Nappy recycling programme could spell end to problem of 500-year decomposition rate

A six-month pilot programme in the Californian city of Santa Clarita is recycling used nappies, producing fibre pulp for products such as wallpaper and oil filters, and plastics for materials such as plastic lumber.

The programme is currently being targeted at four neighbourhoods in the city, covering 5,000 households – a little less than 10% of the city, Jason Smisko, Interim Environmental Services Manager at the City of Santa Clarita, told edie.

Recent US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research has found that a single nappy can take nearly 500 years to decompose. On top of this, it takes nearly a quarter of a million trees to meet the annual demands for nappies in the US every year, says Knowaste, the company running the pilot.

The City of Santa Clarita currently diverts 44% of its waste from landfill, according to a recent study, says Smisko. “Part of the pilot programme will be to determine how much our diversion rate will increase by recycling diapers,” he said.

Recycling nappies in the city will be as easy as recycling cans or newspapers, says Knowaste. The used nappies will be placed in specially designed plastic bas or bins to be picked up from the curbside at the same time as other household waste. They are then sanitised and separated into their component parts – paper and plastic. The facility will be capable of processing up to a tonne of nappies per hour, says Knowaste.

“This marks the first time a municipality in the United States has decided to make recycling diapers an environmental priority and provided a solution to the overwhelming amount of diapers in the waste stream,” said City of Santa Clarita Mayor Frank Ferry.

Knowaste already runs nappy recycling schemes in Canada and the Netherlands.

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