Improving resource efficiency and environmental impacts through novel design and manufacturing of disposable baby diapers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Authors:
  • Joan Manuel F. Mendoza
  • Simona Andreea Popa
  • Francesco D'aponte
  • Diego Gualtieri
  • Adisa Azapagic

Abstract

The annual market demand for disposable baby diapers exceeds 20 billion units (690 kt) in the European Union (EU). Almost 40,000 disposable diapers are used every minute, producing 1.3 t/min (dry weight) of waste. Based on the estimates in this work, this requires 90.3 PJ of primary energy and emits 2.7 Mt CO2 eq. annually. In an attempt to reduce resource, waste and environmental impacts associated with diapers, this paper focuses on novel design and manufacture of disposable baby diapers. This involves using optimised absorbent core and novel bonding technologies to replace conventional gluing of diaper materials. Life cycle assessment has been performed to compare the environmental performance of these new diapers, here termed “glueless”, with standard designs. The annual resource consumption and environmental impacts of glueless diapers have been estimated at different production levels: a single production platform, an industrial plant, a country (Italy) and the EU, taking into account different production volumes, electricity mixes and waste management options. Different market penetration scenarios have been considered to determine potential environmental implications at the EU level by 2020. The results reveal that glueless diapers reduce the consumption of raw materials by 23% (9.2 g/diaper), primary energy demand by 25% (752 kJ/diaper) and global warming potential by 10% (10.4 g CO2 eq./diaper) compared to the standard diapers. They also have more than 50% lower eutrophication, ozone depletion and human and eco-toxicity. Up to 16 PJ primary energy and 191,000 t CO2 eq. would be saved annually in the EU by using glueless diapers. The cumulative savings would amount to 47 PJ and 566,000 t CO2 eq. by 2020. The annual consumption of raw materials at the EU level would be reduced by 196,000 t with cumulative savings of up to 584,000 t by 2020, also reducing the equivalent amount of waste from the disposal of diapers. Consequently, glueless diapers can contribute to meeting the energy, climate and resource efficiency goals specified in the EU 2020 strategy.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)916-928
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume210
Early online date8 Nov 2018
DOIs
StatePublished - 10 Feb 2019