“All the human and animal manure which the world wastes, if returned to the land, instead of being thrown into the sea, would suffice to nourish the world” ~ Victor Hugo
Ew! Getting down and dirty
When you think of recycling, what comes to mind? Aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic bags, newspapers, all the common household items that we as consumers use and discard.
I recently received an email from one of our readers asking the question “What happens with dirty disposable diapers? They are a nuisance and filling our dumps!”
He definitely had a point!
So I decided to look into the matter.
Dirty Disposable Diapers
Back when I had my first child the best Baby Shower gift was a month of Stork Diaper Service. Once a week they would pick up the dirty cloth diapers and provide you with a new set of clean diapers.
Disposable diapers have been available since the early 40’s, but did not really catch on and only became affordable in the mid 60’s when Pampers were introduced to the market.
Today, only about 2% of parents opt for the reusable cloth diaper, instead going for the convenience of disposable diapers.
Considering that most babies will go through about 1 ton of disposable diapers before they are potty-trained, babies’ disposables adds up to a lot of garbage.
When you then consider that it will take 500 years for those diapers to decompose, the disposables becomes a real issue.
To see the true value of recycling dirty diapers you first need to understand what they are. The absorbent material in disposable diapers is made of the same magic water-retaining polyacrylate crystals that make regular potting soil really expensive, polyacrylate crystals sell at garden centers for $10-$20 per pound! The remaining filling is cellulose fiber, which is basically ground up trees that can be composted.
The outer material is made of mixed plastics.
I am happy to report that there are several options for recycling disposable diapers! Not only are disposable diapers recycled into new, usable products, but other absorbent hygiene products (AHP) (feminine hygiene and incontinence pads) are being recycled commercially as well.
Two of the biggest recyclers of AHP are Knowaste and Terracycle.
They both use similar processes, basically. The AHP’s are cleaned and sanitized, the inside material is separated from the outer plastic, and AHP’s and plastics are recycled separately.
Watch the video from Terracycle to see the process.
Composting your own disposable diapers is also an option. Recycle Diapers Into Compost shows how to compost your own diapers in 4 easy steps. If you are composting be sure and throw in some biochar to help control the odor!
Since you can only compost the inside of the diapers you will still need to recycle the outer plastic.
Products made from recycled diaper plastics
After the plastics are separated from the AHP’s, they are turned into pellets that are sold to manufacturers.
New products are created. Here are just a few examples:
• plastic recycling bins
• composite materials replacing steel, wood and concrete
• pet litter and bedding
• cardboard industrial tubing
• fillers in the construction and road building sector
Of course, with any new recycling opportunity there needs to be education. Systems need to be setup for collecting the recyclables, and the process needs to spread across disposable using world and not just remain cradled in a few locations.
But the technology and design are already here and being applied. What’s needed now is a growing consciousness of 500 years of disposable diaper overhang.
Environmental Benefits of Cloth Diapers
While it is encouraging to know that there is a solution to recycling disposable diapers rather than waiting 500 years for them to decompose, filling our landfills in the meantime, cloth diapers are still the green way to go.
In the end, the best way to reduce the environmental impacts of disposable diapers is not to use them at all.
Cotton diaper services exist in most large cities. Increased use will generate huge environmental savings and drive down costs.
Reusable diapers use about half as much water, one third the energy, one fifth the raw materials, and generate only 1.7% as much waste.
Dr. Michael Shafer, one of the founding members of Warm Heart, and Director of our Environmental Program, is a problem solver, always has been, always will be. It is in his nature.
When confronted with the impossible task of recycling styrofoam, one of the worse environmental blights and most difficult to reuse, he came up with, you guessed it, one way to solve the problem.
Not only does his idea help repurpose styrofoam, it provides an entrepreneurial opportunity for anyone who is willing to take on the challenge. Someone (hopefully many someone’s) can make a huge amount of money while helping save our environment. All it takes is a little ingenuity.
