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The Welsh Government has trialled the use of recycled nappies to resurface a section of road on the A487 between Cardigan and Aberystwyth.

The fibers from 4.3 tonnes of used diapers replaced the materials used to make asphalt which are normally shipped from Europe and beyond.

The other ingredient – aggregate – came from within 45 miles, supporting local jobs and reducing carbon by shortening the supply chain.

Nappies and other absorbent hygiene products are currently or plan to be collected in 15 of the 22 local authorities in Wales. Yet it is estimated that 143 million nappies are thrown away in Wales each year.

Considered a single-use plastic, they could take hundreds of years to degrade in landfill. Although the plastic liner can be easily recycled, the fibers of the absorbent layer have already proven difficult.

To solve this problem, the Welsh Government, through its SMART innovation programme, funded Ammanford-based NappiCycle to clean up used nappies and separate plastic and cellulose fibers for reuse. He is working with Welsh companies to explore other commercial uses for the fibres.

The road is just one of many innovations launched by the Welsh government in its aim to move towards a circular economy, where waste is turned into a resource and used for as long as possible.

If the trial – which will undergo rigorous environmental assessments to examine the degradation of the material over time – proves successful, the initiative could be expanded – reducing waste, tackling climate change and creating green jobs in the process.

Asphalt made with recycled ply fibers is even more durable than standard asphalt and has a lower carbon footprint. (Image: Pura)

Climate Change Minister Julie James said: “The road to zero waste requires innovation, collaboration and bold action. We have gone from being one of the worst recyclers in the world to one of the best since decentralization began. I am confident that with an effort from the Wales team, we can achieve world number one in recycling, while ensuring that no more waste goes to landfill after 2025 and none is sent to energy incinerators after 2050.”

Ammanford-based NappiCycle’s Rob Poyer developed the process in 2009, where used nappies are cleaned and plastics and cellulose fibers separated for reuse.

Baby care brand Pura has partnered with NappiCycle in 2020.

Pura CEO Guy Fennell said: “Despite extensive research, the technology for the perfect eco-friendly disposable diaper unfortunately does not yet exist. As we seek this solution, we are determined to drive change and minimize the damage diapers cause on the planet.

“That’s why it was crucial that we partner with NappiCycle and make nappies recycling a reality for all UK parents.

“The road resurfacing is just one fantastic example of how recycled nappies – which would otherwise have ended up in landfill – can be put to good use.”

The A487 between Cardigan and Aberystwyth being resurfaced with asphalt made from recycled ply fibers (Image: Pura)

Rob Poyer, Founder of NappiCycle, added: “This type of road surfacing material has enormous potential to produce more durable pavements with lower carbon impact.

“With this trial, we hope to demonstrate that used nappies could be widely adopted on our roads, not just here in Wales, but across the UK.”

Cellulose recovered from nappies can also be used to make billboards, flooring and insulation.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething said: “The Welsh Government is committed to helping our businesses design and develop innovative solutions to global problems, which helps boost our economy and protect our society.

“I am delighted that our innovation team was able to play a pioneering role in moving this project forward. Once again, Wales is demonstrating that it is a leading player in applying R&D to circular economy solutions.

(Main image: Pura)

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