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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 14 September 2016

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Point of Order, European Union Referendum, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Reusable Nappies


Reusable Nappies

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00634 in the name of Ivan McKee, on reusable nappies and the Scottish baby box. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that it takes a disposable nappy 200 years to degrade and that, in Scotland, 160 million such nappies are sent to landfill every year at a cost of several millions to local authorities; understands that the methane gas from these products has an adverse impact on the country's emissions targets; believes that, although initially expensive, reusable nappies have significant advantages over disposables, as overall they cost parents far less and have negligible landfill implications; considers the Scottish Baby Box to be an excellent initiative and notes the view that the scheme’s benefits could be further enhanced and promoted by the inclusion of reusable nappies to encourage ethical consumerism and yield real cost savings for local authorities and families, particularly poorer families, and understands that, among the manufacturers of reusable nappies in Scotland is Tots Bots, which is an award-winning company based in the Glasgow Provan constituency.


Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

First, I thank all members who have indicated their intention to speak tonight or who have come to listen to this important, and potentially transformative, debate on reusable nappies and the Scottish baby box.

Although the motion brings together a range of seemingly diverse topics, it nonetheless sets out what could be significant steps forward in the areas of environmental protection, tackling inequality, business innovation and inclusive growth. It offers an opportunity to make significant progress on our environmental agenda through reducing landfill; it could contribute to tackling the poverty trap phenomenon in which lower-income families, by virtue of not having access to cash in hand at the outset, end up paying more for goods or services in the long run; it presents an opportunity for local small and medium-sized enterprises and businesses, which are the backbone of our economy and are critical to our Scottish growth strategy, to innovate, expand and create jobs; and it contributes to the inclusive, positive and potentially game-changing centrepiece policy that is the Scottish baby box.

Before I address each of those issues in turn, I will give some background. Reusable nappies come in a wide range of options, but they are basically thick, padded pants; they have a waterproof cover and are sealed and fastened with Velcro or poppers. They go straight in the washing machine and are dried on a washing line. One child would use a stock of about 20 nappies from birth to potty training at a total cost of between £200 and £300, compared with around £750 for disposable nappies over the same time period. Today’s reusable nappy systems present a modern, sustainable option for parents that is far from being the smelly, cumbersome chore that it was in the past. Many local authorities already provide starter kits for new families, and voluntary groups up and down the country have been working for years through, for example, nappy libraries to engineer a shift towards widespread use of reusables.

The environmental issues are stark. Every year Scotland sends 3.3 million tonnes of waste to landfill, costing local authorities—and ultimately taxpayers—several million pounds, and any steps that we can take to reduce those costs and the significant impact of landfill on our planet are to be welcomed.

Disposable nappies comprise 79,000 tonnes or 2.5 per cent of that landfill waste, and they take at least 200 years to degrade in the soil. The Environment Agency estimates that the disposable nappies used over a baby’s first two and a half years of life produce 630kg of greenhouse gas. They typically comprise of materials that are designed to soak up moisture, which adds to the waste, and they are wrapped in plastic bags, which slow down the degrading process and compound the impact on the environment. The environmental benefits of reusable nappies are therefore clear.

We are all familiar with the phenomenon of poverty-trap pricing whereby things cost more for those who have the least. It is a significant driver of the persistence of inequality in our society, and any steps that we can take to reduce it will go a long way towards securing our policy objective of reducing inequality. The cost of a full set of reusable nappies can be as much as £300, depending on the solution and product chosen by the family. For hard-pressed families that are facing the many and often unexpected costs that a newborn can bring, that is a lot of money, and it is required up front. As I have said, the cost of providing disposable nappies over the life cycle of a baby’s usage is estimated at around £750. In practice, however, that favours the purchase of disposable nappies, as the family needs to find only £5 at a time to get through the next few days. If implemented correctly, the nappy solution in the Scottish baby box has the potential to remove that poverty trap impact from young families.

