BBI JU EMBRACED project: Moving Europe’s mountain of nappies from landfill to helping create useful bio-based products

15 January 2018

As any parent will tell you, babies use a lot of nappies (diapers) and as the father of a 12 week old, I am now learning directly about the large amount of waste that even a very small baby produces! It is estimated that a child will use between 4,000 and 6,000 nappies and in the UK alone about eight million are thrown away each day, accounting for about three per cent of total household waste.

BBI JU EMBRACED project: Moving Europe’s mountain of nappies from landfill to helping create useful bio-based products

Disposable nappies in landfills take hundreds of years to degrade, but also have a significant environmental impact through their manufacturing, transport and the chemicals they require. When you include all absorbent hygiene products (AHP) waste, not just nappies but also adult incontinence products, feminine hygiene items and wipes, etc., across Europe, this non-recyclable waste totals 8,500,000 tons being incinerated or landfilled. But now, a fantastic new project, EMBRACED, supported by the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), a public-private partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium, is working to improve this process.

And to learn more, we speak exclusively to Marcello Somma Head of R&D and Business Development at FATER, a joint venture between Procter & Gamble and Angelini Group that manufactures and distributes a wide portfolio of products including Pampers in Italy who are coordinating the consortium behind the project, and Philippe Mengal, BBI JU's Executive Director who are supporting the project.

Launched in June 2017, the EMBRACED project is focussed on establishing a multi-purpose bio-refinery for the recycling of the organic content contained within used nappies and other AHP waste.

I ask Marcello to introduce the project: 'The origins lie in a focus on unlocking the potential that remains in nappies and other AHP beyond their use. Many of us are parents ourselves and have seen the huge amounts of waste first hand. At FATER, we strongly believe in the potential of the circular economy. We started with a nappy recycling demonstration plant in Northern Italy in 2015 and its exciting that the EMBRACED project will be taking this to the next level'.

EMBRACED is taking place in Amsterdam and has a number of objectives, but principally to demonstrate a replicable logistical scheme and service which will enable the collection of 10,000 tons/year of separated AHP waste and from this recover three separate high purity fractions suitable for subsequent added value valorisation. It will validate the obtained bio-based products – fermentable sugars and syngas and demonstrate the involvement of the local community in order to increase the separate collection and recycling of AHP waste in paving the way towards a wider uptake of this process.

EMBRACED is a truly Europe-wide partnership with organisations from Italy Legambiente Onlus, Novamont, Contarina, Edizioni Ambiente, Germany Fraunhofer, Spain – Fundacin CIRCE, Fertinagro, the Netherlands AEB Expolitatie and BV Ruberfabriek Wittenburg), Switzerland Procter & Gamble, Croatia Saponia and the United Kingdom Terracycle. This impressive line-up includes experts in logistics, conversion into new materials, enabling legislative framework, and the scaling of the recycling technology.

Marcello tells us more about BBI JU's involvement: 'They have been hugely important. Its a major challenge bringing the bio-based world to brand owners. And only partnerships, like those brought together for EMBRACED can help us achieve the goals that we all have for the bio-economy. In addition to their financial support, BBI JU has been able to bring their experience in developing an international consortium and leveraging the sometimes complex processes within it to make it a success'.

I conclude by asking Marcello what the final goals for the project were: 'It's a hugely exciting project and by 2022 will have demonstrated the feasibility of taking nappies and other AHP waste and through valorization developing sustainable and commercialised bio-based materials such as bio-plastics, fertilizers and high-end chemicals. In addition to the environmental benefits, there are also clear economic advantages through product development and job creation. A real win-win!'

Source: Bio Market Insights