Unicharm first began a disposable diaper recycling program in 2015. Before that the company had been extracting plastic pulp and low-grade pulp from some used disposable diapers and the pulp was repurposed Refuel Paper and Plastic Feule (RPF). In creating a recycling process, Unicharm faced the challenge of developing a process that is cheaper than incineration and creates a recycled pulp material that is as high quality as virgin pulp.
Some of the key features of Unicharm’s recycling process is the reusability of water, which makes process more efficient, and the development of a process, along with a research partner to repurpose superabsorbent polymers.
Uncharm formed its partnership with Shibushi City in Kagoshima Prefecture in May 2016. The goal of this program is to establish a system that can be widely adopted in Japan and in other countries.
“One of our goals for the future is to start working with a larger number of local authorities that share Shibushi City’s vision of valuing maerials resources and valuing people,” Says Junichi Nishikawa, director, department of environment Shibushi City Government. “In order to further expand the impact of Unicharm’s environmentally-friendly business activities, we hope Unicharm to function as a pathfinder that can act as a model for other business enterprises to emulate.”
For its part, Unicharm is continuing to undertake development work aimed at returning materials to their original constituent elements as far as possible.
"In our verification testing in Shibushi City, we have been working together with the officials of the local government authority to take on the challenge of getting this technology established as rapidly as possible, with the aim of developing a cyclical resource use model that supports the utilization of recycled products,” says Noritoma Kameda, director, new platform center, global research and development division at Unicharm. “As part of our goal to be a sustainable business, it is important that we switch over to an emphasis on recycling and resource recovery. Through resource recovery, the mountains of waste that would otherwise be disposed of by incineration can be transformed into mountains of treasure."