Australian-first trial for aged care waste problem

Project divert

Global incontinence product manufacturer Essity has launched an Australian-first trial, Project Divert, to find sustainable disposal solutions.

Project Divert, was created in response to a lack of sustainable solutions for incontinence product waste from Australia’s residential aged care sector.

The project is an industry collaboration that is assessing the suitability of pyrolysis technology to dispose of incontinence products during a six-week trial, funded by the Commonwealth Government National Product Stewardship Investment Fund.

Rochelle Lake, who is leading Project Divert, said when customers started asking for a better solution than landfill for used incontinence products, she and her team explored what the waste industry could offer. It turned out there was no viable alternative.

“We’ve been in pursuit of a more sustainable option for several years. Aged care facilities are eager to contribute to a more sustainable future and so are we,” Lake said.

“As a product manufacturer and company that is committed to sustainability and making advances with full life cycle management of our products, we chose to innovate in this space.”

Launched in early February 2023, Project Divert is based at the Med-X Healthcare Solutions facility in Sale, regional Victoria.

The trial uses patented pyrolysis technology developed in Victoria by Earth Systems, which heats waste materials in the absence of oxygen, creating lower emissions than traditional incineration. The waste is converted to a biochar (carbon rich materials) that may have various commercial applications.

“We have an ageing population in this country and incontinence product use is rising, so finding a way to deal with this waste is critical,” Lake said.

According to Essity, manufacturer of the TENA brand, incontinence products used in aged care account for 18,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from landfill each year, or the equivalent of 10,000 cars on the road – rising due to the ageing population. Estimates suggest the amount of absorbent hygiene product waste produced by adults could be up to ten times that produced by infants by 2030.

Lake said the cost to aged care facilities is financial as well as environmental.

“Right now, an estimated $5.6 million is spent on landfill levies each year to dispose of used incontinence products, which is a huge cost burden for stretched aged care budgets, on top of the obvious environmental concerns,” she said.

The Project Divert trial involves ten waste collection sites across Victoria and is expected to process about 16 tonnes of waste over six weeks.

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