Disposable diapers are easy to buy and parents do not need to wash and dry anything. They offer a solution when children are raised by more than one person. But they are also enormously polluting and cause children to become toilet trained later on. Reasons enough to look at alternatives.
Disposable diapers absorb better and better, but due to suberabsorbers, children do not feel wetness and therefore less likely the need to sit on the potty. As a result, children in our western society are only becoming toilet trained increasingly later. Globally, sales of disposable diapers has grown from less than $20 billion in 2004 to more than $50 billion in 2017.
Children toilet trained at a a later age
In concrete terms, children are now toilet trained seven to twelve months later than about 30 years ago. A survey in 2017 among primary school pupils shows that 4% of the children who go to year 1, are not toilet trained. That’s one child per kindergarten class. Teachers don’t like this, of course. In addition, two children aged four to seven regularly have a ‘little accident’ in class. (Source: Nederland Centrum Jeugdgezondheid (Netherlands Youth Health Centre))
Psychological cause toilet training
In addition to the pleasant sensation of a soft disposable diaper, there may also be a psychological cause, causing children to have problems becoming toilet trained. Think of a divorce, the birth of a new baby in the family, fear, etc. But this is only a very small percentage. In 97 percent of the cases no physical cause is found, in other words it is a change in behaviour. If children are not yet toilet trained before they go to school, the Baby clinic offers help. It is also possible to make an appointment with the pediatric gastrointestinal clinic.
When to start toilet training
Due to the disposable diaper industry, many toilet training tips are lost while it is possible to toilet train children from the age of nine months! This is substantiated by a Swedish study by the Sahlgrenska Academy that followed mothers and their babies in Vietnam for two years. There they start much earlier with the toilet training, namely right from birth, where they work with a certain flute technique.
It is important to know that children need to learn that they experience their toilet routine as something normal and positive without developing fears. During this process, a good, relaxed sitting posture is important. In addition to the potties, there are useful aids: toilet seat reducers, regular toilet seats with integrated children’s seats and toilet trainers with a 3-in-1 function: potty, toilet trainer and a toilet seat reducer.
Durability of diapers
Children are now changed five to six times a day. This is far too often according to sustainability manager Bart Waterschoot. With today’s good diapers, changing them three times a day should be enough, he says. This also ensures a lot less waste. To study the sustainability of diapers, the science magazine Eos went looking for the most sustainable diapers. It considered the transparency of the manufacturers, the results and efforts in terms of sustainability. The private label diapers of Jumbo, Kruidvat, Etos and Albert Heijn came out best from the test. These manufacturers are actively committed to human rights and the environment, Eos reports. Other major brands and supermarkets did not want to cooperate in this study.
What about diaper recycling?
Ecological diapers with biodegradable materials are on the rise. Yet no diaper can really be called durable. This is because used diapers are difficult to recycle due to the plastics they contain. After two years of testing, there is a diaper recycling plant at waste processing company ARN in Nijmegen. Diapers and contents are heated after which the substances can be separated into four new raw materials: green gas, plastic, biomass and fertilizer. It is the second time they have tried to recycle diapers. About ten years ago, the first diapers were collected and processed at Knowaste in Arnhem from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, but the project had to be stopped. The plant suffered from rising energy prices and falling prices for the incineration of waste on which American shareholders pulled the plug on the project. The big problem with diaper recycling is to make it profitable. The technical process in the plant costs more energy than it generates and the costs do not outweigh the revenues.
Meanwhile, experts wonder to what extent toxic substances and disease processors such as bacteria, viruses and drug residues including antibiotics, hormones and radioactive iodine are actually broken down during the recycling of regular and incontinence diapers. The National Institute for Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM) has been researching this since 2017.
Washable diapers: the alternative
Parents that are even slightly environmentally conscious, consider whether or not to use washable diapers. Washable diapers are soft, they breathe and are comfortable. The materials of which the diapers are made, are according to the current environmental standards. There are diapers made of bamboo, synthetic fibre and ecological cotton. Handy, biodegradable wipes collect stools and, depending on the brand, may be flushed down the toilet. A washable diaper is durable, it reduces the diaper pile and ensures that children become toilet-trained at an earlier stage, because they feel ‘wetness’ sooner. Milieu Centraal calculated that the average cost of a disposable diaper is 1310 euros, while the cost of a washable diaper is 830 euros (with an initial investment of 400 euros). These amounts are calculated taking into account that the disposable diaper and the washable diaper are used an equally long period of time. Children are more likely to be toilet trained with washable diapers, so the benefit can be even greater.
Are washable diapers really better for the environment?
