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TerraCycle develops recycling for disposable diapers

Saw this article last week and felt it was worth passing on for a good read about a messy subject.

TerraCycle develops recycling for disposable diapers

By Chrissy Kadleck

TRENTON, N.J. (Jan. 24, 11 a.m. ET) — One of the dirtiest and most demonized portions of the municipal waste stream may soon be diverted from landfills.

Developing a recycling solution for used disposable diapers, a biological amalgam of complexity, has been a top priority of the global research and development team at TerraCycle Inc., a Trenton-based company whose mission is to create innovative solutions for waste streams.

TerraCycle’s team of scientists, led by Ernie Simpson, global vice president of research and development, is about to put a clothespin on its formula that will render dirty diapers into a material suitable for plastic lumber, pallets and outdoor furniture.

“We have come up with a continuous method of collecting the material, processing the materials using various methods for sterilization, testing and processing and certain parts of the diaper will be compostable,” Simpson said. “We are 90 percent of the way there with only a small portion of the process yet to be completed. I expect that will happen in the first quarter of 2012.”

Albe Zakes, TerraCycle’s global vice president of media relations, said the company is excited about the process.

“We think it could revolutionize the use of disposable diapers,” Zakes said.

TerraCycle hopes to launch the diaper recycling program in September. He is hopeful the program will be sponsored by Huggies Brand, its partner in collecting diaper packaging, but the program will accept diapers of any kind.

“We will roll it out in test markets by setting up these smell- and contaminant-proof collection containers [much like the Diaper Genie on a grand scale] at daycare centers and will also offer smaller shipping containers for personal use,” he said.

Zakes said the company will “reach out to the couple hundred [daycare centers] already in our program to see who wants to be involved” and the first 25 which volunteer will become the test markets.

“[Recycling] used diapers was a pretty tall order. It’s solving the most complex waste stream known right now in the U.S. There is no more complicated waste stream than that,” said Simpson. “The collection and subsequent disposal [of diapers] in large cities is a tremendous burden. If they can be recycled into useable products, that is a bonus for just about any large city.”

Simpson said his team of about 10 has worked on developing the solution for less than a year. The impetus for this endeavor came from TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky.

“When Tom Szaky comes to me and says, ‘Make it happen,’ that’s how it starts, and I have to make it happen,” he said. “It’s a matter of the intensity and forward-thinking of the CEO is why we are where we are today.”

Simpson wouldn’t reveal much about the recycling process, other than to say his team used standard processes for the plastics industry, but those processes are “innovative in how our formulas are put together.”

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