How Disposable Diapers Are Being Recycled into Plastic Roof Tiles

Disposable Diapers in the Trash

Photo: IngaMun

Are there any alternatives to landfill sites for disposable diapers? Would you believe that a few nappies could be recycled into one roofing tile?

Most Disposable Diapers are Buried in Landfill Sites

Each infant in Britain will soil up to six thousand diapers. Disposables will be trashed and buried in landfill sites, while cloth nappies will require that many washings with detergent and hot water.

At a minimum, disposable diapers make up about one percent of the volume of a landfill. Each diaper may take half a millenium to completely decompose. Since human waste can spread disease, nappies should not be thrown away carelessly.

Cloth diapers are washed and reused. This minimizes the use of cotton, although it uses detergents, water, and energy to heat the water and dry the cloth. Whether a parent chooses cloth diapers or disposables, there is some environmental cost. Even those who choose cloth diapers find disposables more convenient under some circumstances, such as travel.


Alternative Uses for a Recycled Soiled Diaper

Some companies can recycle absorbent hygience products to make new and useful materials, including roofing shingles.

The process includes collecting and sterilizing used diapers, separating the components, and creating new products from the absorbent polymers, organic matter, and plastics.

Organics may become paper or be burned to produce electricity. The absorbents can be re-used for other packaging, or perhaps even go into the next generation of nappies. Plastics might be formed into a variety of forms, including roof tiles or plastic wood.

Just One Example of a Diaper Recycling Firm

The Knowaste company was founded in Ontario, Canada in 1989. It has developed and runs a variety of recycling operations, including absorbent hygiene products such as adult incontinence diapers, feminine hygiene supplies, and infant nappies.

In 2011, news articles reported that they opened their first British facility in West Bromwich, UK, precisely to transform soiled nappies into plastic roofing tiles.

From the Bloomberg description of the process, they receive the dirty diapers from hospitals, nursing care facilities, washroom maintenance companies, and other highly-concentrated sources.


Recycling Disposable Diapers Takes the Cake

Although the image shows a literal but inedible “diaper cake”, the serious facts are clear. The need to deal with biological waste is important for everyone’s health, and infants and incontinent adults require some form of sanitary diapers. Thanks to the innovations discussed here, those using disposable nappies should be pleased to hope that some of the end products will avoid the garbage dump, instead serving to protect others from moisture… in the form of plastic roof tiles.

Times of India, “Britain to recycle diapers into roof tiles“, published Sept. 13, 2011, referenced Oct. 9, 2011.
Bloomberg Businessweek, “Knowaste LLC“, updated Sept. 16, 2011, referenced Oct. 9, 2011.
Daniel K Benjamin, PERC, “Eight Great Myths of Recycling“, 2003, PDF referenced Oct. 9, 2011.
Knowaste, “The Recycling Process“, copyright 2009, referenced Oct. 9, 2011.