DisBin takes the Pain out of Flushing – Rochelle Stewart-Allen The Learning Connexion
The Win-Win Bin – Manawatu Evening Standard
Helen Mays was looking to develop an enterprising idea that would generate sufficient income to allow her to continue her art study. She wanted to generate an idea that fitted with New Zealand's environmentally clean, green image. From Helen's research emerged DisBin, a discreet, convenient disposable bin for sanitary and personal waste (cotton buds, wipes, condoms etc).
Helen's motivation came from dozens and dozens of stories of women describing embarrassing sanitary disposable scenes and pipe blockages. Houses without pipes to handle such waste often require disposal in non-biodegradable plastic. When flushed down the toilet, a huge strain is placed on city sewage outlets which have to remove feminine hygiene products by the ton-load. This tonnage is then transferred to landfills at considerable public cost. In some smaller towns, hygiene products are not screened and end up in rivers and eventually, the open sea. The DisBin prevents blockages in both sewage & treatment plants, as well as improving sewage treatment.
Helen credits her time at The Learning Connexion in 2002, studying the Extramural Foundation programme, as an inspiring time where she found the inspiration for DisBin. “It taught me to think more creatively,” Helen says. “I learnt to develop innovative business ideas, seek economic success for myself and my family and promote harmony between my personal, business and social goals.”
The original design came from a wine glass box, which Helen took apart and re-designed into a shape she thought might work. From there, she approached Carter Holt Harvey in Auckland with her prototype. Working with Helen, Carter Holt's packaging department produced the final design. Carter Holt patented the design and Helen owns the idea, concept and intellectual property. Helen's job is now to market and sell the product.
The DisBin is made from recycled cardboard and features a Taranaki-inspired design made from natural vegetable dyes. There is potential for the design to be personalised with logos and company colours. The bin is water repellant and can sit on a dry floor or hang on the wall. It contains a commercial strength deodoriser and has a chute so the contents can't be viewed. There are currently two models – a 6-litre for personal waste and a 12-litre for commercial settings. The whole bin comes in a fold-down pack and is easy to assemble with instructions on the base. Each bin lasts a month or longer and when full, it can be disposed of with normal household rubbish. The bin will naturally break-down in the landfill.
The DisBin's official launch in December 2003 followed a whirlwind two years of constant learning and research. Helen says the whole process has been an education in itself. The response has been incredibly positive and encouraging. Helen has spoken with a number of City Councils who are interested in buying her product. There are a wealth of possibilities in the future including the eco-tourism market, campervans, homes without septic tanks, defence forces, etc.
The general consensus, especially from women, is that this handy, sweet-smelling, disposable bin is an idea “long overdue”.
The Win-Win Bin
Ewan Sargent, Manawatu Evening Standard
Many people have an idea for a great invention pop into their heads, then promptly forget it. Ewan Sargent spoke to a woman who made her idea come alive.
For two years Helen Mays has pried into the secret world of the stuff women throw away.
Not easily disposed of things like used mascara wands, old bras or husbands – no, this is the nitty-gritty private, down-there stuff.
We are talking used tampons, panty liners, yellow wax-gunged cotton buds, blood-stained undies, used condoms and their wrappers – it goes on and on.
These are things women just don't want the rest of the world to see when they glance in the bathroom's open waste bin. Too often the problem is flushed down the toilet – with mixed success.
If it bobs back, wads of toilet paper need to be piled on top to help shove it back under the S bend.
Mrs Mays says every woman has horror stories of being trapped in a bathroom trying to make something embarrassing disappear. One day, and she suspects it was in a bathroom somewhere, the idea popped into her head that women and the environment needed a better system than the one they put up with.
She thought how much better it would be to have a sweet-smelling, eco-friendly, disposable bin available in all those places that didn't have commercial sanitary disposal bins. Like at home, for example.
She's had lots of ideas over the years, but this idea was different because it came at a time when she was paying closer attention than usual to her ideas.
A motivational tape she had been listening to suggested she write down ideas because when people did, a connection occurred between the hand and the brain and things started to happen.
