This article was published in The Beam #6 — Subscribe now for more on the topic.
Our modern lifestyle of convenience and comfort has created a lot of wasteful products, with one of them being the most innocent of items that only the smallest of our population use. Yes, we are talking about baby diapers.
On average, one baby uses about 4,500 diapers, with the result being about 500 kg of waste and 500 kg of CO2 created. The numbers are in fact probably higher if we consider the whole supply chain and all aspects of distribution.
Of course, there has to be a better solution.
Product innovation alone doesn’t solve the problem, and should instead go together with system innovation. Much of our current way of recycling is often focused on the most cost effective way and not on the quality of materials. We are effectively creating a one-way road where the biggest portion of materials are reduced to less and less until it is waste in the end. “Thermal recycling” is just another way of saying: we don’t have a real solution, so let’s just burn it, like we did for centuries before.
Germany is famous for its recycling system. However, most of the collected plastic was exported to China until recently. Despite the elaborate system, the materials are not kept in the circle but shipped elsewhere. Out of sight, out of mind. Same goes for all the electronics waste exported to Africa in huge amounts. If the system does not change, there is no incentive to improve the products.
So, how about diapers?
Disposable diapers have been called a liberation for parents since their invention in the 1960s. On the other hand, they create a huge amount of waste and parents are concerned about skin problems.
With DYCLE, we turn diaper inlays into fertile soil. The design of the diaper starts from the aim of creating value, not just avoiding waste. This is a big difference. We want to increase the quality of materials during the cycle.
Parents are the most important actors here. The values they introduce to their children will shape how the next generation will treat the environment later. So why not start right at the beginning?
Our system uses a two-component system the same as cloth diapers. The washable outer pants are combined with a compostable inlay that is collected and then turned into Terra Preta soil substrate. During the collection, charcoal powder is added, preventing bad smells and starting the transformation process already.
The DYCLE system is aimed at neighborhood communities of parents rather than individual customers, as the diaper inlays are distributed and recollected at meeting points in neighborhoods. Parents receive fresh inlays once every week and bring back the used ones. The collection points can be kindergartens and community centers, which allows parents to meet with other families and exchange useful information or swap used clothes and toys.
It takes longer to set up a new system than selling a new product. But we think it is worth the effort.
By Ayumi Matsuzaka, Founder of DYCLE