World-first solution dealing with aged care waste

    By Tamanna Wadhwani  April 13th, 2023

    A trial in Victoria has successfully converted incontinence waste from aged care facilities to biochar, which can then be used as fertiliser.


    Launched in February, the six-week trial in Sale converted around 16 tonnes of adult diaper waste into fertilizer using a patented pyrolysis technology. This was conducted as part of Project Divert, led by Essity, the manufacturer of incontinence product TENA

    Created in response to the aged care sector’s need for a solution to this waste stream, the trials collected waste from ten aged care facilities over the six-week period. The result was a material called biochar, which is carbon-rich and can be used as a fertilizer for plants and soil health, reducing the need for chemical fertilisers, and many more commercial applications. 

    For every 100 beds in an aged care facility, around 20 tonnes of incontinence waste are produced annually, and 50 percent of aged care waste in landfill is from used incontinence products. This contributes to around 18,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. 

    Rochelle Lake, Essity’s Project Lead, said that Australia has an aging population, and incontinence product use is rising, so it is critical to find a way to deal with this waste. 

    According to estimates, absorbent hygiene product waste generated by adults in Australia will be four to ten times greater than that generated by infant nappies. 

    “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,” said Lake. 

    Through the patented pyrolysis technology, the waste material is heated in the absence of oxygen, creating fewer emissions than traditional incineration processes. 

    “We’ve been pursuing a more sustainable option for several years. Aged care facilities are eager to contribute to a more sustainable future, and so are we.” 

    Funded by the National Product Stewardship Investment Fund, Project Divert is an industry collaboration led by Essity, environmental consulting firm Earth Systems, who developed the pyrolysis technology, and is based at the Med-X Healthcare Solutions in Sale, Victoria.  

    Essity will continue assessing the feasibility of a permanent solution for aged care facilities for this waste and exploring other product streams that can be saved from landfills. 


    Tamanna Wadhwani

    Tamanna moved from India to Australia to pursue a degree in environmental science and conservation biology. After learning about the concept of a circular economy in 2020, she worked with various organisations in this sector and is interested in solving complex climate change and waste management problems. She loves to communicate with people about all things sustainability or animals. Outside of work, Tamanna is a budding hip hop dancer who also loves travelling, cat cuddles and reading.

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