Nappy subsidy smells a bit iffy

The Waitaki District Council is going to subsidise cloth napkins in an effort to cut down the amount of disposable nappies going into council landfills.

Solid waste officer Gerry O’Neill last week said that over a 12-month period, starting on October 22, new parents in the district would be offered cloth-nappy starter packs at a heavily discounted price.

“We have managed to secure a really good deal with four different suppliers, and when combined with a subsidy from the council, parents will be able to buy a cloth-nappy starter pack valued at more than $100 for just $10,” he said.

The council had more than 12 tonnes of nappies and sanitary waste going to the Oamaru landfill every week.

Any measure that reduced that was worthwhile in helping extend the life of the landfill and reducing its operation costs.

Let’s start by giving them points for talking about parents and not just mothers who usually get saddled with anything to do with napkins.

Let’s also acknowledge that waste reduction is a worthy aim.

But that isn’t enough to stop me thinking something about this nappy subsidy smells a bit iffy.

It sounds good in theory but will it work in practice?

Just $10 isn’t a big investment in cloth nappies. That should ensure a reasonable uptake, but who’s going to make sure they get used even some of the time?

What’s to stop someone buying a starter pack and selling the nappies. Anything more than $10 would be a profit for the seller and a bargain for the buyer.

Twelve tonnes of nappies and sanitary waste sounds like a lot. But what sort of reduction will this subsidy result in and at what cost to the ratepayer?

I wonder if the council looked at the option of composting instead which Envirocomp appears to do successfully?

18 Responses to Nappy subsidy smells a bit iffy

  1. Lindsay says:

    I started with cloth with the first (a winter baby) and gave it up as an enormous amount of work, inconvenience and increased power bills, which is likely to happen with the starter packs. In any event whether cloth is better for the environment is controversial. For example, from the UK,

    “The Union of Concerned Scientists stated in ‘The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices’ (printed 1999) that cloth nappies are a better choice than disposable if you are concerned about landfill and biodegradability issues. However, disposable nappies are a better choice if you want to keep water and energy consumption down. This sentiment is backed by a recent report by the Environment Agency, which found little difference between cloth and disposable nappies when it came to environmental impact.”

    Ironically in the 1990s hospitals were providing a carton of disposables as an incentive to get women to leave within 24 hours of the birth.


  2. robertguyton says:

    If your supermarket is closed due to snow fall or earthquake, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars for cloth nappies, as Southland women were recently.
    Consider this; you can’t used an old, past it’s best plastic nappy as a duster or rag.
    Poo in a plastic bag is a nasty modern phenomenon and on the scale that it’s practiced now-a-days, ewww!


  3. Sandra says:

    I used cloth nappies for both of my children (now 7 and 3) and became so passionate about the whole palaver that I worked as Nappy Lady consultant for several years ( – I was living in London when my son was born until he was three). I make these comments not as a plug for my old occupation but so anyone interested in my comment is able to link through.

    The most important thing about cloth nappy use is support for making them work when a parent encounters difficulties. No one nappy system will work for everyone (age of baby, washing a drying facilities, budget, number of carers using the nappies for starters) and I think that the support services of the suppliers involved will be crucial. I note they haven’t been named in the ODT link.

    The UK environmental study is deeply flawed. Given the amount of time and resource that went into it, it is a tragic shame that they interviewed such a narow sample of cloth nappy users and assumed in their energy use calculations that parents were boil washing the nappies and ironing them. Yes, ironing them. So it is no surprise that they found the energy use to be unacceptably high, but neither is it any reflection of current practice.

    The reality is of 40 or 60 degree washes (many people use cold if they have presoaked but I’m old fashioned in my hygiene-based recommendations), modern fabrics which dry more quickly and the use of hooks in the ceiling and those round sock drying plastic contraptions to hang the shaped nappies on for when the weather is too bad outside for line drying. Naturally many people will find a tumble drier useful, as I did, but it is not vital. As I had my daughter on the West Coast of NZ, I do feel qualified to comment on drying nappies in extreme drying conditions…

    I would need to know more about the Waitaki council project to comment further. A number of councils operated such subsidies in the UK and the quality of these subsidies varied. It did happen that some subsidised only the cheapest and least effective nappy type and offered no ongoing support personnel through the sellers of the nappies. These were the least effective as people were quickly put off by the poor performance (i.e. leaks) and returned to disposable usage. There were some excellent schemes and also some (not suited to Waitaki) of subsidising nappy laundry services. This needs to be in a population-dense area.


