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PHS Group Turns Dirty Diapers Into Energy

By Tara Olivo, associate editor | April 13, 2017

LifeCycle process is changing the way diapers, sanitary pads, tampons and incontinence products are disposed of in the U.K.

PHS Group, a U.K-based hygiene company, recently commissioned a system that takes absorbent hygiene product waste and converts it into energy.

The patented system called LifeCycle launched recently after a six to nine month trial period at its site in West Bromwich, outside of Birmingham in England. The multi-million pound investment is the first process of its kind that can operate cost-effectively and on an industrial scale. It combines mechanical separation with chemical treatment and converts highly absorbent hygiene waste products into Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), which is then supplied to the alternative energy market both in the U.K. and in Europe. RDF is typically burned in biomass plants to produce electricity and hot water either for municipal power systems, the National Grid or individual companies.

Hygiene product waste is typically incinerated or sent to landfill, where the waste can take up to 500 years to decompose and is one of the largest contributors to landfills across the globe. In addition to the environmental toll these options take, businesses sending these waste products to landfill also face increasingly high costs because of the need to hit U.K. environmental targets to tackle landfill capacity issues, according to PHS.

As the largest collector of absorbent hygiene waste products in the U.K., PHS Group took it upon themselves to begin working on the process to recycle absorbent hygiene waste nearly eight years ago.

“We were collecting this waste as part of our standard service that we provide to our customers, then this waste went into landfills, but we wanted to find a better solution for a product that we collect from our core customer base,” says Clare Noble, operations director at PHS Hygiene

PHS’s 90,000 customers across 300,000 locations in England and Ireland include baby nurseries and nursing homes for the elderly, as well as businesses such as cinemas, shops, pubs and office buildings.

The company has a fleet of 700 large vehicles that collect sanitary bins at its customers’ locations, taking the bins from restrooms and bringing them to a waste transfer station where they’re emptied, the waste is bulked up into bags and taken off to the LifeCycle plant. The bins are then washed and sanitized and brought back to PHS Group’s customers.

“We shred the product, release any liquid or contents within the product, which then goes off into the normal sewage system, and the paper and plastic parts of the product are then baled into RDF, and that part goes off then to create energy in a waste to energy plant,” Noble explains.

Now that the process has been proven—it went live a month and a half ago—PHS Group is working with the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences. The team, headed by Professor Iseult Lynch, is working with the company to make the environmental impact of LifeCycle transparent.

“Our hygiene waste customers are genuinely concerned that they minimize their impact on the environment,” says Justin Tydeman, chief executive of PHS Group. “By converting hygiene waste products into RDF instead of sending them to landfill, we can help them to achieve their environmental targets. Our goal is zero to landfill for our customers’ hygiene waste products by the end of 2017.”

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