Entrepreneur Marie Mélinon started her own company Pana Nappy that picks up (with a bicycle that has a front crate), washes and supplies nappies that you can use over and over again. When her nephew was born, she saw how many diapers they went through every day which all ended up in the rubbish bin. Then she figured it would be better if you used diapers that you could wash, so less plastic would be needed and thrown away.
Cotton diapers like those used in the past didn’t appeal to her. There are already washable diapers on the market with a high level of absorbency. Although they do contain plastic, says the Frenchwoman who has lived and worked in Barcelona for nine years. “You can’t get around that.” But on balance, that’s much less than the enormous amount of disposable nappies you would otherwise need. So she uses them. Her company is a service for families and daycare centers that find washing used nappies far too much work, but do want to use these ecologically responsible nappies.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
“I’m still trying to overcome those obstacles. I have to convince people that the diapers are really clean. People aren’t used to them. They have to trust that I will deliver them clean. It’s a challenge for me to run this company on my own. I have to make sure it is running on all fronts.”
Do you have any customers yet?
“No, but I did a pilot with some families where they could use the service for free for a week in exchange for feedback. That went well and I got great feedback. The diapers didn’t stink. The system worked well, the logistics worked well. Some people found it very unfortunate that the service came to an end. A mother with a child hired me three weeks longer and paid for that. She was already using washable diapers. So she already knew how this system worked. My service saved her a lot of time.”
How do you actually get the diapers clean? Can you just throw them in the washing machine?
“No. Before you wash them, you have to scrape them clean and flush the faeces down the toilet. There’s a strip in the diaper which you can take off and throw away. But occasionally stuff slides off that. Just the stains remain before you put them in the wash. Nevertheless, it does require a bit of effort.”
What has been your biggest breakthrough so far?
“I’m still waiting for that. No, I’m kidding. Ha ha ha. I’m talking to a daycare center that wants to offer the service to all their kids. In Spain, that’s pretty unusual because the general rule there is that parents provide the diapers there that their children use. They don’t want to force anyone to pay a particular price for diapers, so that’s why everyone can choose which diapers they buy.”
But will the daycare center accept this service?
“They’re seriously considering it. It’s very important to me that this happens, because it will give me access to the children’s families who might also want to request the service.”
Is it a big daycare center?
“By Spanish standards, it’s quite large. There are thirty children and the number is increasing.”
Is the washable diaper service cheaper because you don’t have to buy as many diapers?
“It’s three times cheaper if you wash diapers yourself. But with my service, it’s about the same price.”
What do you expect to accomplish this year?
“In June, I’m hoping to sign a contract with the daycare center. So then I’ll know if I’m on the right track.”
And what do you expect to accomplish five years from now?
“Then I hope to have several branches in Spain. I am considering a social franchise system using an open-source document system that could serve as the basis for opening a franchise office. I can provide the training. They can use the brand name if they want to. There are several options conceivable. My aim is to reduce the waste stream. If I can inspire people to do that, that’s perfect for me. It’s not my ambition to become the world standard. It’s a bit late for that. There are already parties out there that are firmly rooted in this market. It would be nice if I can inspire other entrepreneurs with my ideas.”