According to Ioannis Hatzopoulos, who manages global baby care sustainability communications at P&G, interest in recyclability is high in the Netherlands for several reasons. There is limited landfill space; high level ground water increases risk of contamination; and there are limited natural resources. The goal of the recycling project is to find new life for the materials sourced from recycled diapers while limiting the industry’s toll on landfill space and the environment in general.
Hatzopoulos discussed P&G's latest recycling efforts during the Resource Management session of Outlook, EDANA’s personal care products conference in Cascais, Portugal this week.
Hatzopoulos says that increasing the recyclability of its diapers is part of P&G’s four point sustainability vision which includes powering its plants solely through renewable power, using 100% recycled materials, conserving resources and contributing to zero landfill waste. The limited life span of disposable diapers and their impact on the environment has been a source of negativity since these products first became available several decades ago.
“The percentage that diapers contribute to household waste is growing—it's now between 5-10%—and it’s a very visible part of household waste that is not recycled,” he adds. "Our customers have been plaguing us to do something about disposable products."
P&G has been involved in diaper recycling in Italy since 2015 through Fater, its joint venture company with Gruppo Angelini. In August, Fater replaced its pilot scale recycling operation with an industrial scale operation. Like the one planned for Amsterdam, the new operation can recycle 10,000 tons of absorbent hygiene products per year, affecting roughly one million people.
According to Hatzopoulos, the recycling process removes human waste from the product and then separates the diaper material into three waste streams—supersabsorbent materials, mixed plastics and pulp. These materials then find life in new applications and create a new revenue stream for the company.
Local authorities in Amsterdam are subsidizing the recycling operation, hoping to ease the diaper industry’s strain on the environment. Much waste, including diapers, is incinerated in The Netherlands but recycling is a better option because it lessons greenhouse gas emissions and gives a new life to the recycled materials.
Geert Cuerus, senior advisor waste and materials, Rijkswaterstaat Environment, a part of the Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure, also spoke at Outlook, noting that recycling is the only way to truly close the loop in the diaper supply chain. “When you use a raw material you need to recover and replace that material at the same level so incineration has no place in this economy. That is the end of a life for some raw materials," he said.
P&G’s recycling efforts in Europe are in part being funded by the Embraced consortium, an EU-funded group that contains 13 partners to promote absorbent products recycling and find ways to turn them into higher value materials like fertilizers and bioplastics. Embraced recently received funding from Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking, a public-private partnership.