The Welsh Government has trialled using recycled nappies to resurface a stretch of road on the A487 between Cardigan and Aberystwyth.
Fibres from 4.3 tonnes of used nappies have replaced materials used to make asphalt that are normally shipped in from Europe and beyond.
The other ingredient- aggregate- was sourced within a 45 mile radius, sustaining local jobs and cutting carbon by shortening the supply chain.
Nappies and other absorbent hygiene products are currently or have plans to be collected in 15 out of 22 local authorities in Wales. Still, an estimated 143 million nappies are thrown away in Wales each year.
Considered a single-use plastic, they could take hundreds of years to degrade in landfill. Though the plastic lining can be recycled easily, the fibres in the absorbing layer have previously proven a challenge.
To address this, the Welsh Government through its SMART innovation programme funded Ammanford-based NappiCycle to clean used nappies and separate the plastic and cellulose fibres for re-use. It is working with Welsh business to explore other market uses for the fibres.
The road is just one of many innovations the Welsh Government is spearheading in its aim to move to a circular economy- where waste is turned into a resource and kept in use for as long as possible.
If the trial – which will undergo rigorous environmental assessments to scrutinise breakdown of the material over time- proves successful, the initiative could be scaled up – reducing waste, tackling climate change and creating green jobs in the process.
Minister for Climate Change Julie James said: “The road to zero waste requires innovation, collaboration and bold action. We have elevated ourselves from one of the world’s worst recyclers to one of the best since devolution began. I have no doubt that with a Team Wales effort we can achieve world number one recycler, whilst ensuring no more rubbish is sent to landfill after 2025 and none sent to energy incinerators after 2050.”
Rob Poyer from Ammanford-based NappiCycle developed the process in 2009, where used nappies are cleaned, and plastics and cellulose fibres separated for re-use.
Baby care brand Pura teamed up with NappiCycle in 2020.
Pura CEO Guy Fennell said: “Despite extensive research, the technology for the perfect eco-friendly disposable nappy unfortunately doesn’t exist yet. As we seek that solution, we are determined to drive change and minimise the damage nappies are having on the planet.
“That’s why it was crucial that we partner with NappiCycle and make nappy recycling a reality for all UK parents.
“The road resurfacing is just one fantastic example of how recycled nappies – that would have otherwise ended up in landfill – can be put to really good use.”
Rob Poyer, NappiCycle founder, added: “This type of road surface material has huge potential for producing more sustainable roadways with a lower carbon impact.
“With this trial we hope to demonstrate that waste nappies could be widely adopted in our roads, not just here in Wales, but right around the UK.”
The recovered cellulose from nappies can also be used to make notice boards, flooring and insulation.
Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “The Welsh Government is committed to supporting our businesses to design and develop innovative solutions to global problems, which helps boost our economy and protect our society.
“I’m delighted our Innovation Team have been able to play a pioneering role in taking this project forward. Once again, Wales is demonstrating it is a leading player in applying R&D to Circular Economy solutions.”
(Lead image: Pura)
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