The creation of manufacturing opportunities and support for local small businesses lie at the heart of our economic growth strategy for Scotland, and encouraging and rewarding innovation is a key part of that agenda. Shortly before I was elected, I was approached by a local business that, in true entrepreneurial fashion, had identified an opportunity to innovate and create more jobs. The locally owned and managed business manufactures reusable nappies in a factory in my constituency and over the years has grown to employ 60 staff—mainly female—in a deprived area of Glasgow. Now the winner of multiple awards, the business is enjoying some success in exporting—a key target of our Scottish growth strategy—having supplied nappies to the Finnish baby box. It was excited to hear about the SNP Government’s commitment to implementing a Scottish baby box if re-elected, and it is ready to expand its operation to meet demand if selected to do so.

The Government has made reducing inequality a priority for the Parliament, and ensuring that each child is able to receive a baby box when they are born is a tangible expression of that aim and will play a central part in achieving that ambition. The baby box, which is similar to a long-standing and successful model in Finland, will reduce inequality by ensuring that children have the best possible start in life all over Scotland. The scheme in Finland has contributed to a fall in infant mortality from 10 per cent to 0.2 per cent, which is one of the lowest rates in the world. It shows just how successful innovation can be, and it is great to see the Scottish Government looking beyond our borders for ideas that can work in Scotland.

Despite its great successes, though, the Finnish model is open to improvement and would benefit from some home-grown Scottish innovation. The Finnish baby box provides a single reusable nappy. Although that is useful in introducing the concept of reusable nappies to a young family, they are still required to make use of significant numbers of traditional disposable nappies or purchase their own set of reusables when that single nappy is in the wash. A design solution has been developed locally in which, for the price of the single reusable nappy in the Finnish box, a set consisting of an outer cover and six or eight washable inserts can be provided, which gets the family started in using reusable nappies habitually. I encourage the Scottish Government to engage with manufacturers to ensure that the Scottish baby box provides a solution that exceeds that of the Finnish baby box by enabling families to make a real and decisive rather than token move away from the use of disposable nappies.

Progress is a mixture of steps and leaps, of continuous improvements that build on each other to nudge us in the right direction and leaps that have the potential to move us forward almost overnight, changing cultural norms and resolving at one stroke problems and challenges that could otherwise take years of incremental progress to address. Every once in a while, we are presented with an opportunity to drive a significant societal change; today we are fortunate enough to be presented with two such opportunities. The baby box provides the opportunity to deliver significant tangible benefits to young families, as the Finnish example shows, and we also have an opportunity to drive an overnight change in what becomes the norm for the use of nappies in this country.

I urge the Scottish Government to engage with the innovators, enable the step change that we wish to see and make progress on many fronts with one simple policy decision. Let us make the Scottish baby box—an outstanding innovation in its own right—even better.


Maree Todd (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I thank Ivan McKee for raising this issue. As a mum of three who has used washable nappies and an antenatal teacher who has encouraged many other parents to try them, I appreciate the opportunity to take part in the debate.

Let me begin with the baby box. It is a fantastic idea that says loudly and clearly that we in Scotland believe that every baby should have a good start in life. It says that we value our children, and it ensures that all parents in Scotland, regardless of income or wealth, can provide their baby with the essentials. Including reusable nappies in the baby box is a really great idea, and it would show that we value our environment in Scotland, too.

I have mentioned that I used reusable nappies, but I have to admit that it took me a while to try them. I felt unsure about the outlay. What if they turned out to be more hassle than they were worth? Once people try them, however, they find using them much easier than they might have imagined. As Ivan McKee has said, modern washables are really easy to use; they are easy to wash and dry, and they are also easy to put on the baby, because there is no safety pin involved. They are kind to the baby’s skin, and they come in a range of colours and patterns, so they look pretty cute, too. Most people like them.

There is a big up-front cost, but they save people money in the longer term. Despite the washing costs and the wear and tear on the washing machine, the amount that families can save ranges from several hundred pounds up to about £1,000. Including reusable nappies in the baby box could bring down the cost of being a parent, leaving families with more money in their pockets.

That alone would make it worth while, but the environmental benefits are great, too. Less rubbish going into the bin means less waste going to landfill. Moreover, because the solid waste gets flushed away into the sewage system, reusable nappies have to be healthier for everyone.

