Used Adult Diapers Get New Life as Fuel

TOKYO — Japan’s rapidly aging population is providing business opportunities for manufacturing companies who have found a way to utilize tons of used paper diapers.

After noticing that the bulk of diapers disposed of by hospitals and nursing homes were being sent to incineration plants, Super Faiths Inc. of Tokyo has developed a machine to turned used diapers into solid fuel.

The device, called the SFD system, is capable of crushing, drying and sterilizing used diapers and converting them into bacteria-free pellets. According to Super Faiths, these serve as an excellent fuel for biomass boilers and stoves. The process takes one day.

A hospital in Machida, Tokyo, has installed the machine in its grounds while other organizations, including a local government in Hokkaido, are considering adopting it.

PASSING GAS — Super Faiths Inc. of Tokyo has developed a machine called the SFD system to turn used diapers into fuel pellets. photo courtesy of Super Faiths Inc./Kyodo News

Total Care System Co. of Fukuoka in Fukuoka Prefecture has established a way of dissolving diapers in a special solution and turning them into pulp and plastic for use as a construction material and as solid fuel. It has built a dedicated disposal plant in Omuta in the southwestern Japan prefecture and has been processing about 14 tons of used diapers daily collected from hospitals and welfare facilities in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The company is also collecting used diapers from households on a trial basis in cooperation with a number of local governments, such as the town of Oki in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Given Japan’s low birthrate and the rising proportion of elderly in the population, people aged 65 and older are expected to total 28 million and account for 22.5 percent of the population this year, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

As for major paper diaper manufacturers, they are upgrading their products targeting adults.

Industry leader Unicharm Corp. has been successively marketing performance-improved new products that are gentle on the skin and easy to change.

Daio Paper Corp. has bought out the adult diaper business for Japan of Proctor and Gamble of the United States and built a new factory in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture to increase its production capacity.

The Japan Hygiene Products Industry Association said diaper output totaled 12,813 billion last year, up 1.4 percent from 2008.

The total included 5.019 billion adult diapers, up 6.9 percent from the previous year and marked the first time that the volume exceeded 5 billion. Output of baby diapers dropped 1.9 percent.

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