Flat White

Free things are not a ‘nappy’ thought, councillor

26 February 2022

1:47 PM

26 February 2022

1:47 PM

Buoyed by thoughts that Labor might actually be getting its act together, one of Sydney’s Inner West councils has come up with another of those ‘sounds good, feels good, doesn’t work’ notions. This time it’s the distribution of free cloth nappies and free tampons.

As a solo mum in the Seventies, I remember cloth nappies with a shudder – white terry towelling cloth squares that you fastened with a large safety pin (‘safety’ meaning that if flesh came into contact with the point of the pin, it was your fingers, rather than the baby’s buttocks that felt the pain).

After you had folded the triangular square and pinned it into place, you had to fit your squirming infant into plastic pants or risk the contents of the cloth nappy leaking out all over your person, your baby, and whatever piece of furniture you both might occupy at the time.

Over time, with use, white nappies took on an alarming yellowish tinge or faded to a dismal grey, eventually to be relegated to floor scrubbers or under the dog’s bowl. Oceans of bleach were needed to soak cloth nappies – more lidded buckets called into play – to whiten them to the shade your mother-in-law would approve of.


The ALP-dominated Inner West Council has approved a $222,000 scheme to dispense free tampons through machines at libraries, swimming pools, and toilets while contemplating a $100 rebate ‘on the purchase of re-usable nappies’.

Inner West councillor Philippa Scott went public, proclaiming, ‘Subsidising reusable nappies and sanitary products is a small part of Inner West Labor’s campaign to make the Inner West waste-free.’ Scott obviously didn’t envisage the amounts of waste – smelly, gluggy, runny, green or brown (depending on what your kid had for its last meal) stuff that accumulates in a cloth nappy. With cloth nappies, you can’t just fold them and pitch the contents into the washing machine.

No, you have to scrape that ‘waste’ into something, a plastic bucket, preferably with lid, or if you’re on the ground floor, the geraniums, hoping the dog won’t smell it.

Free tampons have been tried in Canberra. I once walked into a public toilet block and surprised a trio of teenage girls filling their blazer pockets with the rainbow coloured tampons some trusting soul had left with a charming little note, ‘for the homeless’.

Subsidising cloth nappies and free tampons to reduce waste in cities is, like communism, an excellent idea in theory, it just doesn’t work in practice.

If the ‘re-usable nappies’ rebate goes ahead, I predict a rush of women claiming the rebate, which they will probably use to purchase disposable ones.

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