Everyone agrees that disposable nappies take centuries to biodegrade—although here I must disagree a little with Ivan McKee, as I think they actually take 500 years to do so. With figures between 200 years and 500 years being bandied about, the fact is that, if we had been using disposable nappies when Scotland was an independent country, before the union was even conceived of, they would still be biodegrading around us now. Most babies go through more than 4,000 nappy changes before they are potty trained. In the United Kingdom, 8 million nappies are changed every day and disposable nappies make up 2 to 4 per cent of landfill. Their use is clearly not sustainable in the long term.

Scotland is committed to becoming an environmentally sustainable country, and by including reusable nappies in the baby box, we would offer parents and families all over Scotland a win-win option. We would give them an opportunity to save money and an opportunity to help Scotland become an environmentally sustainable country.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The member has just given me a new way of looking at history, now that I know how long it takes for a disposable nappy to biodegrade.


Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I, too, congratulate Ivan McKee on securing this evening’s debate and on bringing his first members’ business debate to the Parliament.

I am sympathetic to the sentiments that have been expressed by Ivan McKee and other members who have legitimate concerns about the number of disposable nappies that are being sent to landfill each year and the real impact on our environment. I am aware of various estimates of the percentage of domestic waste that used disposable nappies make up, including some suggestions that they form as much as 10 per cent of black bin bag waste. It is clearly a significant issue and one that is impacting on Scotland meeting its recycling targets.

It will take time and effort to persuade parents and parents-to-be to look at alternatives to disposable nappies, but it is entirely right for Ivan McKee and others to highlight the fact that modern, viable, washable alternatives to disposable nappies exist, including those with integral nappy linings. I, too, commend the success of TotsBots in Ivan McKee’s constituency.

As well as work to promote the positives of reusable nappies, I am aware of some good work that has been done to trial the recycling of disposable nappies and other absorbent hygiene products. I would be interested to hear from the minister when he sums up any updates on that and whether the previous pilots are likely to be taken forward.

Scottish Conservatives remain sceptical about the evidence base for the universal baby box policy and question whether the expenditure should be focused more on the already pressed resources for vulnerable parents and those in the lowest income groups. However, given that the Scottish Government has expressed its determination to proceed with the policy, I would be interested to learn about what advice for parents will be included in the box. In particular, I would like to know specifically what advice will be provided on how to address baby and toddler dental ill health.

In a recent parliamentary written answer, I was informed that around 4,000 children under five in Scotland are having teeth extracted every year as a result of decay. The figure has remained stubbornly at that high level for more than a decade. That is clearly an unacceptable situation, and I believe that information on dental health should be included in the baby box. Parents should be encouraged to register their newborn child with a dentist as soon as possible, as well as to brush their baby’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first milk tooth breaks through.

I have asked a number of parliamentary written questions on the proposed contents of the baby box but have not yet received an answer. I would like to find out how the policy is to be developed and what, broadly, will be included in the box. An Edinburgh constituent of mine who is an English teacher recently contacted me regarding her positive suggestion that the box should contain a good-quality baby book. She suggested that that would make a statement about our country’s belief in literacy and would show parents that it is never too early to talk to and read to their baby. Will ministers actively consider that idea?

I welcome the debate about how we can reduce the impact of disposable nappies on our environment, and I hope that progress can be made to reduce their use. I also urge the Scottish Government to make sure that the baby box contains practical and clear advice on how parents can ensure that their babies have the healthiest possible start in life.


Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

I, too, am delighted that Ivan McKee has brought this debate to the chamber today.

Like Maree Todd, as a user of reusable nappies with my son, I understand the benefits and the challenges of using them. I was first introduced to reusable nappies in the maternity ward at Caithness general hospital. The midwives there are excellent: they are patient and kind, and they explained everything that I needed to know. I then contacted the Highland real nappy project to ask for more information. Its staff travel around the region meeting pregnant ladies and new mums to answer any questions about using cloth nappies. They give out a starter kit that includes a nappy pail, a couple of different types of nappies, waterproof covers and liners.

