A large-scale trial to convert used incontinence products in residential aged care into reusable material is now assessing the results after completing the six-week waste separation and collection phase.
Essity, which manufactures and supplies the incontinence brand TENA, launched the Project Divert trial in early February to assess the suitability of pyrolysis technology to dispose of incontinence products.
The industry collaboration, funded by the Commonwealth Government National Product Stewardship Investment Fund, is based at the Med-X Healthcare Solutions facility in Sale in regional Victoria. It includes seven aged care homes among 10 waste collection sites and the processing of approximately 16 tonnes of waste over the six weeks.
Essity’s Project Divert lead Rochelle Lake said the waste separation and collection process at the aged care facilities made its final collections on 24 March.
“Feedback from aged care facilities is that the process of separating the waste into bins went smoothly,” Ms Lake told Australian Ageing Agenda. “We will continue processing the waste for another few weeks.”
The trial utilises patented pyrolysis technology developed in Victoria by Earth Systems. It heats waste materials in the absence of oxygen – which means lower emissions than traditional incineration – and converts to a biochar that may have various commercial applications.
“Throughout the trial, we have monitored the waste collection and processing process, as well as the emissions, to ensure there is cohesive data to report back on,” Ms Lake said. Next, “Tena and Essity will assess the results, including the lifecycle impact, testing the quality and classification of the char, the market opportunities for the char produced, and the feasibility of implementing the program as a more permanent solution,” she told AAA.
Reducing environmental and financial costs
This trial comes about a decade after a previous industry collaboration and provider partnership led by award-winning waste and recycling company Relivit to recycle used incontinence pads showed promise. However, after years of trying, plans for the purpose-built recycling plant failed to eventuate.
Like its predecessor, the ultimate aim of this trial is to address the large carbon footprint and financial costs of using disposable continence products. Incontinence products used in aged care account for 18,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions from landfill each year, which is equivalent to 10,000 cars on the road, said Ms Lake.
“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.
Ms Lake said her customers had been asking for a better solution than landfill and her organisation had been in pursuit of a more sustainable option for years. No viable solution available from the waste industry led the organisation to try and come up with something, she said. “Aged care facilities are eager to contribute to a more sustainable future, and so are we.”
Residential aged care provider Arcare is among those looking for a more sustainable option. The provider’s Knox Aged Care in Wantirna South is participating in the trial. The 115-resident facility uses more than 1,200 incontinence products each week. Arcare CEO Colin Singh said he was hopeful Project Divert would unlock new disposal options.
“Our residents deserve the comfort and dignity of high quality, well-designed incontinence products, but we are very keen to find a more environmentally responsible and cost-effective way to deal with incontinence product waste.
“Within our facilities we have implemented a range of sustainability initiatives, and hope that this solution assists us with our strategy of being more sustainable,” Mr Singh said in a statement.
Other aged care facilities involved in the trial include:
- Napier Street Aged Care Services
- The Village Baxter
- Vasey RSL Brighton East
- Vasey RSL Frankston South
- Mayflower Brighton Aged Care Home
- Wilson Lodge.
“We’re excited to be leading the industry with this potential solution and thank the federal government and industry partners for their support,” Ms Lake said.