They might be on the pricier side but books editor Catherine Woulfe is feeling much better using startup Little & Brave’s compostable nappies to deal with her daughter’s epic poos.
Our daughter is a champion shitter. From day one she had an innate sense of timing: we’d place her on high on the change table, remove the nappy from her teeny tiny bum, turn away for half a second to grab the wipes and …
Commentary was provided, with equal gusto, by her four year-old brother.
Poo Power! he’d yell, capering just out of range. Poo on Daddy! The floor is hot poo!
The floor was, very frequently, hot poo. But we felt less gross about that than about the pallets of plastic nappies we were going through. As the weeks pulled past I started to picture a slumping mountain of soggy beshitted Huggies, all courtesy of our sweet second-born. Worse, I started to picture the legacy her big brother had already created: three years of disposables that would sit there for centuries. We were terrible terrible people.
He knew it, too. We’d finally toilet trained him by showing him our blue wheelie bin at the end of a typical week. It was 80% nappies, and he was 100% horrified. He hasn’t worn a nappy since. If a three year-old can so righteously ditch disposables, we thought, surely we can too.
Except we’d tried cloth nappies – the fancy new-fangled kind where you slot a cushy cotton inner inside a fitted, waterproof bloomer sort of situation – and they sucked. (Or maybe we did?) We persevered for months but they leaked no matter what we did, and they didn’t wick the wee away from the skin. Also, our laundry is in a kitchen cupboard. I’d scrub away at a spaghetti bolognese-shit and picture plumes of fecal particles blooming around me and settling silently onto the bench, the table, the high chair. The kitchen was hot poo.
While my reaction was to slink back to plastics, happily, Auckland couple Tahlia and Semisi Hutchison had a different instinct. These two looked at their landfill bin brimming with nappies and saw opportunity.
Little & Brave launched just over a year ago. What they have created is an island of do-ability in the sea of disposable guilt and abject cloth grossness. A middle ground. A compostable nappy.
It’s a first in New Zealand, and they still have no direct competitors. As they see it, the potential market is massive, wrapping in families using cloth nappies who need a more convenient option for travelling or night-time, as well as those using disposables and hating themselves for it.
“We’re talking about a product that is never ever ever not going to be a necessity,” Tahlia says. “And we’re talking millions of units all over New Zealand.
“So from the business perspective there was an opportunity to bring in a completely unique product. Also the timing was just so good, and I think we’re seeing that even more now, that Kiwis are looking for genuine alternatives, and they’re looking for companies who are taking end-of-life for their own products seriously.”
When Tahlia first googled “compostable nappies NZ” she came up short. But she did come across a scientist, Sue Allison-Rogers, who lived in Tasmania and was already composting her own version, called Kuver Designs, through local councils.
Tahlia, a finance graduate with a strong operations and process management background, and Semisi, who is an entrepreneur with previous experience in the aged care sector, then spent the next year working with Allison-Rogers to tweak her design for Little & Brave. They have the backing of an investor they don’t want to name.
So how do the nappies work? A bit like the cloth contraptions. You buy slabs of inners that look like enormous sanitary pads, except they’re made out of plants, not plastic. And you strap that lovely soft quick-wicking inner onto your baby with a stretchy velcro belt thing or, as they get a bit older and more mobile, with a stretchy bloomer thing.
You chuck all your mucky inners into a compostable bag. Wipes – special compostable ones, sold by the company – go in there too. (Crucially, nothing else does.) And after say, a fortnight, you either lug that Santa sack of delights to one of 11 drop-off bins in Auckland (or one in Whangārei), or pay a pick-up fee so you can stay pinned to the couch by your sleeping baby as a guy from Little & Brave cheerfully hiffs two weeks of outputs into his truck, and leaves a fresh slab of inners, wipes and bags on the doorstep.
FRIENDS IT IS FANTASTIC. The smugness of it all! The sudden absence of guilt!
Breaking the prices down is a bit tricky but here’s the best I can do: we had been buying newborn Huggies in bulk online and it worked out to about 40c per nappy, including delivery. Doing the same through Little & Brave, we’re paying about 46c. Add in compostable wipes at $5 a 120-pack, the bags and fortnightly collection and we’re paying about $1.20 per nappy. You also need to set up: at least two belts ($11.95) or pants ($18.95).
Clearly, this is not an option for everyone. But we reckoned that if we were prepared to pay a premium for free-range chicken and fork out $30 for a KeepCup, we could pay more on this front, too.
Importantly, given they’re dealing with knackered, time-poor parents, the service is super-slick and friendly. Before the company had any idea I was writing about them, I emailed asking what size belt thing to order for our daughter’s puku nui. They popped samples in the mail, free, for us to try. Same when I was wondering whether a series of blowouts meant we needed to go up a size in the inners – and they were happy to take back our bajillions of unused small ones.
They now have five full-time equivalent employees, Tahlia says, all of them parents, and all regularly drilled in a simple customer-service mantra: “I want you to imagine that this poor mum or dad or caregiver has been up all night with a cluster feeding baby and I want you to make their life easier, not harder.”
But the best bit is that when they say “compostable” they really do mean “compostable”.
They’ve processed tens of thousands of nappies – about 100 metric tonnes of raw materials, including the organic waste and food waste added to the mix – at their purpose-built composting facility in Penrose, Auckland. They’re just getting to the point where they have the capacity for commercial compost supply; the compost has been trialled by local gardeners, and via a partnership with a land remediation project in Clevedon.
Just before we spoke, Little & Brave announced that their nappies were about to hit shelves at Countdown and Huckleberry stores in Auckland, with new collection points set up at all the Huckleberries, and the Countdowns “in conversation” about doing the same. Getting the nappies, previously only available online, into supermarkets is “a real victory, a milestone for us,” Semisi says. “It’s an acknowledgement that we have something that is valuable to mainstream New Zealand.”
Sticking point? So far, the only facility in New Zealand that can compost the nappies is the one the Hutchisons built in Auckland. They’ve expanded the collection service to Whangarei and have set up two drop-off points in Tauranga, but that’s it at the moment. The plan is to link up with commercial composters in other centres. That’ll be much easier now than it was initially, Tahlia says.
”We’ve been around for a year and we can show people compost made out of nappies, and it’s independently tested by a laboratory, so now people are open to conversations that wouldn’t have even happened a year ago.”
“The goal is to roll out nationwide and … we do have plans beyond that,” Semisi says.
Long story short, for my fellow time-poor parents: these nappies are great and I love them and I hope this guilt-free model is about to explode like a three-day poo and spatter the whole of Aotearoa. Poo Power!
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