Asking your Council for a Cloth Nappy and Reusable Sanitary Product Rebate

31 March 2021
Council for a Cloth Nappy and Reusable Sanitary Product Rebate
Photo by Gavin Green & Hardie Grant Books for Waste Not: Make a big difference by throwing away less - buy here


Last year I discovered the UK was considering a Nappies (Environmental Standards) Bill to help promote reusables nappies. The Bill included a rebate to make the switch accessible, along with a push to stop manufactures of disposable (eco or not) from making claims that aren't true. The conversation is ongoing in the UK and you can read about here and here.

I began researching cloth nappy rebates and found there weren't that many available compared tp the UK. They have over 40 programs, while we have 10. After many emails it seemed the best place to prove there was interest in rebates from the community was for more Local Government's (our Councils) to roll out rebate schemes. In the UK local Councils also run the rebate programs. So, I decided to start with mine, Moonee Valley City Council. After sharing my intentions on social media many readers showed enthusiasm to pitch similarly to their own Councils and I promised a blog post on what I have done so far to help you get started. I hope you find it useful.

But first, what is a Cloth Nappy and Reusable Sanitary Product Rebate?

A household can receive up to fifty percent of the purchase back on new and secondhand items with proof of receipt at limit of $150. These reusable items can include:
  • Cloth nappies (all ages)
  • Swim nappies
  • Nappy liners
  • Cloth wipes
  • Wet bags
  • Nursing breast pads
  • Cloth menstrual and incontinence pads
  • Menstrual cups
  • Period underwear
  • Period wet bags

These councils provide rebates in Australia:
  • City of Casey (VIC)
  • Wyndham City Council (VIC)
  • Cardinia Shire (VIC)
  • Mornington Peninsula  Shire (VIC)
  • City of Parramatta (NSW)
  • Brisbane City Council (QLD)
  • Logan City Council (QLD)
  • City of Holdfast Bay (SA)
  • Shire of Augusta Margaret River (WA)
  • City of Cockburn (WA)

Why should our Government provide this? There are a couple of reasons...

A rebate will essentially provide accessibility for those unable to afford reusables, help normalise these products, provide a place for eduction and start conversations, and reward those wanting to reduce their waste.

Australian is one of the highest generators of waste in the world and all levels of government are aware behaviours, process, and products need to change to help reduce what we send to landfill. And it's happening, albeit a little slowly.

Most of our local Councils around Australia, the ones in charge of collecting residential waste and recycling, are focusing on getting organics out the landfill by introducing FOGO collections and tackling food waste. Rightly so, food waste can make up to 40% of our bins a home. As more FOGO rolls out and the system is working (ie, limited contaminates) the landfill bin collections will inevitably be moved to fortnightly.

After food, the next organic waste to land in or bins is the contents inside nappies and sanitary items. When any Council has announced their plan for fortnightly landfill pick up the most common complaint is disposable nappies. You can read what residents said in Golden Plains Shire Council and City of Penrith recently. It's a fair concern for those using disposable and biodegradable nappies.

Disposable nappies (including biodegradable nappies because they are single-use and also go to landfill unless they are collected separately) make up 4% of our landfills in Australia. With a child going through 6,000-7,000 nappies before toilet training, that is a significant amount of waste being picked up each week. Then there is the fact most disposals nappies require resources like oil to make the plastic, old growth forests for the inner lining, chemicals used inside to create that absorbency, plastic packaging, shipping of materials to factories for processing, and of course transport to stores AND the diesel fuelled garbage trucks to take it all away. Oh, and the energy needed to travel to the store to buy the product each time. Now think about all of this then apply it to menstrual and sanitary products.

That's not to say cloth nappies don't have an environmental impact, they do. But compared to disposables it's far less and will outperform when sold on for a second use or in the case of menstrual and sanitary products used for three-five years. The secondhand nappy market in Australia is HUGE, you'll find it mainly on Facebook through specific groups, marketplaces, and Gumtree.

On top of nappies being a huge part of our landfill, they are also in the top three contaminates in our recycling bins. I have heard from those in the recycling industry its getting worse and might be to do with the flashy words like 'Eco-friendly' or 'Recyclable' or “Biodegradable” are put on boxes and the everyday person assumes all eco things go into the recycling bin.

Encouraging the use of reusables, like cloth nappies and sanitary products, will ultimately save Councils money that could go back into health and wellbeing programs

According to Real Nappies for London, nine Local Councils in London collectively saved over £320k in waste costs in four years from the cloth nappy rebates they offered. I don't have data for Councils in Australia as many are looking at ways to track this sufficiently. 

