Can You Build a House Out of Dirty Diapers?

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Photo: Flickr/Lars Plougmann

Even the most dedicated reuse enthusiast would have trouble repurposing dirty diapers. But thanks to an innovative recycler, they may soon be used for green building.

A recycling company plans to open five facilities in the U.K. that will recycle used diapers, adult incontinence and feminine hygiene products to create building materials like roofing shingles and synthetic wood.

Knowaste, a Canadian recycler that specializes in absorbent hygiene product (AHP) waste, celebrated the opening of its first U.K. plant this week, according to an article published by The Guardian on Monday.

The first site, located in West Bromwich, England, is the beginning of a £25 million Knowaste investment project, in which all five facilities will be constructed across the U.K. over the next four years.

Each facility will be capable of processing 36,000 tons of AHP waste annually, according to the company.

The West Bromwich plant uses a state-of-the-art technology that Knowaste has been researching since the 1990s to sterilize AHP material and mechanically separate individual components.

Once separated from organic waste and properly sterilized, these individual materials – which include wood pulp, plastic and super-absorbent polymers – can all be recycled into new products.

Plastic and wood pulp are ground up and formed into pellets, which can be used to make recycled paper products and building materials like shingles, siding and decking.

Organic waste is dried and gasified to create green energy, according to the company.

While the idea of using soiled diapers to build homes may sound more gross than green, think of it this way: The average baby uses 6,000 disposable diapers before he or she is potty trained, and diapers can take 500 years to decompose in landfill, according to Knowaste.

Around 3 billion used diapers are thrown away each year in the U.K. alone, which amounts to 500,000 tons of landfill waste.

READ: Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable Diapers

If only one of these facilities ran at full capacity for an entire year, the amount of carbon emissions saved would equal the annual CO2 emissions of more than 2,000 U.K. residents (or a whopping 110,000 tons of GHGs).

Currently, the AHPs for the West Bromwich facility are being delivered to the site by local, regional and national commercial waste operators that collect hygiene products from bathrooms, hospitals, nursing facilities and daycares.

But Roy Brown, CEO of Knowaste, told The Guardian he hopes to begin working with local authorities and waste contractors to recycle domestic AHP waste at all their facilities in the future.

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