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[GreenYes] 2 articles about recycling in Holland
One on diapers, one on glass and plastic. Both of these are from

Recycling Dutch diapers the Canadian way 
For a small country, the Netherlands turns out heaps of soiled nappies.
Find out how Canadian know-how is solving the Dutch diaper problem. Roberta
Cowan reports. 

 Known for their head-on approach to dealing with uncomfortable issues
including prostitution, drugs and euthanasia, the Dutch, with the help of a
Canadian environmental company, are now tackling mountains of dirty diapers. 

Aging populations in need of personal care products and diapered babies in
North America use 19 billion diapers each year. The EU is in second place
with 16 billion. Space, however, is limited in Europe and there just isn’t
much left to fill with soiled nappies. 

Three years in the Netherlands, The Canadian-Dutch Knowaste BV, based five
miles from the German boarder in the city of Arnhem, is a subsidiary of
Knowaste LLC, from Canada. Knowaste designed and patented a process,
considered Canadian intellectual property that recovers pulp, plastic and
SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer) from used diapers