  4. gravedodger says:

    Karen and Karl Upston have initiated an award winning composting company dealing with disp nappies,and other sanitary by products in North Canterbury in association with Hot Rot composting and to my knowledge it is a successful solution to a very big challenge in the waste/recycling area.
    Traveling north on SH1 from Christchurch to Waipara any time gives a graphic illustration of the waste issues of Canterbury with the succession of CWS truck & trailers to and from Kate Valley


  5. robertguyton says:

    Nice post Sandra.
    I was raised in ’em and so were all three of my children, as theirs will be (all things being equal).


  6. homepaddock says:

    Robert @8.17 I wasn’t giving debating cloth vs disposable, just questioning the subsidy.

    I used cloth nappies for my first two children except when we were going out when disposables were easier to deal with. I used cloth for my third child until he was about two – he had a brain disorder and was incontinent and after that age disposables were better at containing the volume he produced.


  7. gravedodger says:

    RG your offspring may have a different view or is that not an option. Sounds close to authority control to me but then some of your views give me that impression.


  8. homepaddock says:

    Sandra – that was a very useful contribution to the discussion, thanks.

    I was however, bemused by the mention of iroing – anyone who does that to nappies needs to get a life. 🙂


  9. Eloise says:

    We use cloth nappies and they are fantastic! It’s so nice knowing there is something natural against his skin. Plus it’s a way cheaper option for us. We wash our nappies in cold water and dry them outside or under the heatpump if it’s not nice (which we would have on anyway so doesn’t actually ‘add’ to our power bill.) We use disposables when we’re out but don’t use all that many.

    I guess the thing with the subsidy is how they advertise it. If they just put it out there saying there’s a subsidy then people might be likely to buy them and try and make a profit but if they make it so that people need to go along to an introductory demonstration/seminar type thing which shows them just how cost effective and easy to use they are, people might be more likely to use them. I think if groups of friends went and were encouraged to try them out together it would be quite successful because people wouldn’t be trying it out on their own and might be more likely to keep using them if they see their friends are.

    I guess it depends on the type of nappies they are going to subsidise (as Sandra said). If they subsidise decent nappies then people will be more likely to keep using them.


  10. robertguyton says:

    Authority control over my children upsets you Gravedodger?
    Are you some namby-pamby ‘get down with the kids’ bleeding-heart liberal anti-smacking push-over parent Grave? You gotta harden up a little and take some responsibility for your assigned role as a parent GD, you can’t let them rule your roost or they’ll end up as boy-racers or binge drinking teenage girls. I’m surprised at your overly-relaxed, frankly irresponsible approach to child raising GD (your views gave me that impression), it’s a job I take seriously!


  11. gravedodger says:

    I think you over reacted a tad RG, my comments were related to a time in the future when your offspring raising a baby may wish to make the decision as to what nappy they use without direction from you, however well intentioned it may seem in your well educated mind.
    As to you suggestion re my attitude to child raising, those who know me would be at risk of dying laughing at your description.


  12. robertguyton says:

    That was my intention GD.
    Bit of a ‘cane ’em good’ sort are you?


  13. gravedodger says:

    I am certain my intelligence can differentiate between a smack and a bash in the getting a child to see they may have overstepped a limit.
    Also I would be interested to hear an honest opinion from my two gorgeous girls on how they view my support/interference in their adult decision making.
    Of course you will avoid any reply to my suggestion that you implied that you would know best whether your offspring should be free to decide for themselves on a question of nappy selection but denigrating my beliefs is a more logical way of debate in your world.


  14. Cloth nappies ain’t worth a lot when you have a ten-year-old in them…


  15. robertguyton says:

    GD – sighs Goodness me old chap. Here’s what I said,
    “I was raised in ‘em and so were all three of my children, as theirs will be (all things being equal).”
    How and why you ‘deduced’ that I’m authoritarian (Sounds close to authority control) is something of a puzzle but there you are, reading your insecurities into my briefest of passages.
    Think I dictate to my children what they ought to do?
    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha – you slay me!


  16. homepaddock says:

    Oswald – when you’re caring for a child with disabilities your first priorities are their comfort and your conevenience. We found that once Dan was 2ish disposables were better for him and us.

    GD & Robert you’re straying off-topic, could we keep this to napkins please.


  17. gravedodger says:

    Apologies Ele


  18. robertguyton says:

    I thought the topic was ‘subsidies’.
    I’ll try not to stray …


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