Campaigners have called for a national voucher scheme to encourage parents to embrace reusable nappies after Downing Street denied reports of a new tax on disposable ones.
The government insisted there were no plans for a tax on single-use nappies despite suggestions they were the next item on a “ministerial hitlist” after last week’s crackdown on single-use plastic plates and cutlery in England.
The Nappy Alliance said a tax was not the solution despite the scourge of disposable nappies, with nearly 3bn thrown away in the UK each year.
Guy Schanschieff, the chair of the group which represents the reusable nappy industry, said it had never argued for a tax or ban because “there is a big enough issue with child poverty in this country already”.
“The last thing we want is parents having to pay more for disposable nappies, it is about getting access [to reusable ones],” said Schanschieff, who is the founder of the Bambino Mio brand.
Growing concern about the climate crisis means sales of alternative nappy brands made out a variety of materials, including cotton, bamboo, microfibre and hemp, are already booming – even though the start up costs are higher.
A single reusable Bambino Mio nappy costs £16, while supermarket own brand disposable ones sell for as little as 3p each. However in the long run it is estimated that parents can save £300 to £400 by using reusable ones which can be passed on to other children.
There are already a number of incentive schemes operating around the UK. The Real Nappies for London organisation works with 15 local authorities and reusable nappy brands to reduce disposable nappy waste in the capital. In Camden, for example, parents can apply for a voucher worth £54.15 to buy reusables or to put towards a paid-for washable nappy laundry service.
Another big problem with disposable nappies, according to the charity Keep Britain Tidy, is that Britons mistakenly try to recycle them and end up contaminating thousands of tonnes of waste. Its chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton described it as an “environmental disaster” that was costing local authorities hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
Schanschieff said his organisation was in constant dialogue with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) over the nappy issue.
“There are various councils who subsidise reusable nappies for parents because they can actually save money because they don’t go to landfill,” he said. “They [Defra] do find it quite difficult to get their heads around because it’s not like coffee cups or stirrers or plastic knives and forks, you can’t just ban them.” An easy-to-use voucher scheme involving the major supermarkets could offer a way forward, he suggested,
A recent report on nappies by the United Nations Environment Programme said single-use nappies were one of the biggest contributors to plastic waste globally. It described it has a booming industry with sales expected to exceed $71bn next year.
A report in the Daily Mail said disposable nappies were the next item on the government’s hitlist and quoted a Whitehall source involved in the policy saying “you couldn’t ban them … It would need to take some form of a tax”.
It is a contentious issue. Three years ago when the then environment secretary Michael Gove hinted at a ban on disposable nappies, it caused such an outcry that he was forced to issue a denial that such a move was planned.
A Defra spokesperson countered that the government had “absolutely no plans to put a tax on nappies” and was already a global leader in tackling plastic pollution.
“We have banned both microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, and our carrier bag charge has cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets,” they said.