January 24, 2004

Bouncing Baby Diaper Service, LLC

Walking around in the cold and wind all week (not to mention the new boots I bought that gave me blisters after two days of wear) made my feet, legs, lower back and (pardon me, ladies) b*lls very achy. So I soaked in a piping hot bath for about an hour this morning.

For some reason the washcloth reminded me a post on a blog this past week (I forget which right now) about disposable dish rags.

Then I remembered that on Wednesday the #4 bus was ten minutes late thus causing me to miss the connection to the Costal Link by about two minutes, and I had an hour to kill before the next one.

Downtown Bridgeport is a very old place. Buildings that date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries are everywhere. Stone, marble, gargoyles. One block on Main Street is one building with shops along the street level and offices above. At one end is a McDonald's, at the other end is a Dunkin' Donuts.
After wolfing down a Sausage McMuffin w/Egg sandwich (if there's one thing that McDonald's does well it's breakfast), I headed over to Dunkin' Donuts for a coffee.

As I sat at a table blowing on the coffee to cool it, an old guy was flirting with the gals behind the counter.

"Are you married?" he asked one of the gals.

"Am I married? Yes, I am, sir. Why... are you looking for a woman?"

"She's available." said a second gal as she pointed to another.

"I'm available!" the third gal said excitedly.

The old man pointed and looked at her slyly, "You sexy enchantress you..."

"AAAAH!" "HAHAHA!!" "WOOOOO!!!" they gaffawed.

Then he turned, winked at me and walked over to my table.

"How old a man are you?" he asked.


"Aaah. 73 here, and if there's one thing I've learned it's that life is too short to walk around with a frown. When you smile at people they always smile back!"

"Yep, that's absolutely true." I nodded with a smile.

He asked if he could join me and, of course, I invited him to sit down.
He told me some interesting stories about his family. He was one of 8 kids, grew up in Fairfield (next town over), no electricity, outhouse. He said that if kids had responsibility and chores to do -- like washing diapers -- they wouldn't so bored and aimless and stray into nihilistic behavior (or something to that effect).

When he mentioned the wastefulness of disposable diapers filling up landfills, I mentioned the new disposable dishrags. He shook his head sadly.
Anyway, after a while I had to thank him for the conversation and go catch my bus.

So I was in the tub this morning and thought about how it be better if people washed and re-used diapers instead of throwing away piles and piles of disposable diapers. It would be a lot cheaper and a lot less wasteful, but the problem is that nobody wants to wash diapers; yecch!!. Then I thought, "Why don't I do it!

Let's say I had a diaper cleaning service and 2,000 customers (from Bridgeport and the the five or six surrounding towns).
Let's say I had ten industrial strength machines that could wash and bleach and steam and fold and bale about 12,000 diapers a day, and six people to operate them (3 each in two shifts).

Let's say I had 10 trucks and drivers to do the 1,000 pick-ups and deliveries per day, and a full-time mechanic to keep the trucks maintained. (Each truck would need an oil and filter change at least once a week.)
And let's say I had two additional employees to do paperwork and answer the phone.

(An additional thought on this: While I'm figuring this for 2,000 customers (babies), a lot of the diapers would be picked-up at - and delivered to - Day Care centers, so the drivers wouldn't have to make the 100 stops a day that it seems at first glance that they'd each have to make.)

20 people @ about $2,000 a month each would be about a $40,000 payroll per month.

Extrapolating from my friend's plastic molding business, I'd estimate the monthly electricity bill would be about $7,000. Oil to heat the place: $200 a month. Natural Gas to heat the machines: maybe $1,000 a month. Gasoline for the trucks: I guestimate it would be somewhere around $14,000 - $16,000 a month.
Lease and/or loan payments on the machines and trucks: probably less than $10,000 per month, (I could put down payments on them with money collected by selling stock shares to investors - if I wanted to go public.)

So, the cost of the machines, trucks, maintenance, payroll, supplies (cleansers, bleach, etc) might be somewhere around $70,000 a month to operate. Divided by 2,000 that'd be $35 per customer per month, or, say, $8 or $9 a week.
But, since I'd obviously want to make a profit because it's always good to have some funds available for emergencies, growth, employee benefits, maybe a hot tub in the employee lounge, I'll charge $12 a week for the service.
The Bouncing Baby Diaper Service will pick up you're dirty diapers (from a special box on your front porch) and leave a wrapped bale of fresh smelling bright white clean ones 3 times a week on a schedule of either Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, for a mere 12 bucks a week.
It's good for the environment (we'll stop dumping those disposable things in piles of garbage that don't biodegrade), and it's good for the customers (saves money [?] and trips to the supermarket to buy and carry home huge packages of puffy evilness).

(Another additional thought: My recallection of cloth diapers is that they tended to be leaky, soaked through, a were generally messy compared to the best modern diapers. So let's assume that I've designed and manufactured a diaper that incorporates all of the best qualities of disposable diapers -- that snug non-leaky absorbancy -- into a washable re-usable diaper.)

Now, my question: How much do people spend on disposable diapers nowadays? Is it more than $12 a week? A lot more? Would this diaper service be such a bargain that new parents would jump at the chance to pay for this service? Anybody got any thoughts on this?