As Ivan McKee mentioned, real nappies have come a long way since the terry towelling squares and big pins of the past. A new mother no longer has to struggle with a squirming bairn while trying to fold the nappy correctly and worrying where the pin is going to end up. The nappies are nappy shaped, and have Velcro or popper fastenings and removable inserts that are washable or biodegradable.

Users of real nappies have to be prepared for a lot of washing, but that is a small consideration given the benefits of using them. My son had zero nappy rash in the two years that we used them. They are much more cost-effective in the long term, and the initial outlay does not have to be that much, as there are a lot of second-hand bundles for sale on the internet. As has been mentioned, they are better for the environment and they greatly reduce landfill. My old neighbour was delighted to regularly see a line full of nappies drying on a nice day.

By offering new parents a baby box, the Scottish Government is showing its commitment to early years and preventative spend. We all know that giving our children the best start in life prevents future social difficulties and saves Governments millions of pounds in later interventions in health and justice. Nobel prize winner James Heckman states:

“Early interventions ... have much higher returns than later interventions such as reduced pupil-teacher ratios, public job training, convict rehabilitation programs, tuition subsidies or expenditure on police.”

Finland’s baby box has been providing support for mothers and babies for more than 75 years. In that time, as Ivan McKee mentioned, infant mortality rates have dropped considerably, and the social benefits are almost immeasurable. Here is a little taster of what Finland’s baby box provides and what we could think about providing: mattresses, undersheets, duvet covers, snowsuits—we need those in Scotland—hats, mittens, booties, knitted overalls, socks, bodysuits and romper suits, all in unisex colours and patterns. Towels, hairbrushes, baby thermometers, nappy cloths, toothbrushes, muslin squares, picture books, reading books, teething toys, bra pads and condoms can also be included.

In 2006, real nappies were reintroduced in the Finnish baby box, and the baby bottle was left out to encourage breastfeeding. I make the point that even breastfeeding mothers sometimes do things that do not involve their little ones. When I was breastfeeding my son, I attended three weddings throughout the summer. I would not have been able to do so if I had not expressed milk and kept it in reserve for such occasions, and the use of a bottle was essential for the baby-sitter. I suggest that items such as a breast pump, little freezer bags for milk and sore-nipple cream should be included.

I recently learned that a baby box has already been distributed in one instance in Scotland. Thanks to the kind-hearted nurses in the theatre department recovery room of Dumfries and Galloway royal infirmary, a nurse received her own baby box as a gift when she went on maternity leave. The excitement that it caused brought together the mother-to-be, friends and staff members and is proof that a baby box, which should include reusable nappies, not only provides much-needed material goods but promotes wellbeing and social contact and should be welcomed by all sides of the chamber.


Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I am pleased to speak in the debate and I congratulate Ivan McKee on securing it. When the statistics on disposable nappies are presented, they can make us wish that the nappies had never been invented. The average baby gets through 5,000 nappies, and that results in some 400,000 tonnes of waste going to landfill in the UK every year, which is 2 to 3 per cent of all household waste and a huge cost to our local authorities. Disposable nappies also present challenges to household waste collection as councils move to smaller bins and less frequent collections, which are a typical subject for complaints from constituents.

The manufacturing process for disposable nappies uses large volumes of pulp, paper, plastic and other raw materials, as well as a significant amount of water and energy. Most disposable nappies are not very biodegradable—many reports suggest that they make up 30 per cent of non-biodegradable waste and that a nappy that is thrown away today will not decompose until the 25th century. There are also concerns about contamination in landfill, and such issues are not set to decrease, as many companies are looking to expand into new international markets that do not have a tradition of using disposable nappies.

However, many parents would not wish that disposable nappies had not been invented. They have become a part of modern parenting and, as the demands of parenting become a reality, disposable nappies are one less thing to worry about. To change that situation significantly is a challenge.

