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Happy Nappy or how to recycle nappies

Article published on 21.10.11

Happy Nappy or how to recycle nappies
With “Happy Nappy”, SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT has developed the first pilot scheme for recycling used nappies. The laboratory-based research project envisages innovative solutions to transform these plastic waste pollutants into energy and compost.

On average, a baby uses 6,000 nappies in its first two years! This means one million tons of nappies finish up in a rubbish bin in France every year. Classified as “sanitary textiles” along with wet wipes and paper hankies, they represent 34 kilos of waste per inhabitant per year. This accounts for 9% of household waste and represents a considerable volume for which there has been no recycling solution up till now. That is why SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT has decided to come up with a system specifically for treating used nappies.


Research in the service of recycling

In 2009, SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT and the Large Projects Department at its subsidiary SITA France launched “Happy Nappy”: a €340,000 research programme to carry out a laboratory-scale evaluation of the possibility of recycling this waste. With 40% of funding provided by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency ADEME (link) (Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie), “Happy Nappy” has developed the first pilot scheme for recycling used nappies. It has a three-pronged challenge: prove the industrial feasibility of such a process, its benefits to the environment, and its technical and economic validity.


Grinding, sorting and recycling

Run at CIRSEE, SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT’s Centre for Research and Development, in partnership with INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research) in Narbonne, APESA (Aquitaine Association for Environment and Safety) and ENSAT (French National Agricultural College at Toulouse), this pilot scheme has two stages. The first consists of grinding up the used nappies in order to separate the various components. These are 10 to 20% plastic, 10 to 20% fibre, 50 to 70% organic waste and 5 to 10% super-absorbent polymers that make sure that babies stay dry.

The second stage is to isolate the plastic from the rest, with a view to recycling them separately. The organic material is then degraded and converted into methane by a biological methanization process, then transformed into biogas or compost. The process of separating the nappies, the quality of the materials produced and of the biogas have all now been validated by SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT and its partners. The problem of recycling the super-absorbent polymers is still under investigation.


Nappies soon to be 90% recyclable?

Thanks to “Happy Nappy”, it is now technically possible to recycle 90% of the components of a used nappy. For two years now, this research project is fully in line with SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT’s commitment to the sustainable preservation of natural resources, the objectives of the Grenelle de l’Environnement promoting recycling, and the concerns of French citizens about protecting our planet. It is easy to imagine the environmental benefits of such a solution for France, a country with one of the highest birth rates in Europe, as well as for the rest of the world.


Find out more


The INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research)

The ENSAT (French National Agricultural College at Toulouse)

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Updated on 23.01.13