Smart Nappy Project

© Known People

Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS) has been awarded WWF Nedbank Green Trust funding for a brand new and extremely exciting project Smart Nappy Project. In an effort to alleviate pollution and fresh water contamination, support livelihoods, and ease the financial burden on rural households, ERS has launched the Smart Nappy Project. This WWF Nedbank Green Trust funded project is about mainstreaming the use of durable, safe, low-water-use-for-washing, and beautiful, Smart Nappies that will lead to the reduction of disposable diaper pollution by 5 000 tons a year per a population of 250 000, and help households save at least R6 000 a year on diapers. The team working on the project includes the Matatiele Municipality, SaveAct, Biddykins cloth diaper brand and the University of Western Cape Waste & Society research chair.

The Smart Nappy is nothing like the old cloth nappies of days gone by – these are beautifully designed, technically advanced reusable nappies. Smart Nappy is a generic term coined for a commodity produced by several global and South African brands, including project partner, BiddyKins. Smart Nappies tend to be used by eco-conscious urban families who have online access, but they have not reached remote rural areas. That’s what the project aims to address by making them acceptable, affordable and accessible.

The size-adjustable waterproof outer pants of the Smart Nappy can be used from birth until the child is 3 years old. The pants have a washable double-layered inner that forms a ‘pocket’ into which a washable microfibre, moisture-absorbing pad fits. A biodegradable soft wipe (similar in texture to a wet wipe, but dry) is layered over this to trap moisture and solids. The wipe is easily disposed of in a toilet or compost heap and breaks down in weeks as it contains no plastic and only bamboo fibre. They last for many years and can be used by successive children, to the extent that there is a thriving Facebook page for second-hand smart nappies.

In the rural villages around Matatiele, which has a population of 225 000 people, almost 8 000 tonnes of disposable nappies are discarded in the surroundings and streams every year, largely because 75% of these very remote and underserviced villages have limited refuse removal services. This is despite the gallant efforts by the Matatiele Local Municipality, one of the core project partners, which faces resource challenges to cover the huge rural footprint with no formal road network. The idea for this project emerged from a small grant provided to ERS in 2021 by The Nature Conservancy for exploring nature-based solutions to waste issues affecting freshwater systems.

Also partnering with the Smart Nappy Team is Professor Catherina Schenck, who heads the Department of Science and Innovation and holds the National Research Foundation’s South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) Chair in Waste and Society at the University of the Western Cape. Extrapolating from Prof Schenck’s research in other areas, it is estimated that if the local Matatiele municipality collected disposable nappies in the survey area, they would have to pick up 16 skips a day from villages where there are bad roads or no roads, and then take them to the local landfill, which has a limited lifespan. This is not tenable or affordable, so the alternative is to reduce the number of disposables causing the huge amount of pollution and freshwater contamination in the environment.

In addition, after surveying 160 households in rural Matatiele, ERS found that mothers and carers spend an average of R500 on disposables per month, which amounts to almost all of their grant- based income. This makes the Smart Nappy pack far more cost-effective, at a once-off amount of ±R1 000, instead of R8 000 per year for disposables. Together with BiddyKins, which is supplying the starter packs at cost as part of this pilot, the project team have developed an incremental purchase plan, with starter packs retailing at R250 or larger packs at R585. Local women selling the starter packs earn anything from R30 to R55 profit per pack sold. A person selling about 40 units per month could make ±R1 550 a month, which is a much-needed addition to the ±R15 000 income per year.

With the funding from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, they are:

  1. working on getting the buy-in from mothers in 2 large pilot areas of 27 000 people in the Matatiele area, including the clinics and municipality;
  2. developing a scalable costing and distribution system in partnership with NGO SaveAct that works with community enterprise development, bulk buying and distribution countrywide; and
  3. producing a video for mothers and clinics to show the benefits of using easy-to-use and wash smart nappies for their babies and their finances, and to protect their water sources and environment

The Smart Nappy project is part of ERS’s broader freshwater conservation, regenerative landscape, sustainable rangeland farming and livelihood work, with support from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust.

For further information visit