Watch our latest video where Michael explains the process. This is the basics. The fundamental idea of how to turn styrofoam into a usable, profitable product. After watching the video, let your imagination take-off to see where this simple concept could lead.
For more information visit our Styrofoam Recycling page.
People making a real difference.
Trash Heroes are located around the world, and continue to spread.
The Trash Hero mission is to create sustainable, community-based projects that remove existing waste, and reduce future waste by inspiring long-term behaviour change. We do this through:
Action and Awareness. We pick up trash. Whether a cigarette butt on the road, or 20,000 kilos from island beaches – if we see it, we clean it! And as they say, actions speak louder than words. By spending just a few hours together picking up trash, people can see the real world consequences of being careless about waste.
Education. We back up hands-on experience with educational information about the impact that trash has on the global environment.
Sustainable Projects. We create long-term projects that bring communities together to remove and better manage their waste, and strategies that reduce the amount of waste being produced in the future.
Inspiration. We motivate people to become Trash Heroes in their everyday lives. Trash Hero Thailand alum have gone home to make their own heroic clean-ups around the world.
Learn more about Trash Heroes, find out if there is a group near you, or start your own!
Local News: E-waste Recycling
October’s Computer Recycling Program Seeks Local Participation
Iglu, an international community of digital professionals living and working in Thailand, devotes the month of October to cleaning up Chiang Mai’s growing e-waste problem by accepting donations of old computers, tablets and mobile phones to be refurbished or safely recycled to better the region’s ecological footprint.
“The volume of discarded electronics in East and Southeast Asia jumped almost two-thirds between 2010 and 2015, and e-waste generation is growing fast in both total volume and per capita measures, United Nations research shows.” (source: Phys.org)
Starting October 1st, 2017 until October 31st, 2017 anyone with older computer equipment, both working or broken, can drop-off their donations to Iglu’s Nimmanhaemin office (https://goo.gl/maps/z3wC8jb4r3B2) during regular business hours for safe recycling or potential refurbishment to be donated to those in need.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we all do stupid things sometimes.
Arlo Guthrie did a stupid thing back in the 60’s. He dumped a pile of garbage by the side of the road, down a cliff.
Alice’s Restaurant is the story of how that one stupid action turned into a subsequent chain of events which lead to his most celebrated song, “Alice’s Restaurant”.
If you have never heard the monologue you are in for a treat. The story is truly a comedy of errors.
Arlo was an anti-war activist, and while his story hits home, it was not originally intended as an anti-war song.
Every 10 years he tours and performs his 18 minute deadpan-and-guitar monologue.
In a recent interview with Andrew Kirell of The Daily Beast Arlo’s final words really struck me.
“You have to understand that what changed in the ’60s was not the result of most people doing anything. It wasn’t even a whole lot of people. It was a critical mass. We as messengers of ideas have to remember: You don’t need to convince everybody. You don’t need to convince a lot of people, just enough people. When you have enough people to move the world forward, it will move.”
This is so true, we do not have to convince everyone in the world that climate change is happening. just enough people. And when enough people care and stand up to make changes, we can make a difference.
Since early 2016, Iglu has quietly been collecting used computers from locals in Chiang Mai. Recently, Iglu refurbished and donated three of those computers to the children of Warm Heart Foundation, one of Thailand’s most dedicated organisations devoted to finding solutions to support and enable isolated Hill Tribe and Thai villages in becoming socially and economically sustainable communities.
Recycling at Warm Heart
As you can imagine, with 46 kids we have a LOT to recycle. Add in our staff and volunteer office recyclables, well, you get the picture!
Recently one of our Volunteers took on Warm Heart recycling as her own project. She personally raised the money to purchase recycling bins to help organize our recyclables. They are a great tool to use for teaching the kids about recycling.
We also compost, fortunately though our children are out of diapers so we do not need to deal with the issue of “disposable vs. cloth diapers”.
But if we did have to deal with composting disposable diapers we would not worry about the odor because we use biochar, which absorbs all odors from our composting.