Closing the loop on nappies: an Aussie trial

Kimberly-Clark Australia

Friday, 09 December, 2022

Closing the loop on nappies: an Aussie trial

Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Huggies nappies, has announced a nappy recycling trial that may be Australia’s answer to the 1.5 billion disposable nappies that end up in landfill each year. Approximately 300,000 babies are born in Australia every year, and about 95% of them wear disposable nappies.

The Nappy Loop has been underway in South Australia since July 2022. Claimed to be the first nappy recycling trial of its kind in Australia, it uses anaerobic digestion to turn the organic materials in used Huggies nappies into nutrient-rich compost, as well as bioenergy that is captured and used to power the recycling process.

Led by Kimberly-Clark Australia, along with CSIRO, Peats Soils and Garden Supplies, Solo Resource Recovery, and early learning and care provider G8 Education, the Nappy Loop team has collected and recycled almost two tonnes of used Huggies nappies, to help prove that anaerobic digestion is a viable option for the nappy recycling process.

Kimberly-Clark ANZ Managing Director Belinda Driscoll said, “Families and day care centres across the country rely on the convenience and performance of disposable nappies and while we work to innovate and create more sustainable products, recycling is one solution for disposable nappy waste. Identifying a recycling solution that works hasn’t been easy due to the availability of technology and collection systems. Today is a very proud day for us, announcing that we have trialled right here in Australia, and it represents a big step in Kimberly-Clark ANZ’s sustainability strategy.”

How the trial worked

The Nappy Loop trial has adopted a B2B model. Solo collected used Huggies nappies from G8 Education’s Welly Road Early Learning Centre in Mount Barker and delivered them to the Peats composting facility for processing. There, the anaerobic digestion process takes place and the plastic components from the nappies are separated from the organic matter and evaluated for future recycled products. In addition, bioenergy captured from the anaerobic digestion process is used to power the Peats composting facility.

CSIRO is validating the results of the trial and the full report will be available soon. However, initial results

  • The anaerobic digestion process was beneficial in biodegrading the organic matter in nappies (post separation of plastics) when mixed with expired food waste and beverages with high sugar content. Food waste and beverages not only help in separating the plastics from the shredded nappies but also provide additional liquid content and sugars for the anaerobic digestion process.
  • The anaerobic digestion process was able to turn the fluff pulp and other organic components of the soiled nappies (after separating plastics) into nutrient-rich compost and biogas. CSIRO is still assessing how much biogas is produced from the degradable organics in nappies. However, early test results indicate a successful conversion of organic carbon during the digestion of nappies (post separation of plastics) to biogas.

CSIRO’s Principal Research Scientist Dr Anu Kumar said, “CSIRO is working with Kimberly-Clark Australia to provide scientific validation of The Nappy Loop pilot to help tackle waste. Our research for this Australian trial will help inform the team on the potential scaling of the program to help reduce the amount of nappies ending up in landfill.”

Managing Director of Peats Soils and Garden Supplies Pete Wadewitz said: “Anaerobic digestion is a growing area of focus and possibility in Australia. The process has been used successfully in Toronto, Canada to recycle disposable nappies and we are excited to be introducing this innovative approach in the Southern Hemisphere as we work to solve the nappy waste issue.”

G8 Education Head of Early Learning and Education Ali Evans said, “Through this partnership the nappies changed every day at our Welly Road centre are recycled instead of going into landfill. As educators of our future generations, sustainability is a core focus in all our 440 centres across Australia and we’re excited to contribute to this partnership and the positive environmental impact it can make.”

After a five-month trial, The Nappy Loop is exploring the opportunity to scale the program in South Australia and nationally. This includes a partnership with APR Plastics to test the recycling of the recovered plastic from the nappies using pyrolysis, with the aim of having results available in early 2023.

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