Dear Mrs May,
Last week I found myself embroiled in a debate about the Government’s proposal to ban single use baby wipes. In a random 24 hours I appeared on both the Jeremy Vine Show and This Morning. When I was asked to comment on banning single use baby wipes because they weren’t essential, I thought it was a suggestion by some out there think-tank, the sort that suggests you use donkeys to help Year Six children learn about mortgage rates.
During this debate I have been called lazy, irresponsible and ignorant. As a mum to two under three I long for the days when I could be both of those things and run through corn fields with gay abandon but those days are gone. With two young children to look after I have two to three hours to myself per week and that very much depends on whether my youngest naps. Ignorant? Absolutely, and that is why I am writing to you to ask you to educate me and the millions of other parents out there who use baby wipes, who until this week, thought they were just using them to change bums.
Why have you remained so silent on this issue since the announcement? You are not alone, Pampers and Johnson and Johnson’s silence has spoken volumes. The only post that Johnson’s have put on their Facebook page since the announcement is “JOHNSON’S was one of the first to transition our cotton buds to a paper stick in the UK.” This is like asking my daughter if she hit her sister and made her nose bleed replying, “I ate all my broccoli.”
Is the problem the product itself or how they are disposed of? As I understand it, flushing wipes down a toilet is causing major problems in Britain’s water ways, but a blanket ban on single use baby wipes is penalising responsible parents for the actions of the few. Why not educate people not to flush baby wipes and then introduce penalties for people who continue? Allocate resources to catch the culprits in the act and then punish them by making them do community service by breaking up fatbergs.
How environmentally friendly are the alternatives to single use baby wipes?
A popular suggested alternative to disposable wipes is cotton wool and water, but cotton wool is non recyclable and can cause blockages if it is flushed. Can the country’s landfill cope if everyone transitioned to cotton wool? How much water remains environmentally friendly vs a pre moistened baby wipe? Cotton wool is produced in the United States, China, India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. What are the implications of transporting large volumes of cotton to the UK? Will we even have a trade deal with these countries post Brexit, rendering it a moot point? The same questions apply for bio degradable disposable wipes.
As for reusable wipes and flannels, is it hygienic? People currently using these options have scoffed at the suggestion that it is less hygienic but are they? Can the Government give an unequivocal response? If they are less hygienic how much additional pressure will this put on the NHS when parents take sick babies to GP surgeries nationwide? The leading brand of reusable wipes has a section on how to ensure the wipes remain hygienic. It recommends washing at 60c and then putting them in a tumble drier. Given the recent advertising campaigns around energy efficiency, I do not understand whether this is a significantly more environmentally friendly option to using a disposable wipe.
A lot has been said about how, historically, our parents coped just fine without them. Before disposable wipes and nappies, Terry nappies were a popular choice but while they didn’t use baby wipes, when they used a Terry nappy they had a disposable liner inside them that you threw away when a baby had soiled it.
Why a ban rather than a gradual reduction in usage? Last year, the UK government set aside £200million — which will be matched by the car industry to create a pot of £400million — to promote the roll out of more electric charging points and offer another £100million worth of discounts on battery cars for consumers. Sales of diesel cars in the UK fell close to 40% year-on-year in March. Surely a similar approach is more effective? Supply and demand plays a huge part in this conversation. Supporters have said that if you don’t buy them then manufacturers will not supply them but demand is driven by availability. It is my belief that if the environmentally friendly option, which performed as well as a disposable wipe, was available where the need was, i.e. readily on the supermarket shelves and at a comparable price point, people would make the more environmentally friendly choice.
A ban is shaming a group of people who already feel judged enough. Categorising them as non essential, in the same category as a straw or a cup is misunderstanding their role.
Parents don’t need any more shame. One in 10 new mums suffer with post natal depression and one in three new dads are concerned about their mental health within the first 12 months of becoming parents. Why commit £1.4billion extra funding to mental health, with a focus on post natal depression and then put a ban in place which stigmatises a large percentage of the new parent community that you have recognised as mentally vulnerable? This is before even considering the implications for carers of the disabled or elderly.
The language of this debate has been around “shame, guilt and responsibility ” which have become the default language for female dominated debates. I do not disagree with the parents on the other side of the argument and there is absolutely more we should all be doing to save the planet for future generations but those changes have to proven to be environmentally friendly from cradle to grave, effective in terms of cost and time, supported by our country’s waste disposal infrastructure.
Please stop punishing parents, we have enough shit to deal with.