Meet the Company Turning Diapers Into New Roads

This is one solutions-focused approach using R&D to benefit our world.

A stack of diapers, toys and baby accessories on a changing table.

(PhotoJuli86 /

One of the most surprising things new parents encounter is how many diapers they go through a day. On average, it’s about 10-14 diapers parents are changing for their newborns daily. That’s a lot of diapers and why one Welsh company, endorsed by the Government of Wales, is working to recycle nappies (the British term for diapers) into needed and sustainable  roads, according to the Washington Post.

Over eight billion disposable diapers end up in landfills every year
Research shows that diapers take 500 years to decompose and even the biodegradable ones don’t decompose right away. In the United States, about 50 million diapers are dumped into landfills each year. And in Britain, nappies account for two to three percent of all household waste, according to the Post.

Cloth diapers as an alternative might not be much better for the environment, as washing and producing  them consumes a lot of energy and water.  The country of Wales in the United Kingdom has a Nappy recycling local authority as part of an effort to become a zero-waste nation by 2050, and it is using disposed nappies to resurface its roads in a new pilot project.

Diapers recycled to resurface roads in Wales
The United Kingdom’s only operational recycling plant, NappiCycle in South Wales, is the one to thank for these new Welsh roads. In 2009 the founder of NappiCycle, Rob Poyer, developed a process to clean used nappies and separate their plastic and cellulose fibers to be reused. The plant recycles 100% of the nappies it gets, according to their website, so that nothing is sent to landfills.

The Welsh company supplied the pellets made from recycled fibers to resurface part of the country’s  A487 roadway, between Cardigan and Aberystwyth. Completed in February, the 1.4-mile (2.6 km) stretch was made from over 100,000 recycled nappies, according to Circular UK news, UK’s largest resource for waste management. The diapers were rinsed and shredded into fibrous gray pellets and mixed with asphalt, a sticky black liquid-binding material, to create the new road. Asphalt and plastic are themselves greener solutions, as they are made of hydrocarbons with a lower carbon footprint, according to Circular UK.  

Collecting nappies and preventing them from filling up landfills is a challenge. Some areas in Wales encourage disposable diaper users to toss diapers into separate bins but this is not mandated everywhere. So, NappiCycle partnered with Pura, an eco-friendly baby care company, to make nappy recycling easy for UK parents, and have worked together to prevent 800,000 nappies from ending up in landfills, according to Circular UK.  

According to the local Nappy Recycling Authority, Economy Minister for Wales, Vaughan Gething, explains that “The Welsh Government is committed to supporting our businesses to design and develop innovative solutions to global problems, which helps boost our economy and protect our society.” Speaking of this new NappiCycle project specifically, he shares that “Once again, Wales is demonstrating it is a leading player in applying R&D to Circular Economy solutions.”

Nappy road is like any other road – but greener
Neighbors of nappy road and those who drove on it were surprised to hear they were driving on recycled nappies, as the road was like any other road. Sam Vaux, a local who runs an auto repair shop near the road tells Washington Post, that “apart from the rumors flying around that the road is made out of recycled nappies… you wouldn’t know any difference.”

Overall, using diapers in building roads is better for the environment and a great initiative towards zero-waste. Wales’ nappy road is only the beginning of building more roads with a lower environmental impact. Ben Lake, a politician who represents this region in Britain’s Parliament, stated that the nappy road “could be a game-changer for how we approach infrastructure in Wales,” according to the Washington Post.

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