Biodegradable diapers: Next big circular economy concept for plastic elimination

In the search for a sustainable and circular economy, the degradation of biodegradable diapers is the way to go for waste management of the global plastic consumption issue.

Single-use or disposable diapers containing several chemical ingredients, including plastic, are now a global villain for waste. According to Newswire, the global diaper market was worth more than US$ 54 billion in 2016 and is expected to exceed US$ 71 billion by 2022. These single-use and disposable diapers are on the market because they are inexpensive and easy to use; however, the short-term benefit is that they place a heavy burden on the environment.

The relentless degradation of the environment is being influenced by the overuse of plastic in the ocean, with landfill posing a severe threat to marine life and ecological balance. The use of microplastic in a limited amount has a significant impact on single-use products. Thus, eliminating plastic, replacing single-use plastic with a sustainable alternative, and developing a new delivery system are all necessary steps to take today.

Single-use diaper problems

Figure: Problems regarding single-use diapers in the environment
  1. The faecal contents of a single-use baby diaper can quickly go into the groundwater and create waste in the watery region.
  2. More greenhouse emissions to the environment in its entire lifetime.
  3. Plastic originating from petroleum and other harmful chemicals are released into the environment.
  4. Used diapers are discarded in landfills containing more and more carcinogenic materials.

Bryan Haynes, technical director of global nonwovens for Kimberly-Clark, spoke about this issue with concerns at the ITMA Nonwovens Forum on June 10. “Every minute, over 300,000 diapers are either destroyed, disposed of in landfills, or pollute the environment,” he said. This equates to 38 million tons of plastic waste annually, or approximately 167 billion diapers. Furthermore, diapers and other organic waste degrade in landfills, producing methane gas 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.”

According to some studies, producing single-use diapers for one baby per year requires more than 22 kg of petroleum and 136 kg of wood. As a result, the amount of used plastic and absorbent polymers is a significant concern for these issues.

According to the EPA, single-use diapers take nearly 500 years to degrade, making them the third most common consumer item in US landfills. Every day, an estimated 3.75 million disposable diapers are used in Australia, contributing significantly to waste production. The daily use of disposable diapers in Europe is estimated to be eight million.

These excesses of diapers and hidden plastic should be replaced with new and adaptable waste management and circularity technology.

Plastic consumption and its effect

Plastic consumption is among the most challenging and contentious issues at international or environmental conferences or meetings. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, approximately 460 million tonnes of plastic are produced annually (OECD) globally. This figure more than doubled between 2000 and 2019, showing no signs of slowing down. By doing so, global production will nearly triple by 2060, reaching 1,231 million tonnes.

Plastic waste is one of the leading causes of aquatic pollution, as evidenced by the number of marine animals that die each year from ingesting plastic. Plastic has the potential to last for more than 100 years on Earth. These plastics have a form known as microplastic, which can easily mix with food, air, and drinking water, causing kidney and lung damage in children and even harming adults if consumed in large quantities. Single-use diapers are a gold mine for people’s plastic consumption.

Plastic consumption also contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. According to Human Rights Watch, if current trends continue, plastics-related emissions will account for 15% of the global carbon budget by 2050.

The solution to these issues is undeniably biodegradable disposable and renewable diapers made of materials that decompose quickly in the environment without generating harmful and toxic materials, which aligns with global circularity goals.

Biodegradable disposable and recyclable diapers – way forward to sustainability

Biodegradability refers to a material’s ability to degrade naturally and dispose of it with a green aspect in its core, which is the inverse of compostability. Diaper biodegradability can occur due to natural humidity, pressure, temperature, or microorganic activity. This solution may aid in reducing the environmental footprint and reducing plastic pollution.

Biodegradable diapers are typically made from cellulosic fibres or other animal fibres. Cotton, silk, wool, bamboo leaves, and other novel materials can be used. Absorbent hygiene products (AHP) are disposable systems for household or sanitary products that can absorb certain fluids. The biodegradable use of AHP can be highly beneficial.

The raw materials used to manufacture single-use diapers are primarily made of fossil fuels. Some manufacturers are now attempting to use bio-mass-based materials in their manufacturing processes. Using biodegradable materials and renewable products can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. However, implementing such innovative projects is still in its early stages, but it has enormous potential.

The biodegradability of such diapers promotes circularity and closes the loop because the diapers do not end up in landfills but can be degraded naturally without requiring additional land, processing, or chemicals. Finally, recycling is a much simpler approach.

Urine and faeces typically occupied a large portion of single-use baby diapers. The traditional method of diaper renewability is not the best way to go. Many countries, including England, Germany, and the United States, attempt to implement strategic diaper recycling procedures. The procedure for removing waste, plastic, and chemical particles is complicated.

It can include collecting, grinding, separating, washing, and granulating stages. Some manufacturers also take a different approach to the process, such as collecting, chemical separation, mechanical separation, heating, etc. Using enzymes, used single-use baby diapers can also be recycled into garden compost or soil fertilizer. Plastics can be converted into fuels under certain conditions and procedures.

In many ways, a biodegradable diaper is superior to single-use diapers. The sustainable approach employs sustainable materials, a circular process that degrades in a matter of years, uses less fossil fuel, mitigates, and so on. However, it is more expensive than a single-used diaper and less widely available. Biodegradable diapers are also better for the skin of children. On the other hand, a reusable approach frequently consumes more water and electricity, but the environmental benefit outweighs the additional cost in some ways.

FactorsSingle used diapersBiodegradable diapers
Economical roadmapLinearCircular
SustainabilityNot particularly sustainableA sustainable approach
DegradationA long time for degradationA few years, more or less
Fossil fuel usageMoreVery less
PlasticIt has loads of plastic materialsFree from the plastic approach
Environmental impactHeavyVery less
Table: This table contains the differences between single-used and biodegradable diapers.

Many nations struggle to address environmental issues, and retailers and producers with an eye toward sustainability still have few options. For this reason, the diaper industry must adopt eco-friendly inventory and supply chain practices. All environmentally conscious businesses in the diaper industry agree that using only biodegradable materials from start to finish in a fully circular system is the only option.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button