Today we meet with the good people at DEFRA, the UK Government’s Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to get a better understanding of their plastics policies.
Much has been made of their recent announcements to eliminate “avoidable” plastic. I want to understand what that means, how they intend to roll it out and if they will follow the EU in phasing out landfill and imposing Extended Producer Responsibility rules on manufacturers specifically in the nappy category.
EPR demands that manufacturers take back the products they sell consumers and dispose of them responsibly. It is one of the key tenets of the Circular Economy which we believe is the future.
In the nappy industry plastic is the major raw material. A cup of oil is needed to make each nappy.
We need oil to make plastic.
And nappies are made of plastic.
20 billion nappies a year landfilled in the US
3 billion nappies a year landfilled in the UK
Extract oil from the earth / make plastic nappies / use for 3 hours / put in holes in the ground for 500 years / hope it all works out.
Because of the plastic and the human waste issue, any take back scheme is going to be complicated. Attempts at taking used plastic disposable nappies and making something good with it has failed despite 25 years and millions of dollars worth of investment.
Nappies are extremely price sensitive and store brands like Lidl (similar to ASDA / Aldi / Walmart) sells nappies for as low as 3p (USD 4 cents / AUD 5 cents) each. This price doesn’t come close to factoring in the cost on the environment once the product is disposed. This “negative externality“, a wonderful BS term I learned in Economics 101 at Uni is paid for not just by the environment but also by us the taxpayers in the form of waste collection and landfill management costs not to mention the poor health outcomes often reported by anyone unfortunate enough to live near a landfill.
EPR changes that dramatically. The Total Nappy Cost or “TNC” as we call it here at gDiapers (!) includes the cost to collect used nappies, deliver to a facility and convert it into a resource. It assumes of course that the product can actually be converted into something useful which again in nappies has proved difficult. We see gCycle as the answer as the product doesn’t use plastic. This allows for multiple ways to convert it into a useful resource at the end of its (first) life.
So today will be insightful I hope!