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The superabsorbent key to compostable diapers

Tethis now manufactures superabsorbent materials built from plant-based feedstock sources.

8th October 2021

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Raleigh, NC, USA

Medical/Hygiene, Sustainable

Raleigh, North Carolina-based materials producer Tethis is partnering with the major French diaper producer Agromousquetaires, through its Cellulose de Brocéliande subsidiary, with the aim of bringing the first compostable diaper to market.

The Couches Fertiles (Fertile Diapers) programme by Les Alchimistes is an initiative to demonstrate the sustainable, controlled and full-cycle process of the compostable diapers from use to collection to disposal in a variety of institutions in Paris.

According to a report from the US Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 20 billion disposable diapers accumulate in landfills in the USA alone each year, with Europe representing even larger amounts of similar waste. Europe leads in global efforts to increase causes supporting a circular economy for consumer products through policies such as the Paris Agreement. The goals of such policies require organisations to prioritise actions to reduce carbon by engaging in waste management practices including composting, recycling and zero-waste initiatives.

While many components of diapers have been made compostable, the absorbent material that makes the diaper work has been made from environmentally persistent polymers, called polyacrylates. To date, there has been no bio-based alternative with the performance and economics necessary to make a compostable diaper work at scale. Tethis now manufactures superabsorbent materials built from plant-based feedstock sources.

Tethis provided the breakthrough absorption technology for the compostable diapers while Celluloses de Broceliande developed the diaper design and manufactured the diapers, with Les Alchimistes managing the distribution, collection, and evaluation of the programme – from the distribution of diapers to the evaluation of their performance through to converting the used products to industrial compost.

Commercial reality

“Our technology addresses a well-known ecological nightmare for society, but that to date has had no effective solution,” said Robin Weitkamp, Tethis CEO. “The partnership with Cellulose de Brocéliande and Couches Fertiles is one of my proudest achievements, as we have demonstrated the successful use of our material within the first mass consumer trial of compostable diapers with a partner that is driven to make it a commercial reality.”

In conjunction with Paris City Hall and the French Ministry of Ecological Transition, the Couches Fertiles programme has demonstrated the cradle-to-cradle sustainability of the diapers by partnering with nurseries over two years.

Couche Fertiles provided thousands of diapers to nurseries to verify they were effective for use. The nursery staff confirmed the compostable diapers being tested were just as suitable as other standard diapers. Disposal of the diapers was also successful. Over the past two years more than 15,000 diapers have been successfully composted.

“We are committed to finding a way to balance excellent performance in diapers without leaving a permanent waste” said Eric Vilmen, head of development at Cellulose de Brocéliande . “We view this type of product as inevitable and important for France and for society as a whole.”

As the pilot program accelerates, Cellulose de Brocéliande and Tethis are expanding their collaboration to evaluate the next steps to bring the compostable diapers to the market in Europe at commercial scale.

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