Milieu Centraal investigated the extent to which washable diapers are now better for the environment than disposable diapers. The use of water, air and water pollution, greenhouse gases and land use were taken into account. Cotton plantations take up seven times more land for disposable diapers than the land for washable diapers. Both the washable and disposable diaper cost a lot of water to produce. Even organic cotton needs a lot of water to grow and this also goes for making wood pulp and plastic from petroleum for the disposable diaper. In addition, washable diapers still need to be washed. And then there is the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides in the cultivation of cotton. So far the diapers don’t differ that much. Only with diapers made of organic cotton and the EKO and GOTS quality mark, you can be sure that no chemicals and artificial fertilizer have been used.
But if you look at energy consumption and greenhouse gases, there are big differences. Producing disposable diapers costs more energy. Even without using the dryer it takes 2.5 times more energy. It is also possible to save energy by washing at 40 degrees instead of 60. And the environmental benefits continue to grow as more children in a family use washable diapers.
Washable diapers tested by municipalities
The use of disposable diapers generates 140 million kilos of dirty diapers annually. That’s about 260 kilos a year per child with five diapers a day. So it’s not surprising that municipalities are looking for alternatives. In 2015, the municipality of Hengelo conducted a research into the matter and made washable diapers available to 50 parents; the parents had to do the washing themselves. The results were positive: 67% of the users thought it was a positive experience, 14% wanted to go all the way and 53% wanted to participate only part-time. One third (33%) of the participants decided to quit. Parents see the potential savings (500 to 700 euros), but more can be done to improve the image of the washable diaper, this research showed. In the meantime, trials have been carried out in Heerenveen, Rotterdam, Schiedam and Hoogeveen.
Turning the tide
Melanie Weidner of Kaatje Katoen reports the following about the experience with washable diapers: We notice more and more that people have heard of washable diapers or know someone who uses them. However, there are still a lot of people with a lot of prejudices who don’t want to have anything to do with it. The main reason parents state why they want to use washable diapers is because it saves waste. The cost will be taken into account but is not actively mentioned as a reason. Maybe this is related to the large investment made at the beginning of the baby’s life’? To really turn the tide so that people become enthusiastic about the use of washable diapers, we still have a few things to do according to Kaatje Katoen: We think that politicians should actually take measures and do something about waste and the use of disposables. Now people aren’t stimulated enough to try something different. In addition, we believe that municipalities should also provide subsidies, because the waste problem is also their problem and even set an objective for municipalities in 2020. We are happy to enter into discussions with municipalities to help them think of solutions to the waste problem. Where waste tax is introduced, we see that residents also start thinking about alternatives themselves’.
What will the future bring us when it comes to mobility and caring for babies and children? I’m a fan of ‘science fiction’, so don’t be surprised if we move in a completely different way than we do now. Tests are already being done with sending packages via drones and there are cars that you don’t have to drive yourself. The time we will start moving ourselves by floating in small units or in a hyper loop through tubes may not be as far away as we think. Developments are going fast, but what about the transport of small children? And what else awaits us with the layette product development? Below I will set out a number of trends for families of the future:
Electric and recyclable buggies
A recyclable buggy or an electrically powered stroller? That’s not rocket science anymore, they’re already here. A forward-looking designer came up with a stroller made entirely of recyclable plastics. This stroller is also easy to assemble and can be assembled locally. There is a stroller whose parts are 80% recyclable and screws have been used instead of rivets, so parents can easily replace a part themselves. And now the first electrically powered stroller has been launched to help parents when you need to walk up or down a slope. Smart sensors in the push bar help to push or stop and provide the right support. Today’s strollers have large integrated sunshades, subdued colours, black frames and offer the possibility to personalise your stroller.
Maybe in 2050, a stroller won’t be as convenient anymore if we transport ourselves floating in units or in tubes, except if there’s a shell floating behind you like baby Yoda in the Mandalorian. In that case, a hightech baby carrier might be a lot more convenient!
Modular car seats
In the car seat industry, safety, functionality and comfort are the keywords. The latest car seats comply with the latest EU guidelines and are i-Size proof, that means based on the height of the child instead of weight, using Isofix to secure and transport the child backwards for as long as possible, which is the safest way. But more and more rotating car seats are also appearing, which is useful when taking your child in and out. Everyone knows the problem of heavy car seats. One solution are the modular car seats with a removable reducer that makes it easy to lift the baby out of the car and carry it close to you. The scale and chassis remain in the car.
Digi baby and smart nurseries: is technology taking over?
