TECH OFFER

Enzymatic Baby Diapers Recycling

KEY INFORMATION

TECHNOLOGY CATEGORY:
Environment, Clean Air & Water - Biological & Chemical Treatment
Chemicals - Bio-based
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TECHNOLOGY READINESS LEVEL (TRL):
LOCATION:
Austria
ID NUMBER:
TO129830

TECHNOLOGY OVERVIEW

In recent years, diaper waste has received a lot of attention due to the high volume produced and the difficulty in recycling. In fact, in the European Union, the annual market demand for disposable baby diapers exceeds 20 billion units, dramatically increasing the amount of dry weight waste (1.3 t/min). Despite their high value components, especially the super-absorbent polymer, these waste diapers are mostly disposed through incineration or buried in landfills.

Lately, some processes have been developed to mechanically recycle the different diaper components. However, these methods have issues in the complete separation of all the components, preventing the recovery of highly pure materials. Due to its composition, waste diapers can be potential substrates for enzymatic recycling, to recover the valuable components without worsening the current landfills situation. By using different enzymatic strategies, environmentally sustainable treatment of waste diapers can be carried out for a complete circular economy solution.

TECHNOLOGY FEATURES & SPECIFICATIONS

Diapers and other Absorbent Hygiene Products (AHPs) are mainly composed of a mix of polymers (superabsorbent polymers and PP/PE) and natural fibres (cellulose). Existing technologies have been developed to sterilise, dry and separate the AHPs into their constituent parts. However, these separated component streams are typically contaminated and not pure.

This technology thus proposes the use of advanced enzymatic processes for the degradation in mild conditions of various synthetic and bio-based polymers, and cellulosic fractions into their building blocks. With different enzymes, due to their specificity, it is also possible to fully degrade composite materials consisting of e.g. PET (polyethylene terephthalate), cellulose, etc. It is even possible to identify novel enzymes for specific industrial applications.

Furthermore, sustainable processes have been developed for the re-use of recovered valuable molecules. Recovered sugars can be used to perform different fermentation processes for the production of e.g. bioethanol, lactic acid, etc. The recovered building blocks can be used in chemical synthesis and can be re-used as secondary raw materials. These activities make use of the latest biotechnology tools and sophisticated analytical equipment as well as facilities for scale-up.

POTENTIAL APPLICATIONS

This technology may be applied in the following applications:

  • Recycling of unsoiled waste diapers
  • Recycling of soiled waste diapers
  • Recycling of other absorbent hygiene products, e.g. incontinence pads and feminine hygiene products

Benefits

The enzymatic method of recycling allows for users to degrade specific materials within a composite, and degrade them to their chemical building blocks. This enables the recovery of specific component material of the diapers/AHPs in a much purer form, allowing the recovered material to be used in a wider range of applications.

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