Tag Archives: Nappy waste

Children starting school in nappies is a public health issue, but it’s also a waste issue.

Three years ago I watched a report on Channel 4 News about child poverty.  I was shocked to hear a Stoke primary school teacher say that 35% of her September reception children had arrived at school in nappies.   Let that sink in.

A while later, I was at a health conference and met a Danish IT consultant (who uses big data to improve health outcomes.) His response, when I told him that up to a third of children starting school in England may still be wearing nappies, indicated no shock or surprise. “It’s a UK thing right?” he said. “That wouldn’t happen in Denmark. We would find out this is happening and we would spend money on educating the parents. In the UK, you don’t spend money.”

What’s clear is that many children are toilet training later. Schools are installing nappy changing areas.   Children’s education is being disrupted by it. It should concern all of us that reception teachers are spending time NOT teaching because 1 in 3 children in the class are not able to take themselves to the toilet.

Public Health England has noticed this problem. It has made toileting independence one of the ten school readiness indicators Foundation Years has also noticed. Its document, supported by the Department of Education: “What to expect, when?” tells parents your child will tell you s/he needs the potty or to go to the toilet at 16-26 months.

What’s this got to do with Nappy Ever After?   We want to help people who want to use washable nappies.  In so doing, we help reduce London’s nappy waste. We run a nappy laundry service and give expectant/new parents the opportunity to see nappies before they buy.  If a household uses them, that’s one tonne less household refuse to collect and landfill or incinerate per baby.

However even if we reduce nappy waste through encouraging more people to use washable nappies, nappy waste will not go down if an ever increasing number of children are wearing nappies for longer and longer – for no medical reason.

London spends £20 million per year on the collection and disposal of nappy waste. We want to reduce this cost. We can think of better ways to spend £20 million. We need more parents and carers to receive good up-to-date information about potty training. No one wants to be changing nappies of a child who is perfectly capable and happy to take her/himself to the toilet.  Let’s do it!


This post is part one of a six part series of posts leading up to Real Nappy Week 2018 (23-29 April.) Nappy Ever After, a not-for-profit real nappy social enterprise is 15 years old this year. Working in partnership with local authorities and parents, we have tested out the market for washable nappies in depth, through offering a local nappy laundry service and selling real nappies face-to-face. What we know is that recovering the culture of reusable nappies is slow, but a significant level of disposable nappy waste is reduced when a culture of real nappies thrives in local areas.

Real Nappy Week 2018 (23-29 April)

According to the news this morning, today is an  historic day.  Wigan, a second-league club knocked the invincible Manchester City out of the FA Cup.  City manager Pep Guardiola defends his players “It’s the intention that matters, not the result.”

This seems like a great message to increase real nappy culture and reduce nappy waste.  What we need is more people with the intention.

Let’s get out there and spread these encouraging words.  It’s your intention to reduce nappy waste that’s important: surely the result wil follow.  Sadly, this didn’t work for Man City but this is not about winning today, reducing nappy waste is a long game!

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.


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.






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.