Imagine turning millions of stinky, poopy diapers into something so valuable that it could help to save our planet.
It sounds too good to be true, but that’s exactly what one dad on a mission hopes to do with a brand new program that will literally “char” dirty diapers into biochar, an incredibly valuable soil additive that can absorb carbon.
Sergio Radovcic is the Founder and CEO of DYPER, which he calls “a responsible diaper company.” He started DYPER as a father of three who felt some hypocrisy as his family washed their cans and separated their recycling, while they threw dozens of diapers a day in the trash.
He started asking some simple questions: where did the diapers come from, and where did they go?
“When it came to diapering our children, the convenience was overwhelming,” Radovcic told The Cool Down. “So we’re going to wrap these kids in 25 grams of plastic and send it to the landfill? It’s a terrible choice as a parent.”
With no industry experience, he set out to create a diaper company with products that would contain no harmful chemicals and would leave the planet better for his three children, Mila, Lily, and Peyton.
DYPER is a Certified B Corp startup looking to disrupt the diaper industry – from the materials used in production to what is done with the waste created.
While most diapers contain plastics and harmful chemicals, Radovcic’s diapers are plant-based, made of materials that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and are certified Standard 100 by OEKO Tex.
Still, Radovcic found he also wanted to address the “end of life” of the diaper in addition to the product itself.
An estimated 18-20 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills in the U.S. each year, creating over 8 billion pounds of waste, according to the EPA.
Studies show that diapers take up to 500 years to degrade in landfills and create toxic pollution like methane as they do, not to mention the damage caused by the chemicals used to make the diapers. Some estimates say that diapers take up a third of our landfills.
DYPER’s solution was to create an option for customers to compost their diapers, via what Radovcic calls “a reverse DoorDash” style pickup of dirty diapers once or twice a week in 21 cities.
Parents pay an additional fee for the “REDYPER” service, which the company estimates has already kept 11.5 million pounds of diapers from its over 50,000 customers out of landfills.
Now, DYPER has taken it a step further.
To create a more scalable model for disposing of the diapers, the company has built a machine that will ingest soiled diapers and, a few hours later, deliver a superpower soil additive called biochar that sequesters carbon dioxide — which greatly contributes to the overheating of our planet — for over 2,000 years.
DYPER’s “BYOCHAR” reactors have the capacity to process 4,400 pounds of diapers per day, approximately 12 diapers a minute, according to the company.
Radovcic says the device uses about as much energy as a typical refrigerator. The program will roll out in 2023 in select cities and then expand across the country.
“It’s like a Vegas slot machine — you put garbage in and get value out of it,” he explained. “It’s a self operating machine that processes material that starts at a very low value, and spits out a valuable commodity.”
While biochar technology has been around forever, up until now, there hasn’t been a way to process the modern materials and pathogens contained in used diapers.
As Radovcic describes it, the machine works like “a highly-controlled pizza oven,” using high heat and low oxygen, and producing a powder that kills the pathogens and reduces the size of the material by 80%, “which by itself is massive environmental news.”
“We’re less than probably a day of revenue of our big competitors, but I want to show the industry how we can invest in infrastructure that can show a different way,” he told The Cool Down.
The father of three hopes he’ll provide a new model for the diaper industry — and other businesses as well.
“We’re not making money off of this – it is a horribly unprofitable line of business for us. But it’s the essence of our brand,” he said.
While the service is only available in 21 cities so far, DYPER is working with a number of municipalities to explore making it part of regular trash pickup.
And for parents who can’t afford the monthly pickup fee, the company has also created REDYPER drop offs where you can drop off your bag of diapers.
Radovcic says this concept was inspired by his experience growing up in Italy, where new parents are provided an additional trash can for their diapers due to the amount of waste created.
So, will this model work for other diapers that contain plastic? Radovcic says he’s optimistic.
“We’ve actually secretly tested a mainstream competitor by adding peanut shells to the composter, to enhance the machine without organic matter,” he shared with The Cool Down. “I do believe it can be done.”
Like a dirty diaper, the process is messy, Radovcic says, and largely imperfect.
“They require consumer participation, behavior modification, and developing new practices,” he explains. “It is so far from perfect, but this is why we exist. That we take on something so big – [billions of] diapers being put in landfills – and start chipping away at it.”
“Will I change the world overnight?” he mused. “No. But if we can drive a couple percent change, then it’s worth it.”