Scientists in Aberystwyth Solve a Dirty Problem
Scientists at Aberystwyth University have developed a recycling process for hygiene products which are notoriously difficult to dispose of. They have found a way to process nappies, incontinence pads, and sanitary products, and turn them into biofuel and textiles. During the process, the materials are separated and cellulose is extracted, which is used to make materials like rayon and viscose. These materials are used in clothes manufacturing. The lead scientist’s original concept was to create biofuel from cigarette butts, another form of waste which blights the landscape, and this led to the hygiene products project.
The problem of sanitary products
One million tonnes of hygiene product waste is produced each year by the UK alone. Most of this waste ends up in landfill sites which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. The rest ends up being incinerated, which is equally as bad for the environment, or on our beaches, if they are flushed down the toilet. Products such as nappies and sanitary products are difficult to dispose of. They pose a big problem for waste management.
They aren’t biodegradable
Nappies can take up to 500 years to decompose if they are sent to landfill. Toxins and plastics from the products can end up contaminating the ground water and soil.
The sheer amount of waste
An average baby gets through 6,000 nappies, and around 1.3 million tonnes of sanitary products are disposed of each year. These products can’t be recycled at recycling centres usually, and so they almost always go to landfill. If 1,000 tonnes of nappies were recycled, this would save 8.7 million gallons of water, 3,400 trees, and there would be 367 tonnes less greenhouse gas emissions produced- something to consider. The cost of waste nappies per baby works out at about £700 for every family, so there’s an economic cost of failing to recycle too.
Can any of these products be recycled?
There are usually specialist companies who are contracted to dispose of hygiene products. In the case of nappies, the waste can be separated and turned into new products. The waste is sanitised, and the plastic in it is separated from the rest of the material which is pulp.
The pulp is used to make new products such as wallpaper and shoe insoles. The plastic makes items such as roof shingles and vinyl sidings. The solid waste can be used to produce green energy.
What can be done to reduce this type of waste?
You could buy reusable cotton nappies, which require the use of less resources to make, and they can be used over and over again. You may think they are a little expensive, but they work out cheaper than disposable nappies overall.
Reusable sanitary products made from cloth are now on the market, and they are being touted as being cheaper, better for health, and better for the environment, but whether they become popular or not; only time will tell