Nappily ever after

Following news that absorbent hygiene waste specialist Knowaste is to try again with a new facility in London, Women’s Environmental Network Trustee Hilary Vick asks: Should we welcome the return of nappy recycling? 

This article was taken from Issue 83

The news that nappy recycling specialist Knowaste is looking to open a new facility will receive rather a lukewarm welcome – at least from those of us engaged in trying to minimise the environmental impact of nappies by promoting reusables. The company’s plan, submitted on 14 September, is for a new absorbent hygiene product (AHP) recycling plant in West London, which would take in disposable nappies, adult incontinence and feminine hygiene products, using autoclave and shredding technology to recover plastics and fibres for recycling.

This comes two years since the first UK Knowaste plant, a 36,000-tonnes-per-annum facility based in West Bromwich, was shut down – after just 20 months in operation. The suggestion was that its closure was due to high operating costs and a lack of contracts for sale of the end products. Local authorities and businesses that had engaged Knowaste’s services were left with nowhere to send their AHP. Knowaste had previously operated a plant in Arnhem, the Netherlands, but this also closed down in 2007 after operating for eight years, due to a lack of feedstock and competition from new incinerators. I understand that the plant was also struggling to find markets for its outputs.