This Real Nappy Week, in the lead up to Defra’s call for evidence: Waste Prevention Programme for England (deadline for submissions 29 April) has demonstrated a massive success by businesses, local authorities and real nappy activists to engage a particular group of consumers – expectant and new parents – in reducing disposable nappy waste. I also want to pay tribute to the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) for campaigning to reduce disposable nappy waste since 1989.

What we can see at Real Nappies for London is that
despite the Environment Agency’s Nappy Life Cycle Analysis, published in 2005 that said washables were no better for the environment than disposables (the update published in 2008 said reusable nappies can have up to 40% lower carbon impacts than disposables;
despite the availability of ‘bio-degradable’ disposables that simply go to landfill and incineration;
despite the increasing number of Bounty Packs (junk mail, right?) given to expectant and new mums by the midwife containing samples of disposable nappies;
despite Pampers’ sponsorship of the leading parenting charity the National Childbirth Trust (NCT;
despite the vouchers and offers on disposable nappies with high visibility on the shelves of supermarkets;
despite the ‘free’ disposal of nappies as part of household waste,
interest in real nappies is growing all the time.

But nappy waste disposal is not free of course. Our councils pay for it ie we do. It was WEN that identified this hidden subsidy and championed the Waste Minimisation Act. Before this act local authorities could pay for waste disposal but it was illegal for them to spend tax payers money on reducing or preventing waste. It was this act that allowed councils to give incentives and rewards to residents for reducing disposable nappy waste and to promote real nappies during Real Nappy Week.

And disposable nappies are not just a waste issue. They also have negative physical and mental health impacts. This modern convenience product possibly does more harm than good. And it’s not just our children. Our elderly in hospitals and care homes are being left in disposable continence products and changed as part of a routine, rather than helped to the toilet according to need. It’s not the staff who are at fault, it’s bad routines and procedures. In the wake of the Francis Report it’s time to say we want to learn from the mistakes that report reveals, which many of us have witnessed and reported.

When convenience products mean the needs of the most vulnerable in our society are neglected; the young, the disabled and the elderly, we need to work together to change things for the better. Small actions undertaken by individuals will mean together we can make real change happen for all our futures but also to improve the lives of those we love, ASAP and forever.

WEN has more great work to do, more big issues to tackle. It has been the pioneer of many campaigns that are now part of the mainstream. Learn more, visit www.wen.org.uk

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