The Flemish government has set aside €30 million for a variety of environmental projects, including the recycling of disposable nappies, minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) announced.
“Any mother or father will agree. Bringing a little child into the world also means changing a lot of nappies,” Demir posted on Facebook today.
“During your child’s nappy period, meaning from birth until he or she is toilet trained, an average of about four thousand nappies need to be changed.”
According to an analysis carried out by the Flemish waste management agency Ovam, 11.8% of household waste, or an average of 13kg per resident per year, consists of hygiene waste, including nappies and incontinence materials. And that does not include the nappies used in pre-school, which form part of business waste.
In all, nappies amount to about 65,000 tonnes a year.
Almost all of that waste goes for incineration, forming part of a mountain of undifferentiated waste the EU aims to reduce by 25% by 2030.
“If we can manage to roll out a recycling project that gives nappies a second life, we can make the mountain of waste even smaller,” Demir said. “A challenge that I absolutely want to take on.”
To begin to move in that direction, Flanders has €30 million for a series of recycling projects – not only disposable nappies but also other waste products like asbestos and plastics.
Now Ovam is to work together with the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) to look into the recycling of disposable nappies. They will be looking closely at Elsinga, a Dutch company that it already recycling, processing 5,000 tonnes a year through its reactor near Nijmegen, with the ambition of reaching a throughput of 15,000 tonnes.
“It is hard work to make any progress,” company owner Willem Elsinga told De Standaard.
Disposable nappies, unlike their older cloth counterparts, are made of several different materials, and the composition is not standardises. One type contains more paper pulp, another more super absorbers or plastic and another uses biodegradable plastics. And the waste package comes with wet-wipes and collecting bags mixed in.
The contents of the nappies make the job even more challenging, Elsinga said.
“We’re not doing this just because,” Demir posted.
“Less residual waste also means less CO2 emissions from incineration. That is also the reason why we are setting the bar high. Investing in the circular economy is investing in our environment. When Flanders is a leading recycling hub at European and world level, it also leads others on the way to a healthier living environment. We are working on it.”