The tape also said to take one idea and run with it and see how far it could be taken before it came to a dead end. “I wanted something that I could put my heart and soul into and put my passion into – something that would actually start making me some money, because you never get rich on wages,” Mrs Mays says.
So when the personal sanitary bin idea occurred, she decided to act.
First came research into what she thought was the problem and whether her answer was an answer.
Flushing the evidence was a big problem for local authorities, she discovered.
“The waste down the toilet might not revisit you, but it will revisit someone, somewhere sometime,” she says.
Her own horror story experienced many years earlier had already made her aware of the need to not flush. They were living in a Ferguson Street house at the time.
The toilet got blocked and they called a plumber, who had to dig out the pipe where tree roots had got into it. “He came to the door and said, 'Here's the problem'. He had a wheelbarrow full of tampons and cotton waste that had gone down the toilet. They had been there for years; they weren't mine. It was pretty revolting.”
Mrs Mays visited Palmerston North's sewerage treatment plant and learned more about the problems and cost caused by solid waste flushed down toilets.
She was told the council's sewerage system screens two-and-a-half tonnes of tampons and other stuff out of the sewage each day.
It's the same for councils around the country. Wellington takes an estimated 17 tonnes of waste out of its sewage each day. So it was obvious that councils would welcome a bin that reduced the waste in pipes and systems.
Another landfill issue is waste that wasn't flushed was often sent to the rubbish tip wrapped in layers of non-degradable plastic bags, so a bin made of biodegradable cardboard would help there, too.
Another key finding was the use students at Palmerston North Girls' High School made of commercial bins. Every two weeks the full bins were emptied.
To Mrs Mays, it meant a new generation of women were learning to use bins and when they went home they didn't have them. “I was really on to it by now. I was focused and knew what I wanted to do.”
She used a carton that previously held wine glasses for her first attempt at making a bin, cutting it and shaping it to what she thought might work.
The good feedback continued, too.
“Everyone said it was a wonderful idea. No one said, ‘What a silly idea’.”
One female friend even sent her a photo back from a holiday in Greece showing a European toilet (where you can't flush anything and “everything” sits in a big basket by the toilet) and the message: “We really need your bin here.”
She found a manufacturer in Carter Holt Harvey, which has a packaging department in Auckland and a design team.
Mrs Mays sent her prototype to them and they said they could make it. She went to Auckland and worked with them on the design for a couple of days, fine-tuning its assembly.
And still there was no dead end, no block she couldn't surmount.
“It was exciting. I didn't know it would happen, I was just really enjoying following something through and being taken seriously.”
Another hunt was for a supplier of a deodoriser and she eventually tracked down the same person who supplies the commercial bins.
“He was really excited because his commercial product could get into the domestic market. We met in Taihape and sat in a coffee bar for about three hours with a sanitary bin on the table between us.”
She also decided to make the bin from recycled cardboard to increase its environmentally friendly status. There was hardly any cost saving over new cardboard, because it has to be imported, but it felt more appropriate. The journey opened up a new world to her.
“When you start investigating this stuff, you become more and more aware of the environmental side of things. It's been a real education.
“I'm reading about the Kyoto Protocol, chemical pollution and nuclear waste and plastics. My whole world is opening up to where everything is going, what we are doing, how is everything being disposed of.
“I think as you get older you also start to get more aware of your own impact on the planet."
Pricing was important. “I fought with myself over the price until I started talking with other women about what they would be prepared to pay. When I realised how many women were in a household and what else could go in the bin and what else it would be used for, I started to realise its value.”
She says people can look at it and say, “That's just a cardboard box”.
“But, you know, this is well designed, purpose made, it won't let you down. It's water repellant because it has a coating on the inside, it will sit on a dry floor and won't disintegrate, and it's good for the environment.”
Mrs Mays owns the idea, concept and intellectual property. Charta Packaging in Lower Hutt makes the boxes and her job is to market and sell them.
She plans to build it slowly and grow it organically using word of mouth as part of the marketing. "Women talk to each other and we know what we need."