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Exploring the Future of Absorbent Waste Management in Australia: 4 innovative solutions

The last 18 months has seen the rise of several pioneering initiatives, each contributing uniquely to addressing the absorbent waste challenge. Australia has witnessed innovative absorbent waste initiatives such as: Kimberly Clark's Nappy Loop Project, TENA's Project Divert, DiaperRecycle Melbourne, and Tackle Lab’s NOGO Bin. While each show promise in sustainability, their success hinges on comprehensive product lifecycle assessments. Such assessments are crucial to align these initiatives with circular economy principles, ensuring environmental impact is minimised across the entire lifecycle of the products involved.


Tackle Lab NOGO Bin Compostable Nappy Collection Trial
Tackle Lab's NOGO Bin signage for Compostable Nappy Collection Trial

Let's explore these initiatives and their impacts.


This project, a collaboration with CSIRO, aimed to address the environmental impact of disposable nappies. It used anaerobic digestion to convert nappies into compost and bioenergy, thus reducing landfill waste. The initiative, a first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, involved collecting used nappies and processing them at a composting facility where organic material is transformed into compost and bioenergy.

Pros:

  • Reduces landfill waste.

  • Generates renewable energy.

Cons:

  • Challenges in plastic separation.

  • Ensuring compost quality standards.

  • Nappies still need to be redesigned to use less plastic and sustainable materials.



Project Divert, led by Essity and TENA, focuses on incontinence product waste. The project employs pyrolysis technology, which heats waste materials in the absence of oxygen, to convert incontinence products into biochar. This biochar could potentially have various commercial applications. The trial, involving 10 waste collection sites across Victoria, processed approximately 16 tonnes of waste over six weeks.

Pros:

  • Offers an environmentally sustainable disposal solution.

  • Biochar has potential commercial applications.


Cons:

  • Limited duration and scope of the trial.

  • Questions about long-term effectiveness and scalability.

  • Product design and manufacturing were not a focus and remain the same.


DiaperRecycle is a unique Melbourne-based startup that recycles disposable nappies. The initiative separates the plastic and fiber components of used nappies. The plastic is sent to recyclers, while the fiber is transformed into a super absorbent cat litter. This initiative currently operates a subscription pick-up service within metro-Melbourne and is the only program of its kind in Australia.


Pros:

  • Innovative approach to nappy recycling.

  • Sustainable cat litter alternative.


Cons:

  • Geographically limited to metro-Melbourne.

  • Subscription-based model might limit accessibility.

  • End use product limited to cat litter.

  • Recycled plastic collected has limited uses.

  • Petrochemical nappies are only accepted.

  • Biodegradable nappies or bags made with plant-based PLA plastic are not accepted.

  • Nappy redesign and manufacturing are not a focus and remain the same.


Tackle Lab's NOGO Bin initiative focused on introducing compostable nappies into one Sydney childcare centre. It involved educating childcare staff about sustainable waste practices and switching to compostable nappy and wipe products. The nappies were then collected and composted. There was a significant increase in understanding and implementation of circular economy principles observed among the educators involved.


Pros:

  • Education focused.

  • Increases understanding of the circular economy.

  • Reduces plastic waste.

  • Wipe waste considered.

  • Purpose driven initiative.

  • Nappy and wipe product and manufacturing considered.


Cons:

  • Limited compostable nappy choices on the market to choose from.

  • Cost of compostable nappies more expensive than plastic alternatives

  • Need for wider adoption and infrastructural support.

  • Limited duration and scope of the trial.

  • Questions about long-term effectiveness and scalability.

  • Ensuring compost quality standards.


Summary

These initiatives represent critical steps forward in Australia's approach to absorbent waste. While each shows great promise, they also highlight the need for further development, support, and scaling to achieve broad and lasting environmental impact.



Compostable Nappy Collection Trial
Meg from Tackle Lab presenting at an childcare educational evening

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I'm surprised by this biased and badly written article, for which we were never interviewed about our work at DiaperRecycle. I wonder if the other parties were interviewed? This article lacks critical information, and includes errors. If the writer had bothered to contact us she would have learned that, for a start, we do have a Life Cycle Analysis of our recycling process which was undertaken by an external company in 2022. And if she'd done further research she might have discovered that some of the other work being undertaken has been tried in the past. I would also query the comment that each shows great promise! A serious writer really needs to do more serious research into their subject…

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