First 'Knowaste' Diaper Recycling Plant Opens in the UK

Eco-friendly parents who cringe every time they use a throw-away diaper can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. At least parents in the UK can. The first diaper recycling plant opened in UK yesterday.

According to the Press Association,

The facility, which will also recycle feminine hygiene and adult incontinence products, is the first of five planned over four years by Knowaste, an organization which specialises in absorbent hygiene product waste recycling.

Knowaste’s recycling process is the world’s first, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective solution to meeting the global challenge of disposing Absorbent Hygiene Products (AHPs): diapers, adult incontinence and feminine hygiene products.

Image Credit: Knowaste

Diaper Recycling Process Involves Three Key Stages:

  1. Used diapers, adult incontinence and feminine hygiene products (AHPs) are collected and transported to a Knowaste plant.
  2. The Knowaste process sterilizes the AHP material, deactivates and mechanically separates the individual components:  organic residue, plastic and super absorbent polymers.
  3. The reclaimed components can then be made into recycled products such as: Plastic wood, Plastic roofing tiles, absorption materials, process sweeteners, recycled paper products and green energy.

The first site in West Bromwich will use state-of-the-art technology to recycle AHPs. The £25 million overall investment will produce capacity for handling about a fifth of the AHP waste stream – equating to a saving of 110,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year. Operators, at first will collect AHP waste from washrooms, hospitals, nursing facilities and child care nurseries but Knowaste was also working with local authorities and their waste contractors to recycle domestic AHP waste in the future.

Why Recycle Absorbent Hygiene Products?

Roy Brown, chief executive officer of Knowaste, said:

“In the UK, more than one million tonnes of AHP waste is generated annually, much of which is landfilled. A significant proportion of which is produced by the commercial sector and we are proud to be working with some of the Midland’s and nation’s leading AHP collection companies already.”

These hygiene products represent a large amount to waste going to landfills that can be recovered for materials, that otherwise would rot in landfills. This kind of process represents a system change that adapts to current urban lifestyles.

Environmental Performance

An assessment carried out in December 2010 comparing the environmental performance of Knowaste’s recycling process with the existing UK disposal methods for AHPs, namely landfill and incineration, revealed significant findings. A spokesperson for Knowaste said:

“The main findings showed that compared to these two options, the Knowaste recycling process emits up to 71% less carbon emissions and that the West Bromwich site would save 22,536 metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.”

Need for Diaper Recycling in Other Developed and Developing Countries

The urgent need for such facilities in developed countries like the US and ever-growing economies like India cannot be over emphasized. In the United States, an estimated 15 billion disposable diapers are used each year – generating over 2.4 million tonnes of waste going mostly to landfill. Adult incontinence products are also on the rise from increased life expectancy in developed economies. In emerging powerhouses like India and Brazil, increasing adoption of western lifestyles and urban populations, the use of “disposable” hygiene products has grown many folds.

The time to adopt effective technologies to manage our waste is now and hopefully this initiative in the UK is a push in the right direction.

About the Author

Hi there! I am Priti and I specialize in strategy and communications for impact organizations that aim to create social, environmental and economic wealth for all stakeholders. Working from the ground up, I help these do-gooders craft effective programs for community engagement, outreach and profitability. Follow my work covering do-gooders, cleanweb, start-ups and Web 2.0 businesses on Ecopreneurist and at Crowdsourcing Week. I enjoy traveling with my boys, cooking up a gourmet meal from scratch and entertaining! Join my community for Social Entrepreneurs on G+ Follow me on Twitter, on LinkedIn and Google+