Since nappy and sanitary product waste is big in volume, providing residents a reward has its merits especially when those products, say cloth nappies are passed onto someone else. For someone like me who actively tries to throw nothing into my landfill bin (or recycling!) my efforts are not rewarded and I still have to pay the rates for a service I use rarely.

A rebate is not a demand for all parents to use cloth nappies or people to buy cloth pads

I was a parent that went back to work full time when my child was three months, and I understand how exhausting parenting can be. I would be lying if disposables weren't appealing on some of those days. And truthfully it was my husband that did a lot of it and some of us don't have that extra help.

A parent for example could find out through their Maternal Health meetings (run by Councils) that their local Council provides a rebate...they might not take it up, BUT could end up looking into other ways to reduce their footprint like a Toy Library, shopping secondhand, taking their own produce bags, volunteering for Landcare. It's all connected.

Here are steps to get started on your local campaign:

1. Start a petition

I created my petition for my own Council on change.org - http://chng.it/7YyS2dYc

Most Councils prefer physical petitions as it's easier to track those signing are actually from local residents. But because of Covid I decided to go with an electronic option. The petition was shared in local facebook groups and my own page. You can use parts of my petition to make your own.

**My petition is not one addressed to all Councils. If you want a rebate for your Council, then someone from your area needs to start one. I can't on your behalf since I don't live in your municipality. 

Below are a list of petitions in Australia:


Paula McIntosh, Principal of Melbourne Girls College has also started a petition asking for free reusable sanitary products in schools. Show your support for Paula's campaign by following on Facebook, facebook.com/EcoFriendlyPeriods4VicSchools.

2. Letter to Councillors signed by multiple residents

An option outside of the petition or to run alongside is to create a letter signed by multiple residents to help strengthen the cause. This could be a group of friends or reaching out to likeminded residents in a Facebook group.

3. Start talking to your Council

Now you've started your petition or sent your group letter (or both!) it's time to find a Councillor you believe will help your cause. If you are not familiar with your local Councillors go to their social media, read their bios on the Council website, or ask in a eco Facebook group or parents group who they think would be an ally. If you have one aligned with sustainability it will be easier. Send them an email telling them your plan to start a petition and if they would like to submit the petition for you once its completed. When I did this my local Councillor suggested I give a presentation to all Councillors at a Public Forum.

4. A Public Forum presentation

This is an opportunity to put together a brief powerpoint (or not) and tell them why you believe Council should act on this. It's mainly an opportunity to educate. I only had three-five minutes to talk and shared four slides sharing what is a rebate program, why reusables are better for the environment, what will Council get out of it and what's in it for residents. 

Don't be nervous, Councillors are regular people. If you would like to see my presentation msg me and I'll pass it on.

5. Contact a local paper

Want to know a secret about newspapers? They are always looking for stories. Always. So contact away and tell them about your petition. If this blog post inspires five petitions in Victoria or ten across the Australia I'll pitch to a news outlet on our behalf. Often, stories in local newspapers can end up on the bigger news sites, since they are all connected. The Whitsunday's petition was a local story that went onto the larger ABC site. Don't be nervous about pitching stories. The worst is they say no.


The Councils below would be worth campaigning as they have been actively researching rebate programs and/or are running cloth nappy and menstrual product education seminars recently:
  • Yarra Ranges Shire Council (VIC)
  • Knox City Council (VIC)
  • Greater Dandenong Council (VIC)
  • Frankston City Council (VIC)
  • Hobsons Bay City Council (VIC)
  • Maribrynong City Council (VIC)
  • Boroondara and the Councils (VIC)
  • Mildura Rural City Council (VIC)
  • Shire of Indigo (VIC)
  • Shire of Towong (VIC)
  • City of, Wodonga (VIC)
  • City of Albury (NSW)
  • Greater Hume Shire (NSW)
  • Shire of Federation (NSW)
  • Penrith City Council (NSW)

Campaigns can be a slow game, sometimes. At the moment I'm going to continue sharing my petition in local groups, and then in a couple of months ask a Councillor to present it. Since my Council is more conservative than progressive, they might turn this down. That's the risk of fighting for something you believe in, it can get turned down. I do believe in planting seeds and I know the collective action can work. Councils talk to each other, they are often part of region based groups within their States. If you do start your own petition or contact your Council, let me know via social media (for some reason my comments don't work anymore on my blog??) so I can add it to this blog post and share with others. There is power in numbers. 

While this blog post is directed at Aussies, I'd love to know if anyone from anywhere else has a go too. 

Good luck :)

I'd like to thank City of Casey for providing so much help in my own research and understanding for this topic. Thank you!!!
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