this is really nothing new and the only difference compared to what I crawled about in more than 30 years ago and the cotton nappies now hanging on my washing line is the price tag, but it seems in the space of a generation, the convenience of disposable nappies has left the reusable option trailing in their wake –and left local authorities who pick up the rubbish with a huge headache.

Six-month trials at four Scottish councils – Fife, North Lanarkshire, Perth and Kinross and Stirling – ended this year
Zero Waste Scotland has said the trials demonstrate that it could be possible in the future to set up specialist collections country-wide, turning nappies and other hygiene products into anything from roof tiles, animal bedding or recycling bins.

The nappy recycling scheme was apparently well received and was highly-praised by Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead.

But the ball seems to be back in the councils’ court. When the trials ended in August, Zero Waste Scotland said that if the results were repeated across the country then it would justify investment in a specialist nappy recycling facility and Richard Lochhead said he would encourage councils to look at the results of the trials.

Although recycling rates are still lower than they could be, great strides have been made to reduce what we throw away and more and more people separate out their glass, plastics – even their uneaten food – without a second thought. Breaking the nappy barrier is the next frontier.
I hope the boy thanks me for this…

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