Re-inventing the maternity package

The maternity package connects generations, but the question is, can it also be entirely recycled in the future? This is something that has been considered by both the citizens and Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland. This article addresses the question by looking into the use of recycled materials, company innovations and business ideas.

At Kela, the latest discussions around the maternity package have been followed with great interest. The maternity package has been criticised for the fact that the products are actually in use for a short period of time and even the products that are in good condition are not selling at the flea markets. Another topic that has emerged in public discourse is the possibility of recycling the maternity package products. 

– We are following closely the discussions regarding the maternity packages and utilise the ideas when developing the content of the package. These new ideas from outside help us to question what we do and how we operate, says Veera Petäjä, Kela’s Coordinator responsible for the maternity package process. 

The idea of a recyclable maternity package is not entirely new. Based on earlier discussions, Kela has looked into the challenges that might be associated with a recycled maternity package. 

What became clear was that Kela would be up against several legislative obstacles: Who would be responsible for product safety of a used product? Or, how would the value of a used product be defined? And how can it be guaranteed that everyone receives a maternity package that is of equal value and quality? 

Focus on quality when choosing products 

A couple of years ago the responsibility of the maternity package was debated 

in the media when all Finnish suppliers were dropped. Since the discussion, the responsibility of the maternity package has been highlighted. In the tendering process, the balance in comparing quality and price has shifted to favour quality. The emphasis is currently 80% on quality and 20% on pricing, which is quite exceptional in public procurement. 

Quality is evaluated, for example, from the perspective of functionality, quality of material, quality of execution and aesthetics.  

– Versatility and longevity are important criteria when choosing products. The current maternity package has products that grow with the baby. For example, the bodysuit comes with an extender, which adds 9 cm of length to it, says Petäjä. 

New evaluation criteria opened the door for the Finnish brand, Dream Circus. Two pairs of the brand’s pants have been included in the package since 2022. Since the tendering is EU-wide Kela cannot favour a company simply based on the country of manufacture. Every company must participate complying with the same criteria as all the companies within the EU. 

– Emphasising quality and responsibility in the criteria gave us the opportunity to succeed. The order multiplied our production, which meant increasing the production efficiency. For example, in the manufacturing of the product as little waste material as possible is generated, says Petra Ryymin, CEO of Dream Circus. 


Responsibility needs to be developed 

Kela is continuously thinking about the development of the responsibility of the maternity package. Now, the institution has researched ways how recycled material could be taken into consideration as a raw material. 

Dream Circus conducted a research on its own initiative for the maternity package in 2022 to find out if they could offer a product made using recycled material. The problem the company encountered was that adequate recycled fabric was not available in Europe. 

– Recycled materials come from outside Europe and they are made from material that is either sold there or from clothing waste that has been dumped there. From the recycling point of view this is not very sustainable. We ordered some material samples, but they did not meet the criteria to suit the needs of babies’ sensitive skin, says Ryymin. 

Recycling quality products forward seems sensible, but Ryymin feels that the lack of circular economy infrastructure in Finland and in Europe is a problem. 

If you would like to increase the recyclability of the maternity package products, one criterion should be that the material is 100% natural fibre. 

– The polyester yarn may hinder the recyclability of a piece of clothing. This, too, should be taken into account, Ryymin contemplates. 

Regarding responsibility, Kela could demand different certifications from the manufacturers. That could prove counterproductive. 

– What might end up happening is that this could exclude a small operator from the tendering. Someone who makes a sustainable product with the same level of quality as that of a bigger manufacturer but simply might not be in a position to be able to afford a certification, Petäjä says. 

Ideas directly from companies

Some of the discussions surrounding the maternity package have been about products that look out of style. How does Kela take into consideration the changes in fashion? 

– In the past the packages included products with strong colours and patterns that reflected the trends of the time. Nowadays we opt for a more neutral style, which seems to be the trend today. We do not know if neutrality will be “fashionable” in five years, ponders Petäjä. 

The monetary value of the maternity package has stayed around 170 euros, but as the general price level increases, the number of products has decreased. Though, there are products that are even more multifunctional. 

– That is a sign of the times. The maternity package shows that you can get by with less when the products are chosen wisely.

Petäjä points out that Kela is open to new ideas. 

– If companies came up with ideas of how a product might be made to be more versatile, we would be very eager to hear more about it. Nothing stops us from utilising innovations that add to the longevity of a product. In an ideal situation, we could update the criteria of our tendering because of these new innovations. This would make the maternity package even more responsible. 

Recycled products interest mothers 

If we were able to put aside the legislation and its problems, how do you feel about the idea of a recycled maternity package? 

– I think using recycled products is tremendously smart. We got most of the things and clothes second-hand for our baby. If there are no allergies, I don’t see any restrictions in using used items and clothes, says a new mother Jasmina Aho 

For Aho versatility, quality and longevity of the clothes are important criteria when it comes to purchasing something – this echoes Kela’s criteria. 

The only thing that concerns Aho with the recycled maternity package is the previous use and the home it has been in – that there are no mould spores or pests carried by the products. In that case, there should be more information available about quality control. 

– I am certain that in my circle of friends there are many who would be willing to receive a used maternity package. I myself would also be ready to send forward the products of the package to be used again, if a service like that would be available, she says. 

Is a recycled maternity package worth the effort? 

The development of a circular economy model at Kela would require resources allocated to work and changes in legislation. 

– It is important and responsible to consider whether there is enough demand for recycled maternity packages. Imagine that we would use money and resources to create this network, collect the products from families, put together the recycled maternity packages, and then end up with a few dozen orders. That would not be very responsible. 

Ryymin suggests the possibility of having an external operator that would provide a market-based service and sell used maternity packages with the price of the maternity grant. 

– Each product would need to be inspected and mended, the seams need to be checked, and everything needs to be washed and finished. This would demand a lot of work hours. It’s hard to tell if that would be a profitable business, Ryymin ponders. 

Finding a private operator is something Petäjä sees as worth considering. The same legislative challenges do not apply to them. 

– It would be really interesting to see if there was clientele and what kind of challenges private operators would see in the business, says Petäjä.

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