I chose to use real nappies for my daughter and I was probably a typical example of somebody who makes that choice. I suspect that the Parliament has a higher percentage of people who use such nappies than the average workplace has. I was environmentally aware, I had a good income, I was a more mature parent and I did the research. For some people, the issue is not clear cut—there are arguments that the production, washing and drying of real nappies take us to the same place as disposables do and that, although the costs are the same, the initial outlay is much more difficult at a time when money is tight. It is argued that the energy costs of producing disposables are matched by the energy costs of washing and drying real nappies, which can be too expensive for some families. However, on balance, I accepted the argument that real nappies were the more environmentally responsible choice, which I was fortunate enough to be able to make.

Real nappies could be an option on a lower income, and people save money with every subsequent baby. Almost every new parent receives lots of baby clothes—more than the baby can possibly wear—so requesting a real nappy rather than an outfit might be an option, but that needs organisation and commitment to the idea.

Having support and advice is important. Given the motion for the debate, I am thankful that I used TotsBots nappies, but I was also grateful for the advice from the online Nappy Lady. I had friends who were using real nappies, and I lived at that time in Edinburgh, which has shops that have a selection of nappies and give advice.

If parents are to make such a decision, having advice and support on products is important. That is one reason why I have reservations about the proposal to include a real nappy in the baby box. I am not sure that the decision to use real nappies is taken when a baby is born. I had to plan for and be committed to using real nappies. If the baby box contained a real nappy, I would be concerned that it might be unused or, what is worse, end up in landfill. However, I am interested in and open to the suggestions that have been made.

The baby box has an interesting history. It was introduced in Finland in 1938 for low-income families before it was rolled out to everybody in 1949. In the 1930s, Finland had a high infant mortality rate. Legislation was adopted to introduce the box, for which mothers-to-be had to visit a doctor or a municipal prenatal clinic before the fourth month of pregnancy. That steered women into the emerging welfare system and national health service, which improved the health outcomes of babies and families.

Scotland has a very different starting place, so we should think about what the baby box is trying to achieve. An increase in the use of real nappies would need a cultural change, and perhaps a voucher in the box with contact details of a local network would be a sensible way forward. In my area, the Fife real nappy network, which is run by volunteers, provides advice and support for parents.

I am very supportive of using real nappies and encouraging parents to make that decision, and I agree that there is potential that should be considered for the baby box to play a role in that and to encourage more parents to think about making the change.


Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

I am delighted to speak in this debate and to add my congratulations to TotsBots, which is an innovative and award-winning company that is proud to advertise the fact that all its products are made in the United Kingdom—indeed, as the mover of the motion pointed out, they are made in the great city of Glasgow.

Even a quick look at the company’s website will show how reusable nappies have moved on from the days when my children were babies. Pin-held, leaking terry towelling was the option, and a course in nappy origami would have been very helpful. Now, colourful, shaped and easy-to-fit reusable nappies offer a fashionable and practical alternative to disposables. I hesitate to call any nappy cute, but some modern reusables come pretty close to that.

As a mother, I appreciate that the time constraints, needs and resources of busy parents as well as the requirements of individual babies can vary enormously. The pace of life continues to quicken, and the convenience of disposable nappies is a huge benefit to many parents. Because every family has different circumstances, I strongly believe that the choice of nappy is best left to individual mums and dads, but I have no issue with—indeed, I encourage—the advantages and disadvantages of both types being properly aired in order that parents can make an informed choice.

The motion is correct to highlight the environmental issues that are raised by disposable nappies. An astonishing 8 million disposables are used in the United Kingdom every day. They now comprise 4 per cent of all materials that are sent to landfill and they take decades to degrade, but upwards of 90 per cent of parents still use them. They are the default nappy of choice and figures show that they have even higher usage among lower-income families. That is despite the fact that, over a typical child’s use of 4,000 to 5,000 nappies, disposables are typically £500 more expensive than reusable nappies, depending on the washing and drying method that is used.

The choice for many families may not be one or the other, of course; there could be a combination of the two types of nappy, depending on daily circumstances.

I mentioned earlier that reusable nappies are a world away from what they used to be way back when I had my children. However, I wonder whether every new parent or, indeed, nursery appreciates that fact.

