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The Future: Energy-Producing Diapers

2009 November 19

As I was listening to the radio the other day, I heard a very interesting report on diaper recycling/fuel production. Yes, you read correctly. This company in the UK is recycling soiled diapers and producing green fuel. As part of the recycling process, the materials are sterilized, separated into individual components which include organic residue, plastic and super absorbent polymers. These components are then recycled into plastic wood, plastic roofing tiles, absorption materials, recycled paper products, among others. What really caught my attention was the production of green energy! If I heard correctly, six megawatts of green energy were produced in the recycling process. One was used by the company to operate the plant and the other five megawatts were sold to the local grid. Go green! That’s a great way to reduce even further the amount and toxicity of our garbage.

Personally, when my children were babies, I didn’t consider which was the most environmentally friendly option when choosing diapers.  I just selected the most convenient method for our family: disposable diapers. It’s interesting that several months ago, in one of our Questions of the Week on diaper selection, we had a very interesting green conversation going with well over 170 people weighing in on which is the best option for the environment, disposable or cloth diapers. There are many articulate arguments in favor of both options.  At least, companies like this one are finding creative ways to reduce waste while having the added bonus of producing green energy.

As I was reading up on the issue for this blog, I learned that it can take 450 years for a disposable diaper to disintegrate in the ocean, and over 500 years in landfills. While we all should make an effort to adopt more environmentally practices to reduce waste, it gives me hope that at least in the case of disposable diapers there is some hope to go green. So, will we be talking about baby power at a recycling center near you? That might be the way of the future.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

14 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    November 19, 2009

    Her Excellency Lina…..
    You are right ! Similar with you, years ago I imagined the people, next time better, will fly like the birds. I don’t think this energy-producing diapers yours’ can make the basics of our future, and hureeee….. you are right; and also I hope to you, could humanity of the people does not change. Human being here !!!

  2. Bill permalink
    November 19, 2009

    To me this is a very efficient process in which could be one of the biggest turn arounds in the U.S because it is quite resourceful an convenient… Who knew that kids could really be the future?

  3. Jackenson Durand permalink
    November 19, 2009

    Until the year of 2004 we were using second method in my native which is cloth diapers for babies. Those greatest Caribbean mothers’ generations were spending time to clean those naturals’ diapers by sterilizing them in very high boil water temperature.
    Believe it or not, those babies did not get any skin rash or other any form of infections.
    Old fashion, it appears but today we get courage to make it a green option by trying to “empower babies”.
    That could probably go well and green!

  4. Thomas Wachtel permalink
    November 21, 2009

    This is a really interesting concept, mostly because it’s so unusual. I never expected diapers to be part of the global warming solution.

    I feel like if we’re really going to be able to solve the climate crisis, it’s going to be because we come up with innovative ideas like this. Individually they may not do much, but combined, a lot of small ideas like this can have great power. If the government is going to be involved in funding climate research, it shouldn’t just be the big stuff, like wind and solar power (though that kind of thing should get attention). There should be money for research in anything that holds potential for help.

  5. Leslie permalink
    November 21, 2009

    Hmmm…recycling disposable diapers? It sounds too good to be true.

    I remember my older cousin telling me all about the evils of the disposable diaper and how I should never use them when I had children. Of course, I was in high school at the time and not even on the same planet as someone thinking about what kind of diapers to buy. It did always leave a bad taste in my mouth about the whole situation though.

    Now, as I look to the possibility of children coming soon I am re-visiting this idea. I started to think how expensive it would get to buy the recyclable diapers, but how messy it would get to use the cloth ones. Inner turmoil. This could be the solution though!

    It is nice to see that innovative people are coming up with ways to “go green” in all areas of our lives. Coming up with ways for consumers to afford greener options is the way of the future for sustainable living. Producing fuel from the recycled diapers seems to me to be just icing on the cake.

    Hopefully, I will be telling my younger cousins about the wonders of the disposable diaper that gets recycled and can be turned into fuel, rather than one that sits in a landfill for 500 years!

  6. joshua nichols permalink
    December 2, 2009

    I am currently using cloth diapers for my little girl. I have known about bio-degradable diapers, but only use them in emergencies.

    I would love to see this diaper epidemic solved, these disposable diapers use so much petroleum, and fossil fuels, it makes me sick to think about.

    Want to learn more about the uses of green energy? Visit my website @ http://futureforgreenenergy.com

  7. Liz permalink
    December 6, 2009

    They’re not expensive. Without even searching hard I found a modern pocket-style cloth diaper with insert for less than $10. One such diaper will easily replace hundreds of disposable diapers, and depending on specifics disposables can run $0.25 – $0.50 a pop. Googling for something like “diaper cost comparison” will pull up lots of cost studies, but it’s pretty easy to see even without doing anything complicated that cloth diapers are less expensive.

    They’re also not really messy. I used cloth diapers for my children and kept the dirty ones in a diaper pail until ready to wash. Every third day I’d do a diaper wash. Not a big deal at all.

  8. cloth diaper permalink
    July 7, 2010

    The diapers will be shredded, washed, sanitized and separated into organic material and reusable paper pulp and plastic that may find new life as roof tiles, shoe insoles, wallpaper, industrial thickeners or many other potential uses . it is produce energy . so you can also use one size diapers thanks…………….

  9. Margaret permalink
    November 9, 2010

    I’m in the cloth diaper industry so I may be a bit biased, but when people are weighing in about the environmental benefits of cloth versus disposable I don’t think that people take into consideration being able to use the diapers for subsequent children and being able to resell them, allowing each diaper get that much closer to carbon neutrality.

  10. The OTHER reason to cloth diaper... permalink
    April 30, 2011

    We’re all forgetting about a VERY important reason to use cloth diapers…the *harmful chemicals* in them!!!!!

    Dioxin, sodium polyacrylate, tributyl tin….

    The main benefit is baby’s safety, then the environment, then our pocketbooks. Cloth diapering can save a family $1500-$2000 PER CHILD. Then, when you’re done using them on ALL your kids, you can turn them into rags or sell them to other families! Win-win for EVERYONE!

  11. Mary Cosedine permalink
    August 9, 2011

    An interesting thought – When is green green. If we have the option during the manufacturing process of using natural products rather than synthetics do you go straight for the former? OK in the case of the latter, for disposeable diapers, we may be able to recycle them to other forms of plastic and they may be used used to create energy but is this green?
    You see if we take the first option we are using renewable resources, making something that in itself is reuseable, and at the end of the day will rot away relatively quickly. See I am for the best cloth diapers

  12. Mary Cosedine permalink
    August 9, 2011

    An interesting thought – When is green green. If we have the option during the manufacturing process of using natural products rather than synthetics do you go straight for the former? OK in the case of the latter, for disposeable diapers, we may be able to recycle them to other forms of plastic and they may be used used to create energy but is this green?
    You see if we take the first option we are using renewable resources, making something that in itself is reuseable, and at the end of the day will rot away relatively quickly. See I am for the best cloth diapers

  13. July 20, 2012

    I am in the insole business and have seen a trend of insoles being made by recycled diapers. It proves that diapers can be recycled effectively. We just need to find a better and easier way to recycle. That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?

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