What I’ve discovered during my years of campaigning around alternatives to disposable nappies is that there are a lot of influential people out there; MPs, councillors, health professionals, journalists who used disposables on their babies. Some now think reusables are better but are scared to go public on the issue for fear of being branded as hypocrites. Others genuinely believe disposable nappies liberated women and continue to promote them with the best intentions.
If you give the issue of disposable nappy waste serious attention for even a limited amount of time it’s very difficult to believe disposable nappies are a good idea. I’m not saying that real nappies are right for everyone. What I am saying is that we should have open competitive fair markets so people can choose which nappy system is right for them and their babies. At the moment we don’t. Not only do disposable nappies enjoy a high profile through the Bounty Pack given out by midwives at the first scan, mass advertising on TV, what looks like an unlimited budget for web advertising and a high level of space on supermarket shelves but also the influential parenting charity the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is sponsored by Pampers.
Even if you buy the ‘there’s no difference between the impacts of washing and disposables’ argument (despite Defra’s 2008 report that said real nappies can have up to 40% lower impacts than disposables depending on how you wash them) just consider the growth model of the disposable nappy industry. The birth rate in Europe is currently stable if not falling and so the only way to ensure growth is to keep inventing new disposable products and keep children in nappies for longer. The whole ethos of the real nappy industry by comparison is to get children out of nappies as soon as they are ready. This is something I’ve addressed in numerous posts. For more see ‘An Inconvenient Nappy’.
Another group of people who block real nappies are those who had babies in the ‘70s and remember leaking terry towelling nappies and badly fitting plastic pants, boiling nappies on the stove and using heavy duty chemicals to sterilise them. For them disposables liberated them. Unfortunately for the real nappy industry – and local authorities that need to reduce waste sent to landfill urgently – these people don’t seem to realise that real nappies have evolved. Saying real nappies are a step backwards is like saying you won’t use a mobile phone because it’s the size of a brick. I don’t expect to turn these people into advocates of real nappies I just wish we could stop them being blockers. All ideas welcome.