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Environmental groups are warning of a backlash against recycling after a man was fined £200 in Wales for accidentally leaving a letter in a garden compost bag left out for the binmen. Ros Dodd reckons there are easier and cheaper ways of reducing waste.

A local authority in Devon is asking neighbours to spy on each other and report people who aren't recycling their rubbish. Teignbridge District Council has set up a telephone hotline for residents to give details of anyone flouting its four-bin recycling scheme. Offenders will be visited by a ‘recycling sheriff', who will inspect their bins, and could face fines of up to £2,500.

This is another ham-fisted way to encourage people to ‘green up' and no doubt will backfire spectacularly. But at least it's more convincing than most of the wishy-washy schemes by national and local government to get people to act with more environmental responsibility.

Let's consider one of the biggest sources of household waste - so-called disposable nappies - that could be drastically reduced if government did more to support the cloth nappy industry, currently made up of small, disparate companies without the financial muscle to take on the likes of Pampers.

Eight million ‘disposables' are chucked away every day in the UK, with most going to landfill sites where they languish for hundreds of years before finally biodegrading. If parents switched to washable varieties, it would make a significant environmental difference - less waste collection and a vast reduction in festering excrement, plastics and chemicals buried beneath the soil.

My husband and I are closing our real nappy retail company a year after taking it on because it's just too much of a struggle to get the message over to a public which still believes cotton nappies mean Terry towelling squares, safety pins and crinkly plastic pants. We're too small to run advertising campaigns, but a bit more public service support - from hospitals, health centres and the local authority - could have made the difference between shutting shop and making real inroads into the nappy habits of Birmingham residents.

To be fair, some hospitals, such as Heartlands, have been a help, and the city council runs a ‘nappy library' to allow parents to try out the different types on the market before they buy and offers a £30 cash back scheme on purchases over and above that amount, although neither council incentive is publicised effectively.

So much more could be done - both locally and nationally - to combat the problem generated by disposable nappies: Midwives and health visitors could be educated about cloth nappies, shops and department stores could be encouraged to make more room on their nappy shelves for cloth varieties and if the Government can afford a massive advertising campaign to combat binge drinking, then surely it could find funds to promote the use of cloth nappies.

We started our business to make money, but equally to do our bit for the environment and convert the uninitiated to the many benefits of easy-to-use shaped cotton nappies, not least the fact they're hundreds of pounds cheaper. But you can only bang your head against a brick wall for so long and, reluctantly, we're calling it a day.

So, while the actions of Teignbridge District Council smack of bully-boy tactics, at least it has the guts to do more than simply pay lip service to the environmental problems caused by our ‘disposable' society.


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