Green-minded dad develops simple, odor-free way to clean reusable diapers

The Pika Clean Machine uses a patent-pending detergent pod that the company says deep cleans and sterilizes cloth diapers while keeping water, energy and waste down

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

An illustrative photo of a baby in a diaper. (Ignacio Campo on Unsplash)
An illustrative photo of a baby in a diaper. (Ignacio Campo on Unsplash)

Changing diapers is an indisputable downside of parenting.

It’s a messy, smelly business — particularly when baby is a wriggler.

That’s one of the reasons why most parents today use disposable diapers — 258 billion of them worldwide, accounting for 2.5 percent of household waste in landfills.

But some parents looking for a more sustainable option opt for multi-use cloth diapers that need to be washed and sterilized regularly.

The problem with such diapers is that cleaning them involves scooping off the poop and throwing it down the toilet first, storing the dirty diapers before there are enough for a washing machine load, and then doing a pre-wash and main wash, topped off by a rinse cycle. Even after all that, the diapers can still emerge smelly.

Alon Cohen, 34, from Pardes Hanna in central Israel, started thinking about a simpler, more sustainable way of washing reusable diapers after his wife gave up on them and his attempts to take over left him pooped.

Illustrative image of a baby wearing a multi-use diaper. (Doneuron, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

He came up with the Pika Clean Machine — a specially designed, 70cm (27.5 inch) high, 40cm (15.7 inch) wide washing machine, with a patent-pending pod that contains enzymes and other materials to break down the urine and feces and sterilize the diaper.

The parent drops each soiled diaper, complete with feces, into the clean machine, and when up to 10 of them have amassed, presses a button to start the two-hour wash at a temperature of up to 40C (105F).

Pika (the name is taken from the Hebrew words for pee and poop, peepy and kaki) carried out a lifecycle assessment with students from John Hopkins University.

This showed that the machine uses 18-kilowatt hours of energy per baby per year, compared with 111-kilowatt hours for a reusable diaper cleaned in a regular washing machine, and 514-kilowatt hours for the production of disposable ones.

One kilowatt hour is the amount of energy used if a 1,000-watt appliance runs for an hour.

The machine uses an average of 19,580 liters (5,200 gallons) of water per year, the assessment showed, compared with 25,500 liters (6,740 gallons) for a regular washing machine. The production of disposables uses 21,000 liters (5,550 gallons).

The pods dissolve.

The company is currently working on including more natural ingredients in its detergent mix that will still ensure total cleaning and sterilization but allow for the soiled water to be poured onto the soil for fertilization.

With just three employees, Pika has completed testing its Chinese-made prototype machine on a group of parents and is inviting pre-orders in the US and Israel for the first 100 machines, with an expected delivery date of February.

The Pika Clean Machine. (Eliana Neustadt)

The pre-order price for the machine is $495.

To support a circular economy, the company will buy the machine back for $240 once a baby has grown out of diapers, and refurbish it for someone else.

The goal, according to Cohen, who now has two young children, is to bring the machine’s price down as more are sold so that all households will be able to afford one.

At an average running cost of $80 per month, including detergent, the cost of operating the machine is still less than the cost of laundry services for reusable diapers, which are $120 to $200 per month, according to Cohen. Buying disposable diapers costs $60 to $100 per month.

The company exhibited at Wednesday’s Climate Solutions conference and prize organized at the Hulda Forest in central Israel by Start-Up Nation Central, the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund, and the Jewish National Fund of Canada.

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