Well, not quite yet but almost. Knowaste, a Canadian company located in Toronto, will be building a disposable diaper recycling plant in Birmingham, England that is expected to open in early 2010.
According to statistics provided by Knowaste, one baby can “create 6000 disposable diapers by the time he/she is potty trained”. That is just one baby. That doesn’t include the other sources of diaper waste such as adults with incontinence problems. According to the Gilbert Guide, adult diapers now make up seven percent of landfill waste outstripping the two to three percent from baby diapers. Although diapers these days are advertised as being “biodegradable”, it can take them up to 500 years to finally decompose.
Clearly, recycling diapers is a good way to cut down on almost ten percent of landfill waste. Using Knowaste’s method, 98 percent of the content of disposable diapers can be kept out of the waste stream. “For every tonne of diaper waste recycled, 400kg of wood, 145 cubic metres of natural gas and 8,700 cubic metres of water is saved.”
The modern disposable diaper consists of three components: mixed plastic, wood pulp and super absorbent gel polymers. Mixed plastic makes up the diaper’s inner and outer layers. Wood pulp, inside the diaper, cushions and wicks moisture away from the skin and towards the diaper’s inner core. Super absorbent polymers, gel-like capsules, are located in the inner core, swelling and absorbing moisture. All these individual components of a disposable diaper can and should be recycled, effectively preventing an endless stream of negative environmental impacts associated with the disposal of diapers.
Knowaste already has diaper recycling facilities in Canada, Germany and the Netherlands.
Knowaste uses what it calls “three key stages” which include acquisition of the diapers, cleaning and separation of the diaper components and then using the reclaimed materials for green energy or to create recycled products like “plastic wood, roof shingles and vinyl wood sidings. The fibre and super absorbent polymers can make biogas or green energy”.
The “three key stages” can be broken down into six steps. First step, shred the diapers. Second step, materials are washed and chemically treated. Third step, plastic is compressed into pellets for reuse. Fourth, the remaining portions of the diapers are screened again for any further plastic or organic material. Fifth, “water is recaptured from each wash cycle” and sent to an internal treatment plant before being reused in the next batch of washing. Sixth, the remaining organic waste is dried for use as green energy.
Since diapers now seem to be important at both ends of the human life cycle these days, its good to know that the legacy we have to leave behind won’t be landfills full of diapers.