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  • FINALIST : Environment
  • Award Year: 2019
  • Nominee URL:

Baby diapers are high-tech products made from different types of plastic and cellulose. Each child uses 4500 pieces. Up to 10% of the household waste are made up by disposable diapers. For Germany the amount is estimated at 575.000 tons every year, and rising. All the waste is burned or goes to landfill.
1. The Product DYCLE designed and tested a two-component system with washable outer pants and compostable inlays which is ready for controlled roll-out. The outer pants are made of durable and washable materials. The focus is on the inlay. The starting point was the selection of a portfolio of readily available materials: untreated wood cellulose, bio-plastic from non-food sources, natural fibers from recycling schemes,and functional additives like charcoal and coffee grounds. The look and feel of the inlays are comparable to the commercial ones. The inlays fit the body of the baby, offering comfort and skin healing (charcoal), while controlling odor (coffee grounds). The key objective is to keep the nutrients active, readily transformed into soil, known as Black Earth, which has been used in traditional cultures in Latin America and Europe. 2. Distribution and Collection DYCLE builds on neighborhood communities of parents. The diaper inlays are distributed and recollected at meeting points in agreement with the local authorities. This includes kindergartens, public parks, art centers, within one kilometer from home. This permits to operate efficiently in “high baby density” areas, and promote contacts among parents, who receive fresh inlays once every week provided they bring back the soiled ones. Each home has 2 diaper buckets. One with inlays, one with charcoal powder, natural yeast to control smell and improve the breakdown of used diapers. This system has been tested, operated and improved in Berlin since 2015. 3. The soil: Terra Preta The soiled diapers are transported from the collection point to an accredited composter. Terra Preta is rich in carbon, the highly porous charcoal helps for the propagation of beneficial microorganisms and fungi. It stores more water and delivers nutrients to and from the plants roots and is a stable carbon sink turning an emission problem into a soil enrichment. The process of hygienisation of used diapers starts with an anaerobic fermentation followed by a blending of the processed baby matter with other organic material like kitchen waste. This is subjected to vermicompost. The complete 100% natural process takes one year. 4. Planting trees Terra Preta soil is perfect for planting fruit and nut trees. The total biomass diverted from waste, and transformed into rich soil by one baby is enough for 1000 trees. Fruit trees from indigenous species enhance biodiversity and provide an abundance of fruits, while these create a canopy, that permits better absorption and filtration of rainwater into the ground. When taking off in many communities there will not be enough communal or city-owned land, the city will convert into the edible city, and a food belt will over time cover the peri-urban zones. This will enhance drinking water for the city, and supply healthy and organic food in abundance. 5. Local Production of Inlays The abundance of many core resources permits the set-up of a local production unit. The production system has been inspired by the waffle machine where a sandwich of biodegradable plastics, and a carefully chosen mix is heat sealed and shaped to the specifications of the baby. We started designing a marketplace where parents can find the nearest group, and find approved local fibers. The greatest challenge is that more than 30 countries want to start and we need to prepare for the open source transfer of the business model, ready to adjust to local conditions.
We do change the society within changing the system. The diaper is not a final product anymore but a tool to transform waste into soil, into trees, into fruits.
We have now probably the right recipe of materials, the right processes, the right production tool are some of the main challenges, as none of what we do exists on the market and what does exist on the market cannot be used to produce our inlays. Then to find the proper business model, creating enough revenues, are also some of the challenges today. This solution requests also a real and radical change in the behavior and involvement of the parents, probably in some cases a barrier and in other a challenge.
Can you imagine a child growing up in a community of 30 families? 60 adults know all the names of the children and they plant 1000 trees together. What do you think – how will these children look at the world, when they grow up?

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