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Man inspired by niece to develop revolutionary technology that could change the way we raise our children — one diaper at a time

"It's about finding a way to properly manage the waste stream that they produce."

"It’s about finding a way to properly manage the waste stream that they produce."

Photo Credit: iStock

Kenya native and Alkyl Recycling founder Melvin Kizito has nailed the downside of diapers: "They decompose very slowly, smell extremely bad, and are highly polluting," he told Innovation Origins. 

In fact, it was a smelly collection of his niece's diapers that inspired him in 2019 to consider other possibilities for used Pampers, Luvs, and Huggies. So, he got to work with some like-minded partners to put a business plan in place to reuse them. 

Fast-forward to March, when Kizito moved to the Netherlands with a mission to leverage expert advice from funders and scientists. Earlier work had already won an award in Amsterdam, giving Kizito a taste of what the Dutch market has to offer. Now, he has a company, a recycling method, and a goal to turn truckloads of used diapers into something new, all per Innovation Origins' report. 

"Look, we will always need diapers and other absorbent hygiene products. It's about finding a way to properly manage the waste stream that they produce," Kizito told IO. 

The endeavor has gone through ups and downs: An early concept that proved unworkable explored turning used diapers into a biofuel. Two partners opted not to move to the Netherlands with Kizito, who thinks the Dutch environment is a good place to jump-start the enterprise, according to the IO story. 

So, he went alone. He cycles to work each day and is embracing Dutch culture during his pursuit of a future sans massive amounts of diaper waste. He told IO that he hopes the two partners, whom he worked with from the beginning, will one day join him in Europe. 

For now, Alkyl is developing a chemical process to break diapers down to their core, recyclable components: polymers, plastics, and wood pulp. Kizito's three-year plan is to create a plant that can recycle up to 33,000 pounds of diapers per day, he told IO. 

"Diapers are composed of three materials: 26 percent of which is plastic, 50 percent is wood pulp, and 15 percent is made up of absorbent molecules. We have developed a way to separate those materials," Kizito told IO. 

It's not the only idea out there to reuse diapers. Experts in Japan are mixing them with concrete to make buildings, for example. 

The diaper market is worth $71 billion worldwide. Astoundingly, every minute, more than 300,000 diapers are burnt, dumped in landfills, or become litter, according to the United Nations. Diapers create about 4% of our solid waste, according to Alkyl's stats. Reuters reports that landfill waste produces 11% of global air pollution (methane, specifically). 

What's more, Alkyl reports that it takes diapers 500 years to decompose — a smelly legacy that lasts for generations. 

The Alkyl process will start by gathering all those dirty diapers and transporting them to its recycling center. Kizito told IO that he wants to work with waste treatment facilities "on creating a market" for the used nappies. 

Once collected, the diapers will be processed through Alkyl's chemical and cleaning system, separating the reusable components for new products. 

"When you have an idea, you have to dare to make some rigorous decisions. You are capable of achieving so much more than you think." he told IO.

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