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Newborns at a West Auckland maternity hospital will sport a new look as part of a scheme to put fewer nappies in landfills.

From today, babies born at Waitakere Hospital's maternity department will wear cloth nappies until they leave hospital - a change organisers say could save 80,000 nappies going to landfill each year.

Parents leaving the hospital with their babies will have the choice of hiring a cloth nappy kit at half the usual price, or switching to disposables.

West Auckland Health Services Foundation's Dr Nicole Bassett said using cloth nappies could cut the household waste of a family with one baby in half.

The foundation and Waitakere City Council decided to switch to cloth nappies after a three-month pilot scheme saved about 20,000 nappies going to landfill.

Dr Bassett said feedback from the pilot scheme showed cloth nappies were not difficult to use and did not cost the hospital significantly more than disposable nappies.

Parents who picture themselves struggling with pins and squares of fabric might be pleasantly surprised at the new breed of cloth nappies.

Dr Bassett said modern versions came prefolded in different shapes and sizes and fastened neatly with velcro.

The hospital will continue to offer disposables to parents, but will encourage them to use cloth at least some of the time. A study on the environmental effects of nappies published by Britain's Environment Agency late last year showed the effect of cloth nappies on global warming depended largely on how they were laundered.

Cloth nappies washed in very hot water (90C) and tumble-dried every time they were used produced more carbon dioxide over their lifespan than the equivalent number of disposable nappies. But cloth nappies that were line-dried outdoors, washed in fuller loads and reused for a second child used 40 per cent less carbon dioxide than other nappies.

The West Auckland Health Services Foundation and Waitakere City Council are suggesting parents wash cloth nappies in cold water and dry them outside to save energy.

Figures compiled by the Zero Waste New Zealand Trust and used by the Waitakere City Council said disposable nappies used 3.5 times more energy, eight times more non-renewable raw materials, and 90 times more renewable materials than washable nappies.

The figures also showed that it took as much energy to produce one throwaway nappy as it did to wash a cloth nappy 200 times.