Hundreds of millions of feminine hygiene products, nappies and incontinence pads disposed of in public and commercial bins and currently sent to landfill each year can now be recycled to produce clean energy, according to PHS Group.
The hygiene services and waste management company has launched a patented process that could resolve one of the most pressing sustainability challenges in the UK. Hygiene product waste takes up to 500 years to decompose and is one of the largest contributors to UK landfill.
The average woman buys more than 11,000 tampons in her lifetime and around three billion disposable nappies are sent to landfill each year.
Called LifeCycle, the multi-million pound investment is the first process of its kind that can operate cost-effectively and on an industrial scale. It combines mechanical separation with chemical treatment and converts highly absorbent hygiene products into Refused Derived Fuel (RDF), which is then supplied to the alternative energy market both in the UK and in Europe. RDF is typically burned in biomass plants to produce electricity and hot water either for municipal power systems, the National Grid or individual companies.
PHS Group chief executive Justin Tydeman said: “Hygiene products are an essential part of many of our everyday lives but disposing of them has always been an issue. We have spent almost a decade refining the LifeCycle process and we now have a viable option for diverting hygiene waste products away from landfill. For the first time, we can all enjoy the benefits that the products bring and know that they are disposed of in an environmentally responsible way.”
Currently, hygiene product waste is either incinerated or sent to landfill. Neither option is ideal. Burning wet waste is expensive due to the energy required to heat and then burn it. Sending hygiene waste products to landfill is harmful to the environment because of the time it takes for the waste to decompose. Businesses and organisations sending hygiene waste products to landfill also face increasingly high costs because of the need to hit UK environmental targets to tackle landfill capacity issues.
Justin Tydeman added: “Our hygiene waste customers are genuinely concerned that they minimise their impact on the environment. By converting hygiene waste products into RDF instead of sending them to landfill, we can help them to achieve their environmental targets. Our goal is zero to landfill for our customers’ hygiene waste products by the end of 2017.”