PHS facility turns absorbent hygiene products into RDF

A new facility to turn absorbent hygiene products (AHPs) like nappies and feminine hygiene products into refuse-derived fuel (RDF) has been unveiled by the PHS Group this week.

PHS facility turns absorbent hygiene products into RDFPHS, which produces washroom and hygiene products as well as waste management services, announced the new ‘multi-million pound’ patented method for processing AHPs yesterday (20 March).

The process, named LifeCycle, will use mechanical separation combined with chemical treatment to convert AHP waste into RDF at PHS’s facility in West Bromwich in the West Midlands – the same site as Knowaste’s former AHP recycling plant, although, notably, the site will not now be producing a recyclable material from the AHP waste.

The company says that the resulting RDF will be supplied across the UK and Europe for use as energy, most likely through incineration and other energy-from-waste technologies. The company hopes the process will result in zero waste to landfill for its customers’ hygiene waste products by the end of 2017.

AHP is a major waste stream. The average woman buys more than 11,000 tampons in her lifetime, while each year around three billion disposable nappies end up in landfills and take up to 500 years to decompose.

Businesses that send hygiene waste products to landfill are facing increasingly high costs for doing so because of rising landfill tax and processing costs associated with hitting UK environmental targets.

The PHS LifeCycle process will shred the wet products to break them down into component parts before compressing them to remove the liquid. The waste will then be chemically treated to keep it as a stable structure while it is baled to be used as RDF.

When the plant hits full capacity, PHS expects it to be able to process up to 45,000 tonnes of AHP waste a year.

Justin Tydeman, Chief Executive of PHS Group, said that the opening of the plant follows a long development process: “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.”

Gap in AHP market after Knowaste closure

At present, AHP waste is either sent to landfill or incinerated. Back in 2013, North American AHP reprocessor Knowaste closed the UK’s ‘first-ever’ AHP recycling plant in the West Midlands, which was responsible for processing 36,000 tonnes of AHP waste annually, after just 20 months in operation.

PHS facility turns absorbent hygiene products into RDF
The AHP is dried and baled into RDF
Local authorities and businesses that had engaged Knowaste’s services were left with nowhere to send their AHP, and nappy recycling schemes were thrown into ‘disarray’. The company has since submitted planning applications for a new site in West London, though Hillingdon Council last year refused the first application over concerns about potential odour emissions.

LifeCycle’s processing plant is operating from the same location previously occupied by Knowaste in West Bromwich, though it is using a different process to treat the material and will not be recycling it.

Knowaste’s process involved shredding AHPs in an autoclave, before separating and sterilising them using advanced thermal treatment technology and sorting them to remove contaminants. The plastics were then sent through a granulation and multi-washing stage, before being pelletised and reprocessed offsite for reuse. Fibres produced by the process were treated for use as a pet litter, which could be bagged on site and distributed to the retail sector.

PHS will be collecting and reprocessing all of its customers’ AHP waste through LifeCycle. The company has told Resource that it would work with any local authorities that wish to process their collected hygiene waste through the facility.

With more and more councils turning to three weekly or restricted residual waste collections, many are making provisions for regular nappy collection to appease residents. At the moment, the majority of this waste is sent to landfill or incinerated.

More information about PHS LifeCycle can be found on the process’s website.

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