Hazards of disposable nappies 'ignored'

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The Independent Online
MOTHERS think they are disposable. But getting rid of 'disposable' nappies, which are now used in almost nine out of 10 nappy changes in Britain, is an increasing problem.

Most are put straight into the family dustbin and almost 3 billion a year - equivalent to about 17,000 juggernaut lorryloads - end up in landfill waste tips.

Yet none is recyclable or even compostable. The decomposing human waste they contain represents a health hazard and the danger of explosion from a build- up of methane gas.

About 40 million Pampers nappies, one of the most popular brands, are sold each week. The total United Kingdom market is worth pounds 477m a year.

Disposables form one-thirtieth of all household waste but they do not figure in plans for recycling waste that local authorities are submitting to Whitehall. The authorities have been asked to put forward schemes for recycling about 25 per cent of household waste.

The Department of the Environment says that disposables form too small a proportion of waste to be concerned about, and local authorities are equally sanguine on the subject.

The recycling department at Liberal Democrat-controlled Richmond upon Thames in south- west London said that disposable nappies 'just weren't taken into account for the moment' - a position echoed by Tory-run Wealden District Council in East Sussex and the recycling department in Labour-run Glasgow.

Nappies are thought to be a major contributor to the problem of methane leakages at thousands of rubbish tips.

'They're bound to increase landfill gas,' George Cooper, of the Institute of Waste Management, said. 'I believe they should be put in yellow bags to identify them as clinical waste, and be disposed of separately.'

The danger was first realised in the mid-Eighties when they became popular. Since then, gas- tapping installations have had to be built at hundreds of dumps. Wells costing about pounds 3,500 each have to be drilled every 40 metres (43yds) round the edge of dumps, with extraction and venting facilities to burn off the gas.

Britain is one of the biggest users of disposable nappies in the world. About 1,000 nappies can be made per tree trunk, so current UK use (2.993 million) consumes 3 million trees from Swedish plantations each year.