Pilot launched to recycle millions of nappies

Each year in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, people throw away a total of 57,100 metric tons of baby nappies and incontinence pads, in equal proportions. Only 1% of the total is collected and processed for composting, and the rest is incinerated. This is a shame, because material from nappies and incontinence pads is actually recyclable.

On average, a child in the Netherlands wears 4.5 nappies a day over the course of 3.16 years – a national total of a billion nappies a year. This means the total number used in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is 142 million a year. The Study on the organisation of the origin, collection and processing of textiles, plastic and nappies (in Dutch) puts the annual quantity of nappies and incontinence pads used in the Netherlands at approximately 400,000 metric tons, in equal proportions. On this basis, the amount used in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is 57,100 tons a year. Evenly distributed, this is an average of 24 kilograms per person – though per user it’s actually more than 300 kilograms a year. This makes it well worth investigating whether there is a more intelligent way to approach the problem.

Circular chain

The plastics that are recovered from the nappies can be recycled to produce bottle caps, for example for cleaning fluids and washing liquids. The absorbent polymers can be reused in nappies and incontinence pads. Research on applications for recovered cellulose is ongoing.

For the successful development of these pioneering applications, it is important at an early stage to find partners throughout the chain – a key step in making this material stream entirely circular. Various initiatives have been launched in the region, in partnership with municipalities and businesses.

Material Director for nappies

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area facilitates cooperation among municipalities and seeks possibilities to utilise the scale of the region for nappies, for example by means of joint collection, in order to develop circular business cases and thus promote the development of industry.

Marten Boels, Gemeente Haarlem:

“I bring parties together, motivate and stimulate organisations to collaborate on ideas, and thus contribute to increased circularity and economic development in the region. Without collaboration in the region, opportunities will be missed.”

Various initiatives are described below:

Smart bins at supermarkets

In 2019, a pilot will be launched in Amsterdam for an innovative way of collecting used nappies. The pilot is part of the European innovation project Embraced, which is funded under the EU Horizon 2020 programme. Resource and energy company AEB Amsterdam is participating with 12 other European partners from seven countries. In the Amsterdam districts of Zuidoost and Oost, a number of ‘smart bins’ will be installed. Once parents of young children have signed up to take part in the trial, via an app they will be able to access the smart bins. The pilot will run for three months and is aimed at testing the logistics and collection method, and the willingness of parents to dispose of nappies separately. Various interventions will be made during the trial. Once it has been completed, other municipalities can learn from the experiences.

Washable nappies

Apart from nappy recycling pilots, solutions are also being explored in another direction: washable nappies. The ‘AMA Mazzelkontjes’ project aims to build on the success of a campaign piloted in Haarlemmermeer and implement it in municipalities throughout the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. There are three aims:

  1. To reduce the quantity of nappies discarded as waste;
  2. To decrease the ecological footprint of the use of disposable nappies;
  3. To stimulate and kick-start washable nappy products in the region.

AEB Amsterdam and AMA declaration of intent

The 33 municipalities in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area want to contribute to the development of a recycling plant in the region for nappies. The plant will be capable of recovering valuable materials from the nappies, such as plastics, cellulose and Super Absorbent Polymers (SAPs), and will process 10 million kilograms of nappies annually to produce an expected 2.5 to 3 million kilograms of recycled material. Running at full capacity, the plant will provide 15 high-quality, sustainable jobs. The intention is that construction work on the nappy recycling plant should begin in 2019 and the plant should start operating in the last quarter of 2020.

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is working on a declaration of intent in partnership with the resource and energy company AEB. The aim, in collaboration with the municipalities in the region, is to ensure there is sufficient input for the plant.

Role of the Board

The Amsterdam Economic Board helped to set these developments in motion by conducting thorough market research and bringing together the parties concerned within the scope of the Board’s material transition programme. This is the collaborative programme in which waste streams such as nappies and incontinence pads are combined and upgraded at the scale of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area to create new material streams. 

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This is part 5 of a series of articles on the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area’s material transition programme.

4 October 2018

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