The Montreal borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is trying to persuade young families to switch to reusable diapers, setting off a debate over the merits of the move. 

The borough is offering rebates to people who switch to cloth and families who qualify can get a rebate of $100.

Karine Boivin Roy, councillor for the Louis-Riel district in Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, said a reusable diaper kit can cost anywhere between $450 and $650.

She said making the switch can save a family up to $1,000 over a few years.

Boivin-Roy said the subsidy is also designed to cut down on the amount of waste in landfills.

“This program supports two of our priorities,” she told CBC's Radio Noon.

“It supports families and their children in our borough. And as well, it’s a matter of protecting the environment and supporting sustainable development.”

To get the subsidy, parents will have to show they have a child in diapers, as well as prove they have purchased or rented cloth diapers.

In total, the borough is investing $8,000 in the program.

Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is the third Montreal borough to try the program, following in the footsteps of Verdun and Ville-Marie, as well as the off-island suburb of Vaudreuil-Dorion.

Costs and benefits

Steve Shanahan, a councillor for the Peter McGill district in Ville-Marie, said the program has proven successful in his borough.

While it may not be a panacea, Shanahan said cloth diapers have a positive impact.

“I don’t think anyone can argue switching to cloth diapers is going to save mother earth and keep the ice caps in place, but it’s a way to help people start making those steps,” he said.

But Naomi Charron, a Mile End resident who used a mix of cloth and regular diapers with her son, said people shouldn’t be quick to judge a family’s decision either way.

She said the environmental benefits aren’t entirely clear cut, given the water and electricity required to keep cloth diapers clean.

"We really have be open-minded and let people make the decision that’s right for them," she said.

"A parent of a newborn child has a lot to do — and doesn't get much sleep."

Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve hopes the program proves popular enough to continue after 2015.