Scaling reusable diapers

Over 17 million people live along the heavily polluted Brantas River in Indonesia. Around 1.5m single-use diapers enter the river every day, with almost 40,000 tons of plastic waste flowing into the ocean every year.

In 2020, Common Seas started working with local government, community groups and mothers in East Java to provide families with free or subsidised reusable diapers.

This project demonstrates that a reusable diaper scheme can viably scale to significantly reduce single-use diaper use, while boosting the local economy and protecting the health of babies and families.

The project was born after our Plastic Drawdown analysis highlighting single-use diaper pollution levels was presented to the Indonesian Government through the World Economic Forum.

We built relationships with local partners – including PC Muslimat, the largest women’s charity in Indonesia, and the Governor of East Java. At the same time, we ran an intense design process, working with local mothers and seamstresses to test and improve reusable diaper prototypes, always seeking to use sustainable materials.

In 2021, we sent a set of these diapers to 1,000 families. The results were astonishing. After six months, 91% of the babies were still using the reusable diapers. This prevented the use of 300,000 single-use diapers and created a total household economic benefit of $55,645. There was also an 86% reduction in nappy rash and 0% urinal infection.

In the 24 months since this project started, local seamstresses – employed and trained by the project - have made about 20,000 reusable diapers. These have been distributed to 4,000 families, which means around 4 million single-use diapers will be avoided per year. 

We are seeking investment to distribute 600,000 diapers to 100,000 babies across East Java. This will prevent 146 million single-use diapers going to waste, while generating $24.3m in local economic benefits.

With four more years of investment, the project will become self-financing. Ultimately, we want to hand it over to local entrepreneurs to roll out across Indonesia.

At scale, this project will improve livelihoods through employment opportunities and the longer-term cost savings of reusable diapers, while embedding behaviour change through education. It will also improve national health, increase biodiversity and reduce plastic flowing into the ocean.

The key project partner is PC Muslimat, the largest women’s charity in Indonesia. This partnership was key to connecting with a huge local audience. The program was also endorsed by the Governor of East Java and health professionals.

In 2022, we won’s BE Innovate contest for behaviour-centred design solutions for waste.

The project has also led to new health research. In partnership with Deltares and the Minderoo Foundation, we are investigating how single-use diaper waste contributes to the spread of disease.

Related News

Learn about our programmes

Learn about our other countries

Sign up to our newsletter to learn more about our upcoming programmes

academy icon arrow-down icon arrow-left icon arrow-next icon arrow-right icon black-arrow icon clean-blue-alliance icon close icon download icon drawdown icon facebook icon heart icon human-health icon instagram icon letter icon link icon linkedin icon logo-circle-only icon mail icon play icon reset icon search icon strapline icon tick icon translate icon twitter icon youtube icon