Experts calling for an end to non-biodegradable 'disposable' nappies

A baby wearing a nappy.
A baby wearing a nappy. Photo credit: Getty

There have been calls for a move away from the traditional disposable nappy as businesses move to reduce plastic consumption.

Auckland-based start-up Little & Brave is starting its own composting service to ensure fewer nappies are mixed in with household rubbish.

"Nappies can take centuries to break down in landfill. In the process they release methane... and can contaminate land, ground water and waterways through leachate. Our compostable nappies, and composting service, solve these problems," founder Tahlia Hutchison said in a statement.

The nappies would have to be returned to Little & Brave for composting.

Associate Professor Ben Wooliscroft from the University of Otago said it was a good start, and consumers need to be aware of nappies' impact on the environment.

"We have to make alternatives available which are better for the environment to encourage them and capture the costs associated with these so called disposable nappies," he told Newshub.

"If we had to pay a rental on the ground that they're going to be stored in for 500 years we might think of their price quite differently."

A ban could be considered, but Prof Wooliscroft said other solutions could be explored first.

"It's a matter of allocating the externalities, the costs that are born by somebody other than the user, and if we fully allocated those costs I don't think we would see many people who could afford the so called disposable nappies," he said.

"It certainly is right up there with plastic bags... let's face it a so called disposable nappy is a plastic bag filled with something. The design of it is largely a plastic outer with some sort of synthetic fibre inside them.

"They're in the same territory to discuss banning them as long as we have adequate alternatives and consumers will come on board."

Auckland waste reduction educator Kate Meads said she will be watching the work done by Little & Brave with great interest, but she's not sure what the results will be.

"I don't know what they're doing for compost at the moment, but I do know that there's been a couple of failed attempts at composting nappies in the past," she said.

"I'll be watching with great interest to see how it goes."

She's in favour of a ban and taking single use nappies out of the market altogether.

"I think [a ban] would be a great place to go next, because there's around a million nappies a day go to landfill in New Zealand, it never reduces because you don't stop having babies," she said


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