They’re a stinky, dirty problem, but someone has to deal with them, and the landfill certainly isn’t going to do the work. We’re talking dirty diapers, of course, and we’re on a mission to find eco-friendly baby diaper disposal methods for wannabe green parents. Along the way, we hope to find methods for recycling things like feminine hygiene and incontinence products like pads and tampons, too, since they’re all considered absorbent sanitary products. Come with us to learn more.
Why recycle diapers and feminine products?
The environmental hazards of disposable tampons and pads, incontinence, and diaper products are pretty big, but the eco-gains we achieve by recycling this type of waste are great:
- Biodegradability: Sanitary pads can take 500 to 800 years to decompose in a landfill, and add untreated sewage to the mix in the meantime, which can contaminate groundwater and soil.
- Waste & emissions problem: The average baby will use between 5,000 and 6,000 diapers in their lifetime, and the estimated carbon dioxide emissions from pads and tampons are 12,800 tons per year.
- Significant savings: Recycling sanitary products saves water, trees, natural gas, and landfill volume. Used hygiene products can also be turned into new materials for more sustainable use.
How does diaper, tampon, and pads recycling work?
Companies such as Knowaste have been working on technologies that take the contents of dirty diapers and other absorbent sanitary products and separate them to turn them into new products. Generally, the process looks something like this:
- The materials are sanitized
- The plastic and the wood pulp are separated mechanically
- The wood pulp is used to make things like shoe insoles, oil filters, recycling paper products, absorption materials, and wallpaper
- The plastic goes on to be made into plastic wood, vinyl siding, and roof shingles
- The super absorbent polymers (SAPs) is used in agricultural applications
- The solid waste can be used to create green energy
The same types of methods could likely be used to recycle things like sanitary products for women and the incontinent, though no formal programs are yet in the works.
How to recycle dirty diapers, pads and other absorbent products
Of course, the diaper recycling technique you choose will depend on whether you’re recycling disposable or reusable cloth diapers. For disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, and incontinence products, follow these recycling options:
- Curbside recycling: Some communities, like Toronto, Canada, will allow you to return dirty diapers with your other compostable materials. Ask your local recycling authority to see whether this is possible in your region, and be sure to enquire about the other types of absorbent products while you’re at it!
- Compost disposables at home: Some disposables are made with biodegradable materials that can be composted at home, though these are harder to come by. They include gdiapers and Eco by Naty. These can be put into your backyard compost bin along with your food scraps. Just be sure to first flush the poop and then use the finished compost for non-food gardens. Learn more about composting this type of waste from the Humanure Handbook – you may just learn how to compost feminine hygiene and incontinence products as well.
- Diaper recycling services: There are a few companies that are pushing to offer a fee-based diaper recycling service. Though this type of diaper recycling isn’t yet mainstream, several communities, including Santa Clarita, CA, Birmingham, England, and Nanaimo, BC, have implemented trials to experiment with diaper recycling as a service.
- Diaper composting services: Likewise, there are new companies popping up to provide diaper composting services, including drop-off and pick-up of compostable diapers.