Recycling Nappies & Power Generating “Kites”

disposable nappies

Now and again I like to look out into the world of green technology and find instances of innovation that could one day become the norm. A couple of stories recently caught my eye and each solves a problem that we have been facing for a long time now.

What I love about stories like these is not the technology itself, as great as it may be, but rather the people behind the technology. Pioneers in their fields, they see ways to overcome the difficulties we face as a society and they have the drive and determination to see projects through to completion.

I’m not saying that these people are driven solely by environmental reasons and I would never think badly of those who hold a profit motive too because everyone’s got to pay the bills. In a way I think the profit motive is going to play a big role in solving the climate crisis – if there is money to be made saving the planet, you can bet your life that companies will be crawling all over it.

Anyway, I digress – the case for profiting from the environmental movement is something for another day. For now, check out these two stories of hope.

Disposable Nappies Recycled In Scottish Trial

The never-ending cycle of life and death gives rise to the inevitable bevy of babies that are to be seen in prams and pushchairs across the country but with them comes a dark side, a sometimes unseen but mounting problem of disposable nappies ending up in landfill.

Some of you may be aware of the forthcoming capacity problems that we face in the UK with regards to suitable landfill locations with sources saying we could run out by 2018. Scotland alone sees 450,000 disposable nappies being dumped each and every day so anything that can be done to reduce this burden is welcome.

Up until now in the UK, it has not been possible to safely recycle these nappies and other absorbent hygiene products but that could all change if a trial in Scotland is successful. Four Scottish councils, covering some 36,000 households, are taking part in the pilot scheme with Zero Waste Scotland and Knowaste to establish whether it is viable to roll-out across Scotland and, if it is, how to go about it.

The benefits don’t just stop at reducing the tonnage going to landfill; the fibres created during the recycling process can be used to create items such as park benches, decking, fencing and roof tiles. This means less virgin material is required – less wood, less plastic and less metal and while there is an energy requirement for recycling, in almost all cases that usage is less than for virgin materials.

On the whole, it seems that councils across the country are trying to increase recycling rates and if they can recycle nappies, there is hope that one day there will be very little that can’t be repurposed for some other use.

A Kite-like Solution To The Wind Turbine Conundrum?

There are endless debates on wind energy that have people up in arms on both sides but I’m not even going to attempt to go into those right now for fear of opening up a Pandora’s Box that might take me weeks to escape from. What I am going to do, however, is bring your attention to a form of wind power that promises to be cheaper and more effective than current turbines.

The Makani Power project aims to build a fully commercial Airborne Wing Turbine (AWT) that uses the same principles of aerodynamics as traditional turbines but looks and acts more like a kite. The AVT is tethered to the ground and, once in the air, flies in a circular motion to generate power as the air flows through rotors that are mounted on the wing.

Take a look at this video showing their prototype in action:

This type of system has a number of advantages:

  1. The biggest factor that could play into the hands of this system is that it could reduce the cost of electricity production versus traditional wind farms by up to 50% – this takes away the argument of many that wind power is too expensive
  2. I won’t go into the details but it is claimed that such a turbine could produce 50% more energy than your typical turbine of the same rated power (i.e. the power delivered when running at full capacity) so again it negates the argument that wind turbines are inefficient
  3. Because these turbines will operate at higher altitudes than the regular setup, they can utilise wind power across much larger areas where that current setup would not function effectively. They are also able to run on a floating base far out to sea which means they won’t be visible from land should we choose locate them off of coastal areas
  4. The construction of these AWTs uses just 10% of the raw materials of a traditional turbine
  5. It is less likely to impact avian and bat populations that may live nearby

So as you can see, there are numerous reasons why this approach may form a large part of the future of wind energy and because they are less of an eyesore, I don’t see them being complained about or campaigned against quite so much as current wind farms.

I really hope that this venture is getting the backing it requires to take the next step. Their aim is to have 600kW commercial turbines in testing in around 3 years and there are then plans to scale up the size of the AWTs so that they can operate offshore with a rated power of 5mW.

As with all these things, wind power is only one component of the solution to our energy crisis but by making it cheaper and more effective, these kite-like installations could be an important leap forward in the wind industry.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

10 Responses to “Recycling Nappies & Power Generating “Kites””

  1. ryan
    July 7, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    your spot on about the nappies, but a lot of people never really think about recycling them. A scheme should be put in place to raise awareness

    • Steve
      July 7, 2012 at 5:25 PM

      Well we have to wait and see whether this pilot scheme in Scotland works first before they can begin to roll it out the the wider population.

  2. July 9, 2012 at 11:25 AM

    I work for Knowaste – we set up in the UK last year and we already recycle nappies and incontinence products from the commercial sector – child care nurseries, elderly residential and care homes and washrooms. We anticipate that the Scottish pilot and those in Cheshire and Wales will provide the evidence of high participation, best recycling collection system and the costs thereof for the schemes to be rolled out to more homes by the local authorities. At that time, schemes will be put in place to build awareness. All local authorities share a need to meet recycling targets and mitigate increasing costs of landfill and associated taxes. These pilots are a welcome sign of momemtum.

    • Steve
      July 9, 2012 at 2:22 PM

      Great to see those in the know chipping in with their thoughts so thanks for that Bronwen. I’m really hoping that these pilots achieve the necessary success for it to go further.

  3. Ann
    July 13, 2012 at 7:11 PM

    When my children were babies we used terry nappies but I dont know if that would be any greener now or not as they still have to be washed in the washing machine. what do you think

    • Steve
      July 16, 2012 at 9:52 AM

      It’s true, washing nappies does require quite a lot of energy – especially as you normally have to use a high temperature. I am actually going to be looking into this in a lot more detail soon as it seems like a big issue given the huge amount being dumped every day.

  4. August 30, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    recycling will help our nation to clean our environment, i usually cut into small pieces my sons used nappy.i saw some news that they have machines for all trash, machines will cut the plastics to small pieces add some cement and build houses..then those biodegrable trash they mixed it in the soil for plants

  5. donnau1
    August 30, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    When I had my children I mostly used white cloth nappies and it was quite a challenge keeping it white. I only used pampers when I am going out like on a doctors visit. This is the first time I have heard about recycling used nappies. Thanks for sharing this news to the public.

    • August 30, 2012 at 3:57 PM

      Hopefully this trial will be a success because there are far too many used nappies going into landfill – or someone needs to come up with a biodegradable disposable nappy.

  6. Dara
    April 6, 2013 at 10:37 PM

    I hope this trial is successful and goes international quick. What is the life cycle of this product? Does it use virgin materials in the initial manufacturing, and how does the recycling process work. I have wondered for a long time whether it could be possible to compost nappies, but turning them into something like a bench never occurred to me.

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