IT'S a dirty job but somebody decided to do it.
Recycle diapers, that is. This week a Toronto company started picking up disposable diapers and recycling them. The environmental reward is keeping diapers out of landfill sites; the business reward is recovering the rich pulp which makes up 80 percent of disposable diapers.
"Our goal is to provide an integrated waste management system solution which addresses the environmental impact resulting from the use of disposable diapers," says Marlene Conway, president of Knowwaste Technologies Inc. She wants the pickup of disposable diapers to be included with the pickup of other recyclable materials, such as cans and newspapers, which is already done in Toronto and other parts of the province of Ontario.
Disposable diapers make up an estimated 2 percent of garbage going to dumps. There has been some shift to cloth diapers, but the convenience of disposable means they are still popular: They don't have to be washed and they don't have to be changed as often because they absorb more. The pilot project to recycle diapers involves a garbage pickup that already serves hospitals. Special gray bins are loaded with diapers and taken to Knowwaste's plant near Toronto's airport.
"Collecting is not a problem," says Mrs. Conway. "For large institutions recycling diapers is easy. It's just a question of putting them in one special bin instead of another."
The company has plans to pick up used disposable diapers from apartment buildings and from 1,000 single-family houses in a suburb near the airport. Long term, disposable diapers would come with special garbage bags inside the packaging which would be identified as containing used diapers when the recycling truck rolls by.
At the plant, formerly a large bus-washing depot, the diapers are put into what looks like a giant front-loading industrial washing machine. Chemicals are added to take out what the babies put in.
The fiber is washed, dried, and then recycled into other disposable diapers and other products such as fine paper and towels; the plastic parts of the diapers - about 20 percent of the total - will also be recycled, some into a material to soak up oil, and into a compound to accelerate composting.
"The goal was to make sure zero went to landfill and the uses were helpful to the environment," says Conway.
She says the diaper recycling project is the first of its kind in North America. It has been sponsored by Dupont Company, which makes material for disposables, Procter & Gamble, which manufactures about two-thirds of all disposable diapers, and by the Ontario government, which is desperate to solve its overflowing garbage-dump crisis.
A mother of two, Conway first researched the disposable diapers project at home. "My son Daniel provided the material for our early research," she says.