I will move on to the proposed Scottish baby box. The idea originated in pre-war Scandinavia. The box could well be used to introduce modern, reusable nappies to a new generation of parents in Scotland, particularly parents whom figures show are the most resistant to abandoning disposables. A case can be made to make best use of the available resources by especially targeting the groups that would benefit the most. The reported cost of a box is £100. Some of the savings that are made by targeting those groups could be used to address reported concerns about how stable the boxes may be for the baby to sleep in and to improve the provision of health and nutrition information, particularly in areas that have low rates of breastfeeding as well as low usage of reusable nappies.

I hope that those suggestions can be looked at, but they are in no way meant to detract from the laudable aims of the motion, which I am very happy to support.


Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

The baby box has multiple opportunities to engender a behavioural shift in many areas that will benefit in a whole range of desirable outcomes. Its contents are a huge responsibility. I am often reminded that space in it is finite when I speak to the minister with yet another suggestion about what can be included in its contents. The box is not the size of a washing machine and it is not a baby wardrobe—it is a baby box.

In short, what we put in that box has to count and has to earn its place there. The proposal for reusable nappies to take up some of that precious space hits a number of targets. The most compelling one for me is the cost issue for families, particularly when so many new families are struggling to make ends meet. We have heard figures from other members, but the figure that I got for the cost of using disposable nappies over two and a half years was £800, which we can compare to the cost of using reusable nappies. If a family invests in a starter pack of around 20 reusable nappies and we take into account the cost of putting them in the family wash, we are looking at a total cost of around £205 a year, which therefore means a significant saving. As Claire Baker said, the nappies can be used for successive babies, so it is a one-time outlay regardless of how many children a mother has.

I am going to fess up here: I did not use reusable nappies, because I could not afford that outlay when I had my son. I think that putting them in the baby box will offer a significant change for mothers.

For the vast majority of parents, the issue of nappies comes down to “How much?”—that is, how much money and how much hassle is involved. I have talked about the money side, but when new parents are tired, as they absolutely are all the time, the hassle question is just as important. I have spoken to a good few parents over the years who have used reusable nappies and they are brutally honest in saying that it is easier to chuck a nappy in a bin and take the next one from a pack. However, as with anything worth doing, patience pays off and eventually parents fall into a routine with reusable nappies. Reusables require a bit of a mindset change, but once parents start using them, as Maree Todd said, they get used to them and find them as just as convenient as disposables.

The resistance to using reusable nappies is often inherited, and stories of pans boiling terry-towelling nappies, which Alison just mentioned—Alison Harris, that is—are off-putting. It is a bit—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I just say to members—I was trying to be gentle about this—to use other members’ full names for the Official Report, which cannot refer to just “Alison”, for example.

Gillian Martin

I know. That is why I said “Alison Harris” straight after I said “Alison”. Thank you.

The Deputy Presiding Officer


Gillian Martin

By including reusable samples in a baby box, we are providing a chance to shift public habit and opinion, even if there is combined use of disposables and reusables, as has been mentioned. Other nations that have provided reusable nappy samples, such as New Zealand, have seen a 95 per cent take-up of so-called real nappies, which might answer some of Claire Baker’s concerns.

Thinking about what is in the baby box in Finland prompts me to shoehorn another item on to my wish list in the hope that it would not take up too much space in the baby box. There is also an opportunity to use the baby box to protect a new mother’s health, so I cannot sit down without mentioning what I think is an important public health issue, which is access to maternity pads for new mums. I think that they should have a place in the baby box too.

For all new mothers, changing maternity pads frequently in the days after childbirth is really important. For example, 70 to 80 per cent of new mums get tears in their perineum during childbirth and the resulting stitches must be kept clean in order to prevent infection. Sepsis is a very real danger for new mums and is the leading cause of maternal death in the UK, and wound infection is responsible for around 15 per cent of sepsis cases. Of course, sepsis is an extreme outcome, but lack of healing due to infection can also present a range of health issues for the new mum that can lead to her feeling generally unwell at an already vulnerable time and a key point in a newborn’s life. Again, it is also a poverty issue. If a mum is struggling financially, she will go without personal items and use what means she has to provide essentials for the baby and might not look after herself.

