Over the recent years, disposable diapers have contributed considerably to the already huge amount of plastics that end up in landfills. Taking up the challenge to put a full stop to this madness, a team of Mexican scientists converted this dangerous waste, and its content, into a medium to grow mushrooms.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a single baby can easily go through as many as 8,000 diapers, and this is only on average, it could easily be more. Leaving aside the enormous budget that a family of a new born has to allocate for the comfort of not having to wash fabric nappies continuously, the price on the environment is even bigger. All these diapers end up in landfills, where they might easily remain for hundreds of years before they are finally degraded.
Looking at these numbers, it is actually a bit surprising that research on reusing and recycling disposable diapers is not extremely popular. A project ran at the Mexican Autonomous Metropolitan University, Azcapotzalco (UAM-A), however, demonstrates that it is possible to make something out of this toxic hazard, and even it is possible to turn it into something good.
Rosa María Espinosa Valdemar, lead scientist on the project, and her team, developed a method, which involves sterilizing used diapers (only these with liquid waste), grounding them and creating a substrate out of them by adding grape pomace, coffee, lignin from pasture or pineapple crown. Placing this into a plastic bag in the dark, results in the formation of fungus. Once these occur, the bag is exposed to light, where mushroom starts growing thanks to the cellulose from the diapers.
According to the scientists, this is a fast, green and highly effective method to speed up degradation of used diapers, reducing their weight and volume by as much as 80%. What is more, the plastic materials and the materials that retain the water in the diapers speed up the process even more.
The products can be used for various purposes. The mushrooms are safe enough to be fed to cattle as a food supplement, the water retaining gels can be added to soil in order to boost water retention, and the plastics can be easily extracted and recycled.
Image (c) UAM-A