Tag Archives: Nappy recycling

Popping the Weasel

It’s 1999,  I’m on a radio journalism course and for an assignment I put together an item about nappy waste for Real Nappy Week and pitch it to ‘You and Yours,’ the popular mid-day BBC Radio 4 consumer magazine programme.  At the time I had no plans to set up a real nappy company … I was hoping for a career in radio journalism!

To liven up the item and punctuate the piece I made up a song and recorded some boys singing it at our local park..  Or to be more precise I put new words to the tune of the nursery rhyme ‘Pop! goes the Weasel’ which contains a verse “Up and down the City Road, In and out the Eagle, That’s the way the money goes, Pop! goes the weasel.”  I can’t remember all the words of the nappy waste version now, but there were lines like “That’s the way a disposable’s filled, pop it in the landfill.

By coincidence, the company I founded almost 13 years ago, Nappy Ever After, moved last year from Camden to Hackney to premises just off the City Road, indeed very very close to the Eagle pub.  So, to find us, get a bus to the City Road and get off at the Eagle.  Or take the tube to Old Steet station, walk up the City Road and turn right at the Eagle pub on Shepherdess Walk.  (Your phone will show a quicker route.)  We’re more like a warehouse than a shop and don’t have normal shop hours.  We’re open every Tuesday 2-6pm and by appointment.

image

A real nappy item was aired for Real Nappy Week 1999 on Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ programme.  They used my idea and research but remade the item themselves.  The show’s producer said I’d included too much about nappy waste and this was not relevant as it was a consumer choice programme!  We think differently now, right?

To replace the nappy waste content they gave 2 mothers some real nappies to  test for a few days.  Would the consumers like them?  They were disappointed that both mums found they worked really well and intended to switch from disposables!  However as it was all so late in the day they had to run the item like that.

I was on the radio again recently.  BBC Radio London called me to ask me to talk about nappy recycling on Eddie Nestor’s drive time show.  The mic was closed on me when I wouldn’t shut up about 35% of children arriving for school in nappies.  Eddie Nestor didn’t ask me what relevance this had to the topic of recycling disposable nappies, he just told me it wasn’t relevant and closed the mic.

This is the sort of silo mentality that fed the financial crisis.  We need to connect issues.  Just as 17 years ago what happened to disposable nappies after you’d thrown them in the bin wasn’t supposed to concern consumers, now 35% of children arriving at school in nappies in one of the most deprived schools in the UK has nothing do with whether or not £20million should be invested in a new Knowaste nappy recycling plant.  How about spending a little bit of a public health budget on giving parents good information on how to potty train their children?  It could halve the amount of disposable nappy waste Londoners generate and then, work out whether you need the nappy waste recycling plant or not.

PS Pop was cockney for pawn, and weasel, coat.  There’s a metaphor in that nursery rhyme about nappy waste and the planet that I didn’t see at the time; if we waste all our finite resources on single-use nappies (which aren’t of course disposable at all, such a clever name, like clean diesel) our descendants may find themselves wihout a coat/protection from climate chaos.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Camden pilots nappy recycling project

Okay, how does that make us feel at Nappy Ever After?  The main problem is that they didn’t talk to us.  We know this area.  We started out trying to reduce London’s nappy waste by working with them first.   We thought we were collaborating on this.

But to be fair to LB Camden, there’s a plan to open a Knowaste nappy recycling plant in West London and this is an opportunity to increase recycling rates, something they are struggling with.  Not only this, since LB Camden introduced ‘Mix it up’ to make recycling easier they’ve had a big unforeseen problem; residents have been putting nappy waste in the recycling, thinking it is recyclable (not unreasonable as many ‘disposable’ nappies say they’re recyclable on the packet.)  The problem is that nappy waste contaminates all the recycling in that bin (some of it is huge on-street recycling bins shared by many residents) and has to go to incineration – reducing Camden’s recycling rates.  The advantage of piloting nappy recycling is that hopefully it will get coverage in the media and win exposure for this issue.

