NSW council has proved viability of Compostable nappies

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The Bega Valley Shire Council undertook an innovative trial that may have succeeded in finding a solution to one of the world’s biggest waste problems nappies.
The nappies were processed in the local Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) facility and turned into compost.
Joley Vidau Bega Valley Shire council’s waste coordinator said the trial had now been deemed a success, which could lead to change across NSW and around the world.

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from ABC News 9.4.22

An innovative trial on the NSW far south coast may have succeeded in finding a solution to one of the world’s biggest waste problems — nappies.

The Bega Valley Shire Council undertook a trial in 2019 which provided 50 local families with compostable nappies to use instead of disposable ones.

After use, the nappies were processed in the local Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) facility and turned into compost rather than ending up in landfill.

The council’s waste coordinator Joley Vidau said the trial had now been deemed a success, which could lead to change across NSW and around the world.

“It definitely was a game changer,” she said.

A woman in a green top at the Bega composting facility
Joley Vidau has closely watched results from the compostable nappy trial on the NSW far south coast.(ABC South East: Keira Proust)

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has granted the results of the trial conditional approval, a state-wide first.

It allows the Bega Valley Shire Council to use compostable products such as nappies in their commercial composting facility, however, due to the site reaching capacity, it’s likely to take a number of years until it could happen locally.

The trial’s success doesn’t just have local implications, it’s also garnered the attention of councils and manufacturers around the world.

“So, they’re doing a trial similar to this in Indonesia off the back of our trial.”

A woman feeding her two toddlers in a kitchen
Ariana Manca’s family was one of 50 that took part in the trial in the Bega Valley.(ABC South East: Keira Proust)

Time savings a boon for families

Families in Australia, such as Arian Manca’s, could soon see more environmentally friendly nappies on supermarket shelves.

The Manca family joined the trail after using mostly cloth nappies, however, cleaning and drying them was time-consuming.

“We loved the environmental aspect of the nappies being compostable,” she said.

A woman folding reusable nappies
Ms Manca says the compostable nappies are easy to use.(ABC South East: Keira Proust)

She said having a compostable option was great for parents constantly juggling their time and consideration of the environment.

“A big thing for parents is the time factor, so you need something that is quick and simple and easy to use and doesn’t take up too much time,” she said.

The nappies approved by the EPA were made entirely of compostable material and used a reusable fabric band to secure them at the top.

A baby in a compostable nappy
Eenee’s compostable nappies were used during the Bega Valley trial.(Supplied: Eenee)

Consumer demand to determine product availability

Consumer behaviour expert Professor Gary Mortimer from QUT’s Business School said cost would be a major factor as to whether the product could become mainstream.

“If we can make those prices in line with mass-produced products there is more of a chance that consumers will make that purchase,” Professor Mortimer said.

He said as consumer demand grew, so would interest from manufacturers.

“Most manufacturers generally won’t produce a product unless it’s been tried and tested and there’s an appetite for it,” he said.

Heavy machinery scooping up rubbish at a landfill site.
Millions of nappies end up at landfill sites in Australia every day.(Pixabay: Pasi Maenpaa)

Solution to a global problem

It is estimated more than five million disposable nappies end up in landfills across Australia every day.

However, the issue was one many countries grappled with.

GDiapers co-founder Kim Graham-Nye has worked in the global nappy manufacturing industry for more than 20 years and said, while change had happened in that time, it was not quick enough.

“Sustainability has shifted dramatically over the past 20 years,” she said.

“Now, it is imperative that we make changes to how we make, how we produce, how we consume, and how we interact with the natural world.”

A woman in a pink top smiling
Kim Graham-Nye has worked in the nappy industry for more than 20 years.(ABC News: Bryan Milliss)

While more brands were offering eco-friendly incontinence products, only one brand in Australia — Tasmania-based company Eenee — made entirely compostable nappies.

These products were used during the Bega Valley Shire trial.

Ms Vidau was hopeful the success of their trial would encourage more manufacturers to start making compostable products.

“[The trial] made other councils and organic processing facilities and, most importantly, manufacturers of disposable nappies realise that there was an alternative,” she said.

Ms Graham-Nye said it was important consumers continued to check products to ensure they were certified environmental products.

“So, unless something can be in your own compost bin or can go into your council FOGO that’s been approved and proved it can compost, then it’s just green-washing.”

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