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Poo Power: Used Diapers Will Fuel U.K. Recycling Plant

Poo Power: Used Diapers Will Fuel U.K. Recycling Plant

Did you know that by the time the average child is potty trained and can make the joyous switch from diapers to underwear, he or she will have undergone anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 diaper changes? For many families, this means that thousands of disposable sacks of (ahem) organic material are simply wrapped and sent to the landfill where they begin a long and smelly existence underground.

According to industry data from Franklin Associates and the American Petroleum Institute, 3.5 billion gallons of oil as well as 250,000 trees are used to produce the 18 billion throwaway diapers used in the US each year. Wood is pulped (using an enormous amount of water) and then commonly bleached white with chlorine, a process that produces dioxin, one of the most toxic substances ever made by humans.

Once in the landfill, diaper waste has the potential to pollute local groundwater and the diaper itself has little chance of ever decomposing. When your baby’s great, great, great, great grandchildren come into the world, those diapers will still be lying in the landfill (EcoCycle).

We’ve found creative uses for animal fecal matter, like recycled paper or valuable fertilizer for lawns and gardens, so why can’t we find a more productive way to keep all this organic waste from spending an eternity underground?

Two U.K. businesses, Versus Energy and Knowaste, just may have come up with a solution to that very stinky problem.

These companies are teaming up to create Britain’s very first disposable diaper plant which will get 100 percent of its power from the organic materials in disposable diapers. But, according to CleanTechnica, only 2 percent of a used disposable diaper is comprised of organic waste, so what happens to the other 98 percent?

It will be “dried, sterilized, and separated into reusable paper pulp and plastic. The end use of those materials has not yet been announced but based on Knowaste’s past experience, roof tiles, shoe insoles, wallpaper, plastic ‘wood,’ and industrial thickeners are likely candidates.”

When you think about this new recycling idea in light of the sheer volume of diapers used in most countries every year, the amount of waste that could be diverted from the landfill and used for a productive purpose becomes encouraging and inspiring. If the companies’ plans for making a profit with this concept hold true, we could see similar diaper recycling facilities popping up all over the world.

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4:00PM PDT on Jun 26, 2011

Whilst I agree with Erica K that cloth is best the point regarding collecting the soiled nappies isn't quite correct. EU law requires that member countries (such as the UK) recycle a considerable amount of our waste, the levy imposed by the EU on landfill means that many of us cannot do otherwise (our local property tax, which is already pretty high, would go through the roof). Thus, in many areas we already sort our waste at home; in my area we sort our waste in to landfill (in practice very little), composting (garden waste, dead flowers etc) and that for other forms of recycling, glass, old clothes + shoes, plastic, paper etc. Getting parents to bag nappies and put them into one of the bins would not be that much of a step forward. Additionally our waste is collected every other week, if you don't sort it your bin would be overfull and would not be emptied at all. Pretty much the same applies at our municipal dump. Overall in my area we recycle 53% of our domestic waste. I'm not too sure where Erica lives in the UK but I can assure her that recycling is coming her way, unless of course her local government can afford the huge levies that we be visitied up on if it doesn't!

6:05AM PDT on May 19, 2010

Not convinced. Are we forgetting that disposables use up tonnes of non-renewable resources. Has anyone considered the logistics and cost implication of collecting nappies segregated out from household waste? It might work for hospitals and care homes but is madness on a individual household basis. All these positive comments are coming from people that want to use hassle-free disposables without feeling bad about the environmental consequences. Take responsibility and use cloth!

5:33PM PDT on Apr 11, 2010

Great info. I wonder if this will occur in North America anytime soon.

4:07AM PST on Feb 17, 2010

This is a great idea. I know how many nappies my little girl used before she was totally potty trained. Our next baby will have reusable nappies, no matter what my hubby thinks ;)

2:22AM PST on Jan 24, 2010

What a creative and interesting idea from these UK companies and scientists. Baby power! :-) Thanks for sharing!

7:32AM PST on Jan 7, 2010


3:45PM PST on Dec 16, 2009

What a great idea!

1:25AM PST on Dec 4, 2009

This is reallllllllllllly interesting!!!

7:01PM PST on Nov 25, 2009

Aside from simply using cloth diapers, the step towards truly recycling the 'throw-aways' is truly wonderful!

7:38PM PST on Nov 23, 2009

What a great idea. I can't wait to see how it works. I'm glad to see people thinking outside the box.

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