I am sorry, as I am running over time, but I hope that my points are well made.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You have indeed made very good points.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I, too, welcome the debate and congratulate Ivan McKee on securing it. It is a timely debate because we have a Scottish Government strategy on a circular economy and the early intervention policy of the baby box, which is incredibly welcome. I think that real nappies can make a valuable contribution to the success of both those policies.

In the early noughties, we saw growth in real nappy networks, which provide support and advice to families. I was involved in the launch of the Perthshire one, which I think has been very successful. On the back of that, we have also seen the growth of a number of social enterprises that provide laundry and collection facilities for parents but also work in other areas, such as the reuse and recycling of toys, children’s furniture, clothing and books, saving parents money and diverting waste from landfill. I pay tribute to a number of such social enterprises in Scotland that are running today: Merry-Go-Round and Kinder Handl in Glasgow, Everything Baby in Inverness and Good Green Fun in Stirling, which has had trailer loads of stuff coming from the Ruskell family loft over the years, only for trailer loads of stuff to come back to us again.

We used real nappies successfully with our two sons. My eldest son temporarily developed a skin condition, so we went back to using disposables. At that point, I noticed a big impact on our bin. When we used real nappies, the bin was half-full on collection day; when we went back to using disposables, it was overflowing again. The difference was dramatic to see. As Claire Baker said, that is an issue today because councils are significantly increasing recycling and reducing landfill, as well as reducing the collection cycles and the size of the bins. The space for landfill is rightly getting smaller and smaller.

A proposed solution is to recycle nappies. Several years ago, a pilot was run in Stirling that involved a collection system. Plastic can be recovered. Amazingly, it can be made into garden furniture, among other items. That is probably a better option than landfill, but it is not an effective waste minimisation measure; neither is it the best environmental option. With the pilot, the nappies were being shipped down to the midlands of England, and that had a clear environmental impact.

The promotion of real nappies has slipped over the past couple of years. I heard Gail Ross’s very positive experience in the Highlands, but there are issues with nurseries and the national health service providing very patchy support for the roll-out of real nappies. That is a shame, because the technology is improving. Compared with 10 years ago, the real nappies that are on the market are less bulky, have better moisture retention and are easier to wash.

The baby box is a fantastic idea. It is perhaps a key point where we can influence behavioural change. Indeed, whenever our life circumstances change, there is an opportunity to influence behaviour. Many members have spoken tonight of the baby box’s impact in Finland and how it has slashed mortality rates there. Another interesting thing about the Finnish example is that parents are offered a cash equivalent—they can take €140 in cash or the baby box—but 95 per cent of parents go for the baby box. That underlines the strong social welfare culture in Finland.

Parents receive goodie bags from New Parent Support, the National Childbirth Trust and the NHS, but it makes sense to include real nappies in the baby box and to offer that programme of support and encouragement for new parents. I am very interested to hear what the minister’s response will be not just on real nappies and the baby box but on the wider social economy of which that is a part, and on how we can support organisations to reuse and to repair toys and, critically, to save hard-pushed parents money.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call on Mark McDonald to respond. Minister—you have seven minutes. Perhaps you will tell us whether we will require a bigger baby box, given all the suggestions that have been made tonight.


The Minister for Childcare and Early Years (Mark McDonald)

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer, I thank Ivan McKee for bringing this important issue to the chamber today.

Through the numbers of members who have taken part, the significance of the baby box and its contents has been highlighted. The First Minister announced the plan for the baby box in her priorities for Government speech to Parliament on 25 May. As members have said, it builds on the Finnish model. We estimate that the policy will cost about £6 million a year to deliver, and we are looking for the box to be a celebration of childhood and a much-valued gift from the Government in recognising the importance of the task of parenting. In addition, there will be a strong focus on maternal and infant health and it will be, given the universal offer, a robust statement of equality for all our citizens from birth.

