Make the most of waste by the Auckland Council

Nappy workshop spurs centre makeover

Published: Monday 13 March 2017

When three years ago Sharon Stephens sat down to attend an Auckland Council-run workshop on the virtues of cloth nappies with the Nappy Lady Kate Meads, little did she know it would initiate a complete mind shift in the way she conducted business.

Stephens is the owner and operator of Tamariki Ataahua Early Learning Centre in Panmure, Auckland. A veteran of 30 years in early childhood education, Stephens began her career during the era of cloth nappies, transitioned to disposables, and has now come full circle.

“The thing that really struck me was the waste – the volume of disposable nappies which go to landfill and take however many thousands of years to break down.”

So when she and her husband Sean opened Tamariki Ataahua in February 2014, it was with cupboards bursting with reusable nappies, provided on loan as part of the free Auckland Council cloth nappy trial. Later, she bought more on Trademe.

Her staff, some of whom were sceptical, were sent along to the same workshop with The Nappy Lady, and that was that. The staff are now all passionate advocates, and practice what they preach; three staff members have had their own children in the past two years, and all of those children are in cloth nappies.

It wasn’t only the staff who had to be won over. “Some of the parents had their doubts, too,” laughs Stephens, “but I was adamant that was the way we were going to go.”

With approximately 25 children using nappies in the Centre at any given time, Tamariki Ataahua prevents around 80 nappies going into landfill each day, and saves around $60 a day – a direct financial benefit to the community of parents using the facility.

“The parents don’t have to buy disposable nappies. We take care of everything – washing and drying – right here.”

It has meant extra expense for Stephens – she bought a dedicated washing machine for the purpose, for instance – but the huge reduction in waste makes it all worth it.

“Once we had the cloth nappies in place, of course we started wondering what else we could do.”

That led to a host of other waste minimisation initiatives, and a self-perpetuating drive to constantly review and improve on wasteful practices.

First up was the elimination of paper towels, replaced by washable facecloths (washed in a separate machine to the nappies).
The Centre’s waste was audited, as part of the council nappy trial, including assessing the kitchen waste. Food scraps are now taken care of through the use of a hungry bin worm farm and a dozen bokashi bins, and plans for a compost bin are being drawn up.

Funding for the worm farm came through Auckland Council’s Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund. The Centre is soon to expand to the neighbouring property and Stephens has even larger ambitions in the future. She hopes to one day build a purpose-build childcare facility, complete with solar panels, rainwater collection, and extensive vegetable gardens. 

Giving cloth nappies a go

Every year eight early childcare centres in the Auckland region can take part in Auckland Council’s free cloth nappy trials.

The participating centres are provided with loan kits of modern cloth nappies to use for an eight-week period, along with waste audits at the beginning and end of the trial.

“It’s an opportunity to give it a go, with very little risk to the centre,” says Sharon. Participating centres also receive support and advice from the Nappy Lady and council’s community Wastewise team about nappy use, improving recycling and dealing with food waste.

Find out more here