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Pads to be recycled or composted at last


sanitary pads and nappy recycling plantUK ‘set for next phase in recycling revolution’.

Feminine hygiene products, disposable nappies and incontinent pads 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 in different parts of the UK within the next five years.

AHPs – primarily nappies – remain a sticking point for the transition to a more circular economy.

A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy of make, use, dispose, in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

The UK throws away almost more than a million tonnes of nappies each year – accounting for 4-7 per cent of black bin waste – all of which goes to landfill.

The £14m Hayes 180 site will take in more than 36,000 tonnes of AHP waste each year, which is to be recycled into useful plastics and fibres.

The site’s launch is planned for early 2017. Local authorities and commercial hygiene companies will be charged a set fee to use the facility, and replace the existing mandatory landfill or incineration costs associated with AHPs.

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.

Knowaste has already built strategic partnerships with a distributor of pet litter and a manufacturer of plastic bins, with a company spokesperson telling news site 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 this kind of process.

Knowaste’s UK business development director Paul Richardson said: “We are able to recycle over 97 per cent of the AHP product with our unique and exciting technology.

“Our AHP recycling process is considered to be the most sustainable solution to managing this specific waste, saving up to 70 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions when compared to the usual disposal methods of landfill and incineration.”

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.

Envirocomp has been running in New Zealand since 2009.

Karen and Karl Upston, New Zealand parents of two, developed the process in collaboration with HotRot Organic Solutions using existing HotRot patented technology.

The Upstons had owned a business selling both disposable and cloth nappies. With two children themselves, they were aware of and felt guilty about how many nappies they were contributing to landfill, but as busy parents found the convenience of disposable nappies very attractive.

They decided to trial composting disposable nappies on a commercial scale, and contacted HotRot Organic Solutions (NZ) Ltd, manufacturers of the HotRot range of in-vessel composting systems, for advice and guidance.

To their great delight, HotRot Organic Solutions (NZ) Ltd prototype composting unit was currently being stored in Auckland and they were offered the use of this technology for the trial.

The five month trial involved over 200 families, six pre-schools, the local maternity hospital, elderly residents and a Christchurch Branch of the IHC. Over the five months approximately 450,000 nappies were composted, which equated to 56 tonnes.

Based on the 2007 completed trial, the demand for this service exceeded all expectations and clearly identified a need for a commercial composting facility.

A custom-built composting facility was designed and went fully operational in North Canterbury, New Zealand. The business was then acquired in 2011 by OCS, an international facilities services group, whose subsidiary, Cannon Hygiene, is a leader in the provision of sustainable washroom solutions to companies worldwide.

The technology?

Nappies and other AHP waste are processed with green waste through a HotRot composting unit.

AHP and green waste enter one end and move down the vessel as part of a continuous process. This is of a duration and temperature that ensures pathogens are eliminated and that the full composting process is complete. The compost is then put through a screening process to remove all materials (mainly plastics) that cannot be composted. The final compost is tested by quality control before being ready for use.

The final compost is free from pathogens. It can be used for non-food agriculture, leisure areas and other general composted areas.

The plastic waste is currently sent to waste-to-energy plants, but research is being commissioned to look at recycling options.

The plant in Canterbury, New Zealand, processes 15,000 nappies per day – or over 5 million per year. As the operation in the UK grows, it will be able to divert an ever-increasing number from landfill.

While it would be better for the environment for people to use washable, reusable nappies, the fact is that 95 per cent of the nappies used in the UK are disposable. The aim is to reduce the landfill they cause in an environmentally friendly way.

Following its first year of operation Envirocomp’s plant in Rochester, UK has composted 4.6 million nappies.

Equating to approximately 700 tonnes, these nappies, which would normally have gone to landfill and left to degenerate, are now being used for land restoration.

It is estimated that disposable nappies can take from 250 to 500 years to decompose, so the ability to divert nappies from landfill is good for the environment and good for future generations.

Something to be happy about!

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