Secondly, LB Camden is legally obliged to explore all ways to shift waste up the hierarchy.  Recycling nappy waste would appear to be better environmentally than incineration, which is what currently happens to Camden’s nappy waste, although it’s controversial.  A Knowaste plant in the Netherlands was closed down as they couldn’t make it work.   I’ve written about why here.

So what should Camden do about nappy waste?  Clearly we don’t want to incinerate or landfill nappy waste in the UK.  But is washing nappies the solution?  The consensus now, coming from Scandanavia, is that it’s very difficult to scientifically prove any appreciable environmental advantage between cloth nappies and single-use nappies.  But there is a factor that does make a very clear environmental difference:  the length of time a child spends in nappies.  What’s undeniable is, that since disposable nappies became the norm, children have potty-trained later and later.  Therefore the best way to reduce nappy waste, possibly by as much as 50%, is to give parents better information about when and how to potty train.  Nappy Ever After is calling for this as the next step in reducing nappy waste.  We believe this will be far more cost-effective than any other investment in reducing nappy waste.  There are also health issues connected with delayed potty training such as chronic constipation.  For more information please visit www.eric.org.uk.  Getting children out of nappies earlier is also a great way to save households with young families money, a significant anti-poverty issue.

I guess my main point, from the perspective of being a Camden resident  (Nappy Ever After is no longer based in Camden, but continues to serve Camden residents) is that the money I spend via the Council Tax on the disposal of nappy waste should be considered very carefully.  I’m sure all the Camden residents who washed their own nappies or used a nappy laundry service feel the same way I do.

So far the money spent on preventing nappy waste has never been sufficient to really affect attitudes in Camden.  However, it does feel like most Camden residents just don’t want to give up the convenience of ‘disposable’ napppies.  But perhaps promoting washable nappies was going in the wrong direction in Camden.  Perhaps we just need pictures of appropriately aged toddlers sitting on a potty on the side of refuse trucks to combat images on the television of 3 year olds going and fetching their own single-use ‘training pants’ from the chest of drawers.  It could be a lot cheaper than sending out vans specifically to collect nappy waste.  Worth a try?  They could even add the message  “Do not put disposable nappies in the recycling bin.  No single-use nappies are recyclable” – yet.

If you’d like to take part in Camden’s nappy recycling pilot please sign up at nappyzap.com by 22 Feb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I watched #This Changes Everything last night

‘This Changes Everything,’ based on Naomi Klein’s latest bestseller, is a powerful film.  Although I consider myself to be one of the converted I learned a lot.

But this film needs to be watched by everyone not just the converted.  It speaks to me but I already know that capitalism makes money out of creating problems and then makes more dosh out of “solving” them for us.  Nappy waste is a great example.  “Oh, look at all this nappy waste you’ve created and got to get rid of.  We’ll recycle it for you… at a cost! ” (I’ve been talking about why I think it’s too soon to resort to recycling nappy waste here.)

A penny weekly about the excesses of capitalism was published back in 1846.  Believe it or not, it was a very popular read and is still studied by English Lit students today.  There’s an entertaining blog post about it here.  The theme resonates today because it relates to concern about what’s in a meat pie.  Yes, it’s the story of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street and preceded the Food Adulteration Act of 1860.

The message of Avi Lewis’s film is pretty similar to this “penny blood” of 1846*: capitalism is good but “the drive for profit needs to be balanced against feeling and sympathy for our fellow creatures.”  Although actually, what the film says is stronger: global capitalism is currrently out of control and we need to do something about it urgently because it threatens the lives of our descendants.

We need more people to see this film.  And we need to work out how to  supply alternative products, services and energy sources so as consumers we are not lining the pockets of those who want things to stay just the way they are.  We also need to skill ourselves up so we know how to grow our own food, cook it and take care of clothes so they last (which means buying good quality in the first place.)

Thanks to WEN for holding a festive screening with mulled wine and mince pies at St Hilda’s Centre on the historic Boundary Estate.  They will hold another one in the new year if enough people ask.

* I should declare my interest in this book: my great, great grandfather was the editor and publisher.  Ironically it (along with other penny periodicals and Lloyd’s Weekly) made him very rich.  In 1857 he moved his family to a big house in Walthamstow called Water House, now the William Morris Gallery.