I will go through issues that members have raised. I probably cannot cover everything that has been said because we would be here for quite some time—I know how strict you are on the timing of debates, Presiding Officer—but I will do my best to cover some of the main issues. I give a commitment to members that if they write to me about any issues that they feel I have not had the chance to respond to, I will be more than happy to provide a full response.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am advised that I can give you another two minutes, if you wish them.

Mark McDonald

Let us see how we get on, Presiding Officer.

Ivan McKee set the tone of the debate and was correct in highlighting the issues that real nappies can address in relation to the environment and support for small and medium-sized businesses. He also mentioned the poverty trap. A number of members compared the up-front cost of reusable nappies with the cost of disposables, which is important. Disposables cost more in the longer term, but are not paid for up front, all in one go. Claire Baker made the important point that when we measure the cost of reusable nappies we should include the associated energy costs of washing and drying nappies. In many households that we want to lift out of poverty, fuel poverty is a real consideration that we must bear in mind. However, Ivan McKee made the point well that sometimes the up-front cost masks the lifetime cost.

Miles Briggs had a number of asks. Members will be aware that I cannot commit to putting everything that they asked for into the baby box; what I can say is that members’ suggestions will be fed into the Government’s considerations. On the point about dental decay, we have the good childsmile programme and we will consider how best to support parents to play an active role in looking after their children’s oral health. I want to be careful not to end up with a baby box that is full of pamphlets and leaflets that offer advice and support, which parents might just pick up and then put down, as often happens. We want to support parents to take a different approach. We will consider what Miles Briggs said about information leaflets, but I would be concerned if the box ended up being stuffed with leaflets rather than with items that are of practical use, such as are provided in the Finnish baby box.

Maree Todd said that 8 million nappies are changed every day. Most of those are disposable, so an awful lot of nappies are going to landfill. As a number of members said, Zero Waste Scotland is examining the potential for recycling disposable nappies. I heard what Mark Ruskell said, but even if we significantly increase the uptake of reusable nappies, the reality is that some parents will still have to use disposable nappies. It is therefore right and proper that we consider how to deal better with disposables, including recycling options. I am aware that some companies claim on the packaging that their disposable nappies are biodegradable; whether that is actually how the nappies perform has yet to be ironed out.

Alison Harris and others made the point that although talk about real nappies often conjures up an image of huge terry towelling sheets and safety pins, we have moved on. As a number of other members have done, I used reusable nappies for my son and was struck by how easy and simple they are to use. It was often quite messy, though, but that is the nature of babies. There is a job of work to be done in that regard.

Gail Ross and Gillian Martin suggested items for the box that are worthy of consideration. I cannot give a commitment to include those items, as I said, but they made a case for them.

Mark Ruskell veered off the subject slightly at the end of his speech when he talked about how we can ensure that toys are reused or repurposed. I often find with my children that a toy that I think is broken still provides a lot of fun and enjoyment. Sometimes we need to look at things through the eyes of the child rather than the eyes of the parent. Many toys that seem not to work are still played with and enjoyed, so if we were a little less hasty about throwing such toys out—provided that they are safe, of course—we might address some of the issues that Mr Ruskell raised.

The important thing for us to consider is this: what is the aim of the baby box? What is the defining purpose that we have established for the baby box? It is, essentially, to give all of our children the best start in life. Although I cannot say at this moment what the contents of the baby box will be, I can say that we are continuing to explore the options—those that have been highlighted in this evening’s debate, and other options that have been suggested to me by members of all parties.

I would temper expectations; we obviously have to bear in mind the dimensions of the box and the fact that parents have to get it in the car and get it home, so that will be a factor in determining what we can include. I also want to make sure that we include a range of items. For example, if we took the decision to include reusable nappies, it would probably not be possible to put in a significant number, because that would mean a space constraint such that we could not include other items.

I will consider what has been suggested in the debate. I will continue to discuss the matter with officials and, as always, if members want to write to me, I will be happy to consider the issues that they raise. I cannot at this stage give a guarantee on what the contents of the baby box will be, but all the issues that have been raised this evening are under active consideration.

Meeting closed at 17:51.