Decoding Design

How to make money from dirty diapers

How to make money from dirty diapers

Posting in Design

Terracycle is working on a system for upcycling products from the millions of tons of dirty diapers Americans toss each year.

It's not like you'd want a tote bag made from dirty diapers. That's why Terracycle, the company that made its mark in the world by upcycling non-recyclable waste such as Capri Sun pouches, needs to find different kinds of end products for the millions of tons of used diapers it wants to divert from U.S. landfills.

The plan is to sanitize them, separate the fibrous components from the plastic components, and then use each as feedstock in products such as puppy pee pads and composite lumber, respectively, says Alex Goldmark for FastCo Exist.

But that may turn out to be the easy part. The harder step could turn out to be designing a system for collecting the pee-and-pooh soaked parcels in the first place, since that will entail changing human behaviors. And humans don't generally change behaviors unless it's easy, and unless there are incentives. The other hurdle will be collecting and transporting the used diapers easily, efficiently and without raising a stink.

So Terracycle is testing an air-tight shipper box that it hopes to deploy to day-care centers and similar locations were large volumes of dirty diapers are already collected each day. It's also looking for a sponsor, such as Huggies or a similar brand, to help pay for the collection and garner good PR. If and when extended producer responsibility laws start to pass in this country, the mega-big consumer brands will have even more motivation to get behind something like this.

The organizations that agree to host and fill the diaper containers would also earn a monetary incentive.

If Terracycle can get these moving parts into place and hammer out an efficient collection system, it'll have plenty of material to work with. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there were 3.7 million tons of diapers in the municipal waste stream in 2010.

Via: FastCo Exist

Image: Flickr/IngaMun

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure