From stinky diapers to trendy shopping bags

Two students have seen something in garbage many people don’t – the potential to make money while saving the environment from some really smelly stuff

The task of changing a baby’s diaper is certainly not for the faint-hearted. The stench and the slimy stuff is often too much for many people and the sooner the job gets done the better.

For Brian Were and Ian Cecil, both students at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), the foul smell of used baby diapers that represent 30 per cent of non-biodegradable waste in landfills, is muzzled by the thought of making some money out of them.

They collect used diapers, wash them under a very high pressure, disinfect and dry them before getting the non-woven fabric, which they use to make bags.

“The idea was borne after the government imposed plastic ban last year. We realised that the alternatives were a bit expensive and not everyone could afford them. We also wanted to reduce the number of diapers, which end up in the landfill, thus causing pollution. This is because a single diaper takes up to 500 years to break down,” says Brian.

The duo who are pursuing Renewable Energy and Environmental Physics course, are making carrier bags and seedling bags from used diapers, which can last up to five years and can carry more than five kilogrammes.

“We don’t use all types of diapers because some don’t have the required material. The material we use is made of a non-woven fabric, which is so easy to clean and sterilise, hence more efficient in reusing,” says Brian.

The duo gets their raw material from Gachororo dumpsite and they have also partnered with local residents who segregate diapers for them from the other garbage so that they don’t come into contact with other garbage. This helps them to get the best raw material since they use both inner and outside material.

After getting the material, the two design the bags they would like to make before sending the raw material to Mombasa where the bags are made by one of Were’s close relative who runs a tailoring business. This is because the two cannot afford to buy a sewing machine and  the few businesspeople they approached at first turned down the offer.

“Because of this, we have managed to come up with bags, which is awaiting approval by Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) before we can start selling officially. We want to sell the bags for as little as Sh5,”adds Brian.

Since about1.6 million diapers are disposed OF on a daily basis in Kenya, the two plan to start large-scale production and make this venture their full-time job. Once approved by Kebs and National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) and they get a business licence from the county government, they will expand to Ruiru and Thika Town.  

“For this to become a reality, we need more funds and raw materials. Though we cannot eradicate used diapers 100 per cent, we will make sure we will remove 90 per cent from the landfill,” he adds.

Brian says they want to introduce a parallel garbage collection method and they will be distributing collection materials for diapers only. Initially, not so many residents heeded to their call for separating the waste, but they are positive that this will be successful.

The two exhibited this innovation at Jkuat Tech Expo last year, even though they didn’t win. Early this year they attended Kenya National Innovation Agency and they emerged the first runners up in the environment water and sanitation category.

Their advice to parents is that they should stop disposing of faecal matter and urine in the regular trash because they contaminate the ground water and spread diseases but rather they should be rinsing the diaper and flushing the faecal material down the toilet before putting it into the trash.

“In fact, printed on the side of every disposable diaper package are instructions for rinsing the diaper and flushing the faecal material down the toilet before putting it into the trash,” he says.

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