Expectant parents could soon be finding their job of looking after a new-born harder than ever before after the UK Government announced it plans to ban disposable nappies and baby wipes.
New parents may have to get used to washing nappies
As part of the UK’s crackdown on single use plastics, environment secretary Michael Gove has said household wet wipes and single-use nappies could soon find themselves on the banned list because of the damage they are doing to the UK’s ecosystem.
If outlawed, parents will no longer be able to buy wipes of any kind. Both household cleaning and baby wipes, are mostly made of polyester and contain millions of microfibres filled with chemicals.
Wet wipes, which contain plastic, slowly break down into microplastics which can be ingested by marine life, often leading to death.
What's wrong with wet wipes?
Environment lobbyists have long hailed the problem of baby wipes to the UK’s water systems - tens of thousands of the packs are bought every single year with their use use growing annually.
Despite growing campaigns warning new parents not to flush them down the toilet, many still do which result in clogged up mains sewers and go on to kill wildlife including, fish and other marine life, as the fibres are released.
The wet wipes, which contain plastic, slowly break down into microplastics – sometimes called “mermaid tears” by campaigners, which can be ingested by marine life, often leading to death.
And it is not just the damage to the environment which is cited as a massive problem.
Sewer blockages alone added £100 million to water bills every year
Water and sewage companies including the Environment Agency have complained to the Government about the issues they have dealing with baby wipes.
Water UK, the umbrella organisation representing water and sewage companies, revealed that flushed wet wipes are the largest cause of sewer blockages, according to its biggest ever in-depth investigation.
It warned that the practice needed to be banned or halted immediately by perpetrators, citing it as one of the main reasons for bill hikes, saying sewer blockages alone added £100 million to water bills every year.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said: “As a part of our 25-year environment plan, we have pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste, and that includes single-use products like wet wipes.
“We are continuing to work with manufacturers and retailers of wet wipes to make sure labelling on packaging is clear and people know how to dispose of them properly – and we support the industry’s efforts to make their customers aware of this important issue.”
What's the alternative?
New parents may have to get used to washing nappies like their grandparents did, after a bill was launched in March to “promote” the use of reusable nappies, with campaigners saying this is the first step to banning single-use ones altogether.
The Nappy (Environmental Standards) Bill sets out a proposal to launch a government-led campaign, with the backing of the reusable industry leaders, to encourage parents to take up the use of cloth nappies.
Even so-called ‘eco’ disposable nappies are not environmentally friendly.
Launched by Scottish National Party MP David Linden, it called on the Government to recognise the damage that single-use nappies were doing to the environment immediately.
Campaigner Eliza Halls said: “Single use nappies are extremely costly to get rid of and notoriously difficult to recycle. Add this to the fact that the UK currently has a lack of adequate processing facilities in our recycling plants and they are becoming a massive problem. Something needs to be done.”
Continuing pressure and budget cuts mean that many English councils are struggling to provide basic waste and recycling services
What are nappies made from then?
Single use nappies are made up of a mixture of materials: a plastic outer layer combined with inner layers of a non-woven polymer textile, fluff pulp and sodium polyacrylate or super absorbent polymer – tiny crystals with soak up huge amounts of liquid.
The varying number of materials that it takes to make up a nappy make it a tricky customer for the recycling process currently on offer in the UK.
There are almost too many compartments to place it one area – and these complexities mean that most local authorities are not able to collect nappies as a recyclable item, meaning it goes straight to landfill.
The Welsh Government, however, is being proactive to reduce the number of nappies making their way to landfill.
Welsh ministers have placed a higher priority on making recycling easier for its residents and as such, has placed it focus into creating more complex recycling waste processes.
Many Welsh authorities use a company named NappiCycle, a group which recycles nappies and other absorbent hygiene produces.
England used to have one of these plants, operated by a US firm named Knowaste, but it shut down in 2013 with there then no alternative for local authorities in England to look to.
Knowaste bosses tried to reopen a bigger facility but had its plans knocked back – with planning permission refused for a new premises. They then took their business back to the States.
Continuing pressure and budget cuts on local authorities around England mean that many English councils are struggling to provide basic waste and recycling services – there is no dedicated food waste collection in most areas, and even basic recycling is only collected weekly, meaning some residents are left with nowhere to put recycling and therefore put it in the normal waste bags to get rid of it quicker.
As refuse collector George said: “It’s a catch 22 really. There is this big push from MPs about recycling, they talk about targets and that, but in day-to-day life, none of it is funded or put into practice.”
The Nappy Alliance, an organisation set up by reusable nappy providers to promote their products, is supporting the Nappy Bill with a hope that single-use nappy products will soon be banned.
Guy Schanschieff, chair of the alliance, said: “Reusable nappies have increased in popularity in recent years but there is much more that can be done to support and entice new parents, by giving them more product information and ensuring that they are not misled by so-called ‘eco’ disposable nappies which are not environmentally friendly.”
Is it a practical solution?
The plan is definitely controversial. Many busy parents admit they want to do more to help the environment but admit their lives would be made much harder with the introduction of such rules.
Mum-of-three Rebecca Howes said: “I had three children under three at one point - one almost three-year-old and two new-born twins. I didn’t have time to make myself a coffee, let alone find the time to wash and dry the amount of nappies I was getting through at that point.
“Of course I know that the environment is much more important than my day being hard, and we are all wanting to do our bit to stop the problems of landfill sites building up, but I am glad I had my children before this ban came in, if it ever does.
“Luckily mine are now out of nappies and I won’t have a problem, although I do admit I still use baby wipes. I feel for parents of multiples and of little ones. Baby wipes were my lifeline back then.”
Another parent, dad Chris Deenan added: “I think it is a good ban."
"We will find a way to adapt and reusable nappies used to be the norm. It’s obviously time to go back to the good old days in the interests of making the world a better place for our children growing up.”