Posted by Tuning Spork at January 24, 2004 02:45 PM

I'd say on average there's a slight savings to the parent in dollars. By the time you factor in the cost to develop and manufature the ideal cloth diaper you'd probably be at break-even or slight loss. You also need to probably up your payroll expense by about half to cover taxes and social security outlays. And don't forget insurance.

Before disposable diapers - it was either a diaper service or wash them yourself. If the diaper service was still economically viable - you would see more of them.

Environmentally by the time you factor in the bleach and associated cleaning chemicals, the energy to wash & dry the diapers and the exaust of all those delivery truck miles the disposable may be lower impact.

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at January 24, 2004 09:42 PM

We used cloth diapers for our first baby, half and half for the second, and the cloth diapers were strictly dustrags by the time the third child came around.

You can't match the convenience of the disposables. Tape instead of safety pins, no rinsing in the toilet before throwing them into the diaper pail (if you go with this, offer packs of diaper liners too, they help a LOT). Plus cloth diapers mean plastic pants to prevent leaks, those are built-in with disposables.

I think disposable diaper technology has gone about as far as it can. For a while, the big thing was boy or girl diapers, and then suddenly everyone was touting their new unisex versions, which is what they were in the beginning. They'll trot out an old idea once in a while and call it 'new and improved' to impress the next generation of consumers.

But it all comes down to convenience. And no matter how much cheaper they are, or how much more environmentally friendly, Joe or Jane Average want simple.

Posted by: Ted at January 24, 2004 09:49 PM

Hey, Spork.

Blogged like a man who doesn't have children. Yes, Huggies are expensive, but we happily paid the price because they worked so well and your alternative would have been a horror. Also, I agree with Mr. Macklin that if this were economically viable, the companies that once did it would not have gone out of business. (If you want to revive a bygone enterprise, you'd probably have an easier time delivering milk and eggs.)

To the extent that disposable diapers are leading us down the road to an ecological disaster (as to which I have no informed view), modern parents could solve the problem overnight if they wouldn't leave their poor kids in diapers until they're 4 years old. It's absolutely disgraceful and totally disrespectful to their children, who, if they're at the age where they're carrying on full-sentence conversations about the pros and cons of their parents' potty-training program, are no longer trainable. At that point, it's just a matter of waiting until they feel like doing it. Their sphincters work just fine - it's just that they no longer have any burning desire to make Mommy and Daddy happy the way they did when they were two, when they could be trained.

There is certainly such a thing as too young, but today's parents don't realize how ready, willing and able their 18-month-old or two-year-old is. Waiting for them to tell you when they're ready, which is what some so-called "experts" advise, is absurd. Our first child was trained at about 2 (too late, in my opinion), and the second was done at 17 months. They're both well-adjusted, delightful kids with absolutely no bathroom hang-ups. Here's the secret:

STOP BEING LAZY ASSES, PARENTS! You know you're putting it off because it's hard and you don't want to be bothered. But you have to do it. One of you has to take off a week of work, stay in the kitchen all day with your bare-ass toddler, and see how many times she pees down her leg before she learns how to hold it in and jump on that pot when she feels bladder pressure. (Yeah, I know, it's easy for me to go on and on because my wife is the one who did it. But you better believe she became a legend when the other mothers found out her 17-month old was potty trained.)

Posted by: Freedom's Slave at January 24, 2004 10:55 PM

WOW, Slave! And my mom always thought that you should let yer kids figure out what to do on their own.
Go figure...

Posted by: Tuning Spork at January 25, 2004 12:50 AM

And I suppose you're right, Stephen. If a diaper service was profitable then there'd be diaper services around. I'll put no more thought into that venture.
But I've got a great new idea about getting ice from the Arctic. Should save loads on refridgeration costs!

Posted by: Tuning Spork at January 25, 2004 03:37 PM

We have a diaper service in my area. It runs parents about $200 a month for one child.

Comparing that to the cost of disposable diapers: $13 a week for a pack of 58 store brand, versus $19 a week for a pack of 58 Huggie's Convertibles, makes disposable diapers a lot more economically viable for my little family.

Also, cloth diapers do have other disadvantages, such as leaking. Also, sometimes with little girls, using the plastic "bloomers" just traps the moisture against the skin, which can cause diaper rash and other genitourinary issues.

Other than that, if you've ever smelled the poopy diaper of a child beginning to eat table foods, you understand why most parents want to flush the soil as quickly as possible, wrap up the diaper to keep the smell from permeating the house, and not think of it again--at least until the next bowel movement. :)

Nevertheless, I think you're on to something, here. Greatest good luck if you do decide to make a go of it!

Posted by: Linda at January 28, 2004 06:20 PM

I continually hear all the nonsense about rubber pants, safety pins, and all the mess. I used old-fashioned style cloth diapers on all 3 of our kids without so much as a single problem. Not once did i ever opt for a package of disposable diapers. I stuck it out with the pins and rubber pants start to finish!

Posted by: Judith at September 21, 2005 10:18 PM
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