In a move that fairly reeks with symbolism, The U.K. companies Versus Energy and Knowaste have teamed up to build the first diaper recycling plant in England, and it will be located in a region that was once the heart of the Industrial Revolution. The new recycling plant will power itself with sustainable energy generated from the organic materials recovered from disposable diapers.
Organic waste accounts for only 2% of the materials in “pre-owned” disposable diapers. What happens to the other 98%? 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.
Move Over, Coal: Here Come the Diapers
The new recycling plant will be located in the town of West Bromwich in Birmingham, in the Black Coal country that was a center of the Industrial Revolution in England. With the new recycling plant, West Bromwich is leading the way to a new green revolution that focuses on sustainable fuels and reusable products rather than the dig, consume, and dispose model of a bygone era.
The Worldwide Challenge of Diaper Recycling
Knowaste calls it a worldwide challenge, and they should know. The company focuses on tackling “difficult” waste, and that includes diapers, bedliners, feminine hygiene products, incontinence products used by adults and the disabled, and related waste from hospitals. With a rising, aging global population and the prospect of developing countries bringing more consumers into the disposable product fold, this waste stream will soon become a torrent.
The Future of Diaper Recyling
It should be noted that some form of diaper-to-energy recycling already takes place in municipalities that use waste-to-energy incinerators. CleanTech Biofuels is one U.S. company that is taking it to the next level with a waste-to-ethanol facility. The full recycling model of Knowaste’s approach brings disposable diapers and other related products even closer to a more sustainable diaper model of multiple re-using and repurposing.
Image: redjar on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.