CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, is part of a nappy recycling trial announced today to help address the 1.5 billion disposable nappies that end up in Australian landfill each year.
The first trial of its kind in Australia, The Nappy Loop is being led by Kimberly-Clark Australia, with CSIRO, one of South Australia's largest composters, Peats Soils and Garden Supplies, Solo Resource Recovery, and early learning and care provider G8 Education.
The trial has been underway in South Australia since July 2022 and uses anaerobic digestion to turn the organic materials in used nappies into nutrient-rich compost, as well as bioenergy which is captured and used to power the recycling process. Together, the team has collected and recycled almost two tonnes of used Huggies nappies.
The trial so far has shown that anaerobic digestion is a viable option for the recycling process. The plastic is recovered, and the team is evaluating options to recycle this material. This will inform the potential of scaling up the program in South Australia and nationally.
There are approximately 300,000 babies born in Australia every year and about 95 per cent of them wear disposable nappies. The trial represents a step forward for reducing plastic waste in the nappy industry as a single disposable nappy can take up to 500 years up to decompose while one newborn alone goes through 8-10 nappies per day.
CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Anu Kumar said CSIRO was working with Kimberly Clark Australia to provide scientific validation of the Nappy Loop pilot project to help tackle nappy waste.
"Our research for this Australian trial will inform the potential scaling up of the program to help reduce the number of nappies ending up in landfill," Dr Kumar said.
Kimberly-Clark ANZ Managing Director Belinda Driscoll said a single disposable nappy can take up to 500 years to decompose.
"We believe we have a responsibility to lead by example and find better solutions for the community and our planet," Ms Driscoll said.
"Families and day care centres across the country rely on the convenience and performance of disposable nappies and while we work to innovate and create more sustainable products, recycling is one solution for disposable nappy waste," she said.
The Nappy Loop trial has adopted a B2B model, with Solo collecting used Huggies nappies from G8 Education's Welly Road Early Learning Centre in Mount Barker and delivering them to the Peats composting facility for processing. Utilising anaerobic digestion, the organic material in the used nappies is transformed into nutrient-rich compost whilst the plastic components are separated and evaluated for future recycled products. In addition, the anaerobic digestion process creates bioenergy which is captured and used to power the Peats composting facility.
Managing Director of South Australia’s largest composter, Pete Wadewitz, said anaerobic digestion is a growing area of focus and possibility in Australia.
"The process has been used successfully in Toronto, Canada to recycle disposable nappies and we are excited to be introducing this innovative approach in the Southern Hemisphere as we work to solve the nappy waste issue," Mr Wadewitz said.
G8 Education CEO Gary Carroll said through this partnership the nappies changed every day at our Welly Road centre are recycled instead of going into landfill.
"As educators of our future generations, sustainability is a core focus in all our 440 centres across Australia and we’re excited to contribute to this partnership and the positive environmental impact it can make," Mr Carroll said.
After five months of recycling used nappies, The Nappy Loop team is now exploring the opportunity to scale the program in South Australia and nationally. This includes partnering with APR Plastics to test the recycling of the recovered plastic from the nappies using pyrolysis, with the aim of having results available in early 2023.
Notes to editors
CSIRO is validating the results of the trial. Initial results show:
- The anaerobic digestion process was beneficial in biodegrading the organic matter in nappies (post separation of plastics) when mixed with expired food waste and beverages with high sugar content. Food waste and beverages not only help in separating the plastics from the shredded nappies but also provide additional liquid content and sugars for the anaerobic digestion process.
- The anaerobic digestion process was able to turn the fluff pulp and other organic components of the soiled nappies (after separating plastics) into nutrient-rich compost and biogas.
- CSIRO is still assessing how much biogas is produced from the degradable organics in nappies, however, early test results indicate a successful conversion of organic carbon during the digestion of nappies (post separation of plastics to biogas.
What is anaerobic digestion?
Anaerobic digestion is an increasingly common process in industrial composting to break down biodegradable waste. Little microbes break down waste — such as food and drink products — and in our case, the result is nutrient-rich compost and bioenergy.
How much plastic is there in a nappy?
For this trial, Huggies nappies were used which are made up of approximately 40% pulp and 60% plastic (about half of which contains superabsorbent polymer).
For this trial, the plastic and organic material in the nappy are separated from the start. CSIRO is in the process of testing the outputs for microplastics to ensure it meets certification.
About our partners
Kimberly-Clark and its trusted brands are an indispensable part of life for people in more than 175 countries. Fuelled by ingenuity, creativity, and an understanding of people's most essential needs, we create products that help individuals experience more of what's important to them. Our portfolio of consumer brands, include Huggies, Kleenex, Viva, U By Kotex, Poise and Depend. We use sustainable practices that support a healthy planet, build strong communities, and ensure our business thrives for decades to come.
To find out more, visit Kimberly-Clark
Peats soils and garden supplies
Peats is a second-generation, wholly South Australian company focused on receiving, processing and marketing recyclable organic resources in bulk and bag forms. Our vision is to be a world leader in sustainable and innovative organics recycling. Our 45-year heritage and passion for organics recycling and the creation of valuable landscaping, garden and horticultural products has given us a reputation as a true environmental and carbon friendly company.
Solo Resource Recovery
Solo Resource Recovery is a 100% Australian owned and operated industrial services, and waste management company that has been providing efficient waste solutions for government, business and households for over 80 years.
G8 Education Limited (ASX: GEM) is a leading provider of quality early learning education and care, with a range of trusted brands and more than 440 centres across Australia. We are driven every day to achieve our purpose — creating the foundations for learning for life. Our team members make an immeasurable contribution to the lives of children in our care, our families, our centres and our communities and are critical to achieve our purpose and vision.
To find out more visit G8 Education