UK set for nappy recycling revolution

Disposable nappies, incontinent pads and feminine hygiene products will have a new life as plastic bins and pet litter thanks to a new recycling facility planned for West London.

Development plans for the UK’s largest Absorbent Hygiene Product (AHP) recycling site in Hayes have been submitted by Knowaste – an American recycling firm which aims to build seven such facilities across the UK within the next five years.

The £14m ‘Hayes 180’ site, which is planned to launch in early 2017, will charge local authorities and commercial hygiene companies a set fee to use the facility, replacing the existing mandatory landfill or incineration costs associated with AHPs.

UK rollout

Knowaste’s UK business development director Paul Richardson said: “Our AHP recycling process is considered to be the most sustainable solution to managing this specific waste, saving up to 70% of carbon dioxide emissions when compared to the usual disposal methods of landfill and incineration. We are able to recycle over 97% of the AHP product with our unique and exciting technology.

“Hayes 180 is the start of an exciting phase for Knowaste, and the area of West London offers a great foundation for the development of our technology. This is part of a larger programme of major site investment that Knowaste will be rolling out across the UK.”

The Hayes 180 site will take in more than 36,000 tonnes of AHP waste each year, which would be recycled into useful plastics and fibres.

Bagged AHPs are shredded, separated and then sterilised using advanced thermal treatment technology before being sorted to remove any contaminants. The resulting plastics continue through a granulation and multi washing stage, before being pelletised, bagged and sent off-site for re-use. The fibres are washed, dried and processed for use as a pet litter which is bagged for immediate distribution to the retail sector.

Sticking point

Knowaste has already built strategic partnerships with a distributor of pet litter and a manufacturer of plastic bins, with a company spokesperson telling edie it is currently “in discussion with local authorities in and commercial partners in the area”.

If approved, Hayes 180 would be the biggest plant of its kind in the UK. It follows a successful pilot in the West Midlands, built in 2011, which tested the technology and evaluated the market opportunities for recyclables created from the process.

AHPs – primarily nappies – remain a sticking point for the transition to a more circular economy. The UK throws away almost more than a million tonnes of nappies each year – accounting for 4%-7% of black bin waste – all of which goes to landfill.

At the end of 2013, another innovative solution to the problem – Envirocomp – launched in Rochester, with a facility that uses a low-energy composting system to convert nappy, sanitary and incontinence waste into compost which can be used for non-food agriculture, land reclamation and leisure areas.

Luke Nicholls

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