Goodbye Disposables: It’s A New Era For Cloth Diapers
Dad invents machine and detergent to end the mess and smell for parents
Cloth diapers could be making a comeback thanks to a breakthrough process that spares parents from both the mess and smell.
A unique combination of machinery and detergent pods now makes it possible to completely sanitize full diapers.
Tel Aviv-based startup Pika has developed a small washing machine that it leases to parents with a monthly supply of special detergent pods. The machine doubles as a diaper bin and can clean up to 10 soiled diapers in two hours, with no scraping required.
“Our goal is to make reusable and cloth diapers easier for every parent, and make it much more common than it is now,” says Alon Cohen, CEO and Co-founder.
The process uses less energy and generates less waste and greenhouse gases – making it a sustainable way of diapering your little one.
Cohen was inspired to start his company when he became a father to his first baby, Raz. “We started using diapers, but it felt ridiculous to me to be creating so much waste,” he tells NoCamels.
“I did some research and found out that babies use 6,500 diapers before they are potty-trained – this is almost 1.5 tons of plastic waste per baby.”
He suggested to his wife, Maytal Amir, that they switch to cloth diapers instead. “She said ‘Alon, that’s a nice idea but you’ll have to do all the cleaning. I’m not touching one soiled diaper’,” Cohen recalls.
He began thinking of solutions to make cleaning them easier for parents. His previous experiences working with the machines and furniture in his father’s carpentry factory, and working in a hedge fund administration firm, gave him a good head start.
At first, he experimented with designing detergent pods for regular washing machines. But he found that parents also needed a solution for storing the full diapers without stinking up the house, so he began working on the first prototype of the dual-purpose device that would both store and wash.
He spread the word at his daughter’s daycare, and started biking regularly to parents’ homes in South Tel Aviv to collect dirty cloth diapers. It took months of trial and error – and lots of soiled diapers.
Amir came up with the name of the company. It’s short for “pipi” and “kaki”, Israeli children’s nicknames for urine and feces.
After a successful pilot in Tel Aviv, Pika leased its first model in Israel in 2021. The subscription is currently $99 a month, which is more expensive than spending $60 to $70 a month on the cheapest disposables.
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Parents also get 30 detergent pods a month (which can only be used in Pika’s diaper-cleaning machine).
Pika uses specific enzymes and cleaning agents that are dedicated to dissolving urine and feces.
This sanitation process ensures the diapers don’t develop fungi or anything else that could harm the baby’s health. According to Cohen, this is not possible for parents using standard cloth diapers.
“Using reusable diapers has been a frustrating learning curve. Lots of parents find that no matter how much they clean them, and no matter how many forums and Facebook groups they read, their diapers never come out clean enough or stain-free,” he tells NoCamels.
The machine could be used on Pika’s own diapers, or any reusable cloth diapers (with the exception of cotton). Future models will be able to dry the diapers as well.
The average baby uses 2,500-3,000 diapers in its first year of life. And in North America alone, 30 billion disposable diapers are dumped into landfills every year. Fecal matter from these diapers can contaminate groundwater with viruses.
Disposable diapers are made of several durable plastics – which is why it is estimated that they will only degrade within 250 to 500 years. That means that every disposable diaper that has ever been made still exists today.
If every parent used Pika instead of disposable diapers, Cohen estimates that it would save the world over 31 million tons of garbage.
That’s why the company is expanding its scope beyond parents’ homes, and is aiming to install its machines in daycares and hospitals. “Basically any place where parents are,” Cohen tells NoCamels.
Pika’s starting price is more expensive compared to the cheapest disposables at $100 vs $60 for a four-week supply of disposables. According to Cohen, the subscription is cheaper than existing cloth diaper cleaning services, at $100 vs $140.
As the company grows, it will offer its services for $30 a month – 50 per cent less than the cost of disposable diapers per month, saving around $900 annually.
Preorders for Pika are available in the US, with the first machines expected to be shipped by October. Pika expects to expand into Europe within the next six months.