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A 100% compostable diaper? Procter & Gamble says 'yes.' (includes definition of compostable material)

A 100% Compostable Diaper? Procter & Gamble Says |Yes'

With its announcement in late 1990 that it would form a $20 million fund to advance solid waste composting worldwide and also work to develop a 100% compostable diaper, Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, was certainly putting its money where its mouth was when it came to its environmental commitment. Now, a year later, great strides have been made in both areas of the composting plan.

In an exclusive interview, Dr. Nancy Eddy, associate director, professional and regulatory services for P&G's Paper Products Div., talked about the origin of the idea. She explained that the commitment to composting came out of its original three projects - the Seattle, WA recycling project, the landfill study and the St. Cloud, MN composing venture - that took place in the past few years." As a result of the Seattle project," Dr. Eddy told NONWOVENS INDUSTRY," we learned that recycling was technically feasible, but not economically viable. Likewise, the landfill study showed that biodegradability - or the lack of it in landfills - was not answer."

The St. Cloud composting project, however, worked as a springboard to bring composing information to others. "That effort spurred the company to say that this is a broader solid waste answer than we expected and one not being optimized in this county." said Dr. Eddy.

P&G's plan was the divided into two very specific areas - setting up a composting infrastracture and developing a compostable diaper. The 420 million composting investment was earnmarked specifically for education of consumers, said Dr. Eddy, as well as research programs to learn more about composting and determine markets for the compost. "It is not to be used for advertising or to build a compost facility or a compostable backsheet," she said.

To date, the composting program has funded more than 50 projects worldwide, totaling more than $4 million. The projects, plus others planned in the next few years, focus on five key areas, including community grants to help determine how composting fits into solid waste management plans; education on the benefits of composting; market development for sustainable outlets for waste-derived compost; scientific research to further understand composting and its applications; and the formation of Solid Waste Composting Councils, organizations to support composting around the world.

The Quest For The Compostable Diaper

"We had a vision for a wholly compostable diaper," said Dr. Eddy, commenting on the other half of the P&G plan. Since disposable diapers are already 80% compostable, the primary target for future compostability was the plastic backsheet, now the focus at P&G. "We have a series of programs both inhouse and with suppliers for developing a compostable backsheet," said Dr. Eddy. "When we first announced this program, we had hundreds of suppliers knocking on our doors saying. |Try my product.'"

The first step, she said, was to develop a set definition of what "compostable" means (see box). In addition to meeting this definition, or course, the product also has to function as a backsheet. "Basically, what we're saying is that we want a backsheet that is the strong, water impervious and durable on the baby and then falls apart," said Dr. Eddy, who also cautioned that consumers must not think that compostable is just another fancy and word for biodegradable. "We will not accept the |plastic dust' that is an end result in biodegradable products," she said. "Our compostable diaper must decompose in the soil into carbon dioxide, water and biomass."

Product development of this material in the past year has reached the prototype test stage. "We have several prototypes at his time," said Dr. Eddy, "one of which is currently being given away to consumers in two est reas."

The "learning lab" diapers are being tested in Pembroke Pines, FL and in Mora, MN. In Florida, approximately 30 babies re using the products, both at a Kinder-Care day care facility and by parents at home. The second test in Mora, a small town 40 miles north of Minneapolis, also includes about 30 families using the diapers. "The objective is to give the diapers to consumers and have them not know the difference," explained Terry Batsch, associate director, product development at P&G.

Another criteria for the test was that the areas have adequate composting means. "Both markets chosen have state-of-the-art compost facilities," Mr Batsch said. "This is important for the learning labs so we can also perform field tests on the composted diapers," he said.

"We would like to be in a position to conduct small |sell' tests by sometime in 1992," Mr. Batsch added. Again, he reiterated that this would have to take place in areas where composting is an available option.

This criteria certainly brings home the difficulties in getting composting accepted by the average consumer. With only 19 composting facilities across the country, the majority of diapers will not have this option available, which is exactly why p&G's joint effort of diaper development and composting awareness makes sense. "We want to be positioned for the long term," said Mr. Batsch. "When composting does become an option throughout the country, that is not the time to start work on compostable products."

P&G's Definition Of Compostable Material

A material which undergoes physical, chemical, thermal and/or biological degradation in a municipal solid waste composting facility such that it enters into the finished compost (humus) and ultimately mineralizes (biodegrades to carbon dioxide, water and biomass) in the environment at a rate like that of known compostable materials in municipal solid waste such as paper and yard waste.

While P&G has settled on the above definition for gauging its product standards, the company is also working with ASTM to develop an overall composting standard. The committee is currently setting the test criteria, Dr. Eddy told NONWOVENS INDUSTRY," and we hope to start standard testing by the end of the year."
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Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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