A pail full of dirty diapers.

Photo Credit: Wagga Wagga City Council

Where the Streets are Paved with Poo

It took 10 years for NappiCycle to figure how to recycle dirty diapers into reusable plastic fibres

An innovative Welsh company is giving new life to dirty diapers

Sometimes it pays to think outside the box. Especially if it’s a box of disposable diapers. A recycling company in Wales has found a way to pave roads with the processed remains of dirty diapers.

NappiCycle, in partnership with the Welsh government, recently paved a 2 km stretch of highway near the county of Ceredigion.

It took ten years of trial and error to figure out how to take a dirty diaper and process it into something reusable.

“We break down the absorbent polymers in the waste,” company director Rob Poyer told CBC’s As It Happens in a recent interview. “And then, in essence, we put it through a washing process.”

The Welsh government kicked in $303,500 for the project. The company wants to reduce the avalanche of smelly diapers dumped in the landfill.

Poyer said people are surprised when they learn they’re driving on a road made from more than 100,000 used diapers. 

NappiCycle collects the filthy diapers from local waste collection and takes them to a processing plant. There, they get mixed with plastic and cellulose fibres, formed into pellets, and thrown into the asphalt.

In the United Kingdom, asphalt is generally mixed with plastic fibres that are imported from Eastern Europe or China. But with this pilot project, the director says that locally-produced pellets will reduce the carbon footprint. It also saves diapers from being burnt or buried at the dump.

Plastic waste is a global pollution disaster. There are an estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic currently on the planet.

Nearly ¾ of that total is trash. Most trash ends up in the ocean, where it often gets broken down into microfibres and then eaten by birds, fish, mammals, and other organisms.

Gwion Williams, a Welsh researcher at the Centre for Environmental Biotechnology at Bangor University, told As It Happens that diapers “are not an especially big source of plastic pollution in the grand scheme of things. But they aren’t insignificant, and every effort counts.”

The important thing about this project is that the diapers aren’t being turned into another plastic product that will become its own waste problem down the road. In fact, they’re being turned into roads.

And it’s a renewable resource! As long as people keep having babies, families will burn through bags of disposable plastic diapers.

But now parents can rest assured that each time their precious one poops or pees, they will be helping to pave a road into something as smooth as a baby’s bottom.