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‘Super absorbent’ polymers recovered from diapers

The Netherlands – More than 2 billion diapers are discarded annually in the Netherlands, making up around 8% of the country’s municipal waste stream. Manufacturing giant Procter & Gamble has joined forces with various parties – including Suez and Dutch waste solutions company AEB – to boost recycling in this niche market.

The recycling community in the Netherlands believes a large-scale diaper collection scheme will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

Procter & Gamble is already running a ‘state-of-the-art’ pilot plant in Italy which successfully separates end-of-life diapers into plastics, cellulose and ‘super-absorbent polymers’.

The venture enables not only diaper-to-diaper production but also the manufacture of insulation material, plastic buckets, asphalt and even cat litter.

The new facility envisaged for the Netherlands will be on a ‘serious’ scale with an initial capacity of at least 10 000 tons per year – to be expanded to 30 000 tons, according to Vincent Mooij, business innovator at Suez.

The first plant specifically designed to process diapers was made by Willem Elsinga, it is claimed. This heats the material at 250 degC for around an hour, essentially ‘melting’ the diapers to yield a soup-like substance and enabling the recovery of plastics as well as biomass to produce green energy.

Three larger versions of Elsinga’s installation will be built over the next couple of months.

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