We also find more and more technology in the baby’s room. Think of scales, night lights with a sleep programme, ultrasound devices that you can use at home, socks that measure the heart rate and watch over the baby as well as smart nurseries, baby monitors with various functions such as camera, lullabies and room temperature meter that can be connected to smartphone, tablet or computer. The newest of the new are baby monitors that follow the baby’s development. These data can be shared with family and maternity care as desired. And for parents who have a crying baby and are tired of lulling, a cradle with 5 built-in cradle movements might be the solution!
The function of the baby clinics of measuring and weighing is therefore increasingly being taken over by technology that parents bring in themselves. How do we deal with this? And to what extent do parents learn to trust their own intuition? Given the risk of hacking products, the privacy of data is another point of attention.
Mimicking the mother breast
Breastfeeding is ‘fine’, but there are increasingly better feeding bottles on the market that resemble the mother’s breast in shape, length and feel. This means that these bottles are anatomically formed and therefore the risk of nipple confusion is becoming smaller and smaller. In order not to keep children waiting too long for their bottle, there are devices with which you can make a bottle of milk like a cup of coffee at the push of a button. There are also flasks that work with pressure and massage to imitate the baby’s sucking technique. Rotating breast shields with a wider opening angle provide extra comfort and more milk yield, Instead of sterilising the flasks in the microwave or with hot water or steam, flasks, dummy teats and other articles can now be sterilised at lightning speed with UVC LED, a completely new technique.
Sharing a layette instead of buying one?
Possessions becomes less important, so we don’t want to stuff our house with products anymore. Especially young parents think more about the earth we leave to our children and grandchildren. Why does every parent have to buy a complete, expensive layette that is only used for such a short period of time? Sharing products or leasing together is already done for cars and bicycles. It saves money, is good for the environment and this development will take off. Certain baby products lend themselves well to the sharing economy, such as a playpen, bedstead, high chair, buggy and toys. That explains the rise of babytheques; a library for baby equipment and organisations where you can lease baby products, such as Wheely, Mr Beetle and BabyLoop.
In our baby market, however, there are products that are not so easy to share from a hygienic point of view, such as baby bottles, teats, tubes and breast shields of flasks and mattresses. Safety is also an issue, because it is difficult to assess whether a car seat was previously involved in an accident and is therefore no longer safe…
Sustainability in the baby market
It’s great to see more and more thought being given to the use of sustainable materials and designs. It is a great thing to breathe new life into baby products. I already mentioned the recyclable buggy above, but there are now nursery bags as well that you can use for a long time, from diaper bag to school and work bag, made from eco leather and recycled PET bottles. Another example are building blocks made of durable material that can be used by children from 0 to 6 years old!
Looking at the clothing label to see if its origin is stated, doing the shopping with as little packaging as possible, looking for alternatives for energy, using washable diapers. More and more consumers are concerned with sustainability and buying green products. Is the trade responding sufficiently to this?
Sustainability: more than sustainable materials
Sustainability goes far beyond the use of sustainable materials such as PET bottles and organic cotton that are used in fabrics, or planting a tree at the birth of a child and reusing packaging material. We are increasingly seeing new initiatives coming onto the market that relate to second-hand trading, leasing or exchanging. Instead of buying and owning products, a sharing economy is gradually emerging. Certain categories of baby articles, with their short use time, are also very suitable for leasing and reuse. Therefore, below, to inspire sustainable initiatives and interviews with sustainable entrepreneurs in our market.
Second hand fairs in Belgium
Second-hand trade fairs, such as those held in Belgium by the Gezinsbond (organisation representing families), are held on a regular basis. Volunteers from almost 900 local groups annually organise 850 family fairs in Flanders and Brussels, says Kurt Jacobs of the Gezinsbond.be. Not only are families being helped to save on their family budget and is it a meeting place between families and generations, but one of the goals is also to work towards a more sustainable world.
Get some children’s clothes
Outgrown children’s clothing? Since 2012, consumers have been able to use this site to exchange children’s items that are too small for a package that suits the current age of their children. From children’s clothing, toys, books, accessories for the children’s room, but also strollers, car seats and playpens.
Because the voluntary organisation noticed that consumers would like to see the products for a moment, it was decided in 2014 to organise various exchange points in the country. Krijgdekleertjes.nl
Babytheek (Babytheque): making sustainable baby equipment accessible to the general public
Another good example of a sustainable economy is the Babytheque in Belgium. Used baby equipment is not thrown away but given a new lease of life. A membership is not only reserved for those on a tight budget, but the Babytheque is open to all young parents, grandparents and grandmothers, compound families, single people, rich or poor. Anyone can become a member of this library for baby equipment. The organization wants to offer a solution for people who live small. You borrow what you need and what is no longer needed can be returned. At the same time, people learn more about sharing products instead of owning things. And it’s a meeting place for young parents. babytheek.be
A little shocked by all the stuff you have to buy when a child is born and the space it takes up, Piet Huige set up Wheely. You can conclude a lease contract with Wheely for a new or second-hand stroller. So far, that’s only possible for Greentom. Initially, only the frame with carrycot is sent, after six months the seat is sent free of charge and the customer can return the carrycot in the same packaging. gowheely.com
Leasing children’s furniture and wooden toys via Mr Beetle
Astrid Oversier is the founder of the rental platform Mr Beetle. Parents can rent children’s furniture and wooden toys here. The idea for this platform was born five years ago after the birth of her eldest son. ‘After 4 months my son slept in his own room and we put his cradle away. After six months, he didn’t fit into the Tummy Tub anymore. And after his first birthday we bought a child safety seat and the Maxi-Cosi was no longer needed. We put the Maxi-Cosi away and it was placed next to the box, the camp bed and the rocker because we didn’t need it anymore either. I didn’t realize during my pregnancy that we would only use a lot of these children’s items for such a short time “And certainly not that this stuff would be in my shed longer than it was being used.’
She’ll tell you how Mr. Beetle works. ‘Mr Beetle is an online rental platform where parents can rent children’s furniture and wooden toys. As soon as a child loses interest in the toy or the toy is no longer in line with his or her development, the articles can be sent back to Mr. Beetle. “All products are neatly cleaned and are returned to the assortment. She’s continues: In addition to the fact that renting is much more sustainable, it also offers other advantages. As a parent, you don’t have to spend any more time selling, giving away or taking away the old children’s items. It’s also nice and easy that you can return the stuff, so you have more (storage) space.’
Leasing baby equipment at BabyLoop
Ilse Habraken, founder of BabyLoop, investigated the concept of leasing baby equipment during her son’s leave. ‘Since you only need a large part of the baby equipment such as co-sleeper, baby’s nest, etc. for a short period of time, you can easily use your products several times, it costs a lot of money and we live in our Amsterdam apartment of 80m2 without any storage space for all the baby equipment, I knew that there had to be a smarter way to deal with this problem! And BabyLoop – the sustainable initiative to reuse baby products – was born. What I really like is that in BabyLoop I can express my passion for sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship!’, says Ilse.
How BabyLoop works
She explains how her concept works: ‘BabyLoop leases baby products to families. By giving our products multiple lives, we ensure that our baby products are used optimally. If one item is used by more than one child, we believe we are contributing to a better world! If a product is no longer suitable for leasing, we will give it to a charity such as BecauseWeCarry or Stichting Bullenbank. The assortment consists of baby equipment that you use during the first year of your life and that takes up a lot of space (such as a playpen or bath) or is expensive to buy (co-sleeper and bouncer). We select products on the basis of quality and the use of sustainable materials.
It works as follows: Consumers select products they want to receive, new or refurbished, then schedule the delivery and receive it at home. After use, the products can be sent back to us. The products are thoroughly cleaned and checked and redirected to other families. Our revenue model is very simple: p (price) x q (quantity). The lease price for the baby products x the number of months you lease our products. The turnover covers the costs.’
Circle of Parents makes second-hand children’s clothing the standard
A year ago, three students David Soester, Julius van Dijk and Lucas van Straalen met in a study programme at the University of Amsterdam. ‘We talked about the idea of renting out football boots to children. We all played soccer and remembered very well that our parents always had to buy expensive, new soccer shoes because we had already grown out of our shoes. This could be a lot more durable and cheaper, we thought. But we discovered that the problem was much bigger, we kept hearing that parents were not satisfied with the current alternatives to buying or selling second-hand children’s clothing. More than a hundred interviews with parents later, we decided to create an online platform where parents can easily, quickly and safely buy and sell second-hand children’s clothing.’
Online platform for used clothing
Selling is easy, says David. ‘You can upload an item of clothing within one minute, take a picture, fill in information about the item and you’re done. Once another parent has decided to order your clothes, all you have to do is print out the shipping label and take the package to the post office.
Buying works exactly the way that parents are used to in a first-class webshop,’ says David. ‘Parents quickly find what they’re looking for through the filter system. In addition, a buyer is always sure of the quality of clothing on the platform. Partly because of the review system and our check, there is always a good offer on the website. Should something go wrong, the buyer will get his or her money back. Circle of Parents works with a commission model, which means that sellers give up 10% of the sales amount and buyers pay €2 service costs.’