Councils offer cash to wean parents off disposable nappies

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The Independent Online

Many fraught parents may say no possible inducement could persuade them to start cleaning the nappies they seem to spend much of their lives changing.

But with a colossal three billion of the disposable variety swamping landfill sites each year and the average child using 5,800 before being potty-trained, councils across Britain have decided it is worth a try.

Local authorities from Kent to Cheshire are paying parents up to £80 to swap disposable nappies for the environmentally friendly cloth reusables, to cut the hundreds of thousands of pounds it costs each year to bury them in landfill sites. Previous attempts to persuade parents to swap to cloth have been spectacularly unsuccessful; only 10 per cent of parents use the cloth variety.

Three Rivers District Council, in Hertfordshire is now offering parents an £80 bonus for a laundry service which will clean reusables for six months. Harrow Council, in north-west London is offering a grant of £60. Suffolk and Norfolk councils offer a £30 subsidy and in Cheshire, families can either claim half the cost of buying cloth nappies or get a free month's laundry. Other councils offering schemes include Camden and Hackney in London, Kent, Essex, East and West Sussex, East Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Derbyshire.

This week's Local Government Association sustainable communities summit will attempt to persuade more councils to follow suit. "Paying people to take reusable nappies gives families the chance to save money and help cut damage to the environment," said David Sparks, of the LGA Environment Board. "This is a win-win situation. People get extra cash to reduce the costs of bringing up a child and the taxpayer benefits from less council money spent on landfill."

West Devon council has calculated that a disposable nappy is thrown away in its area every 1.1 seconds and almost all end up in landfill.

Conservationists believe that if parents can be persuaded to swap, they will stick with cloth. Beyond the environmental benefits, it is estimated the financial saving may be £500 per child.

But there does appear to be a downside. An Environment Agency report last year concluded that traditional nappies were not more environmentally friendly, taking into consideration the electricity used in washing and drying them.

The Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association says concerns about disposable nappies are a diversionary tactic. "Used disposables actually account for only 0.1 per cent of all landfill rubbish," said Tracy Stewart, its director general. "Whether this biodegrades is not down to what's in it. It's down to how the landfill is managed."

The LGA says nappies comprise up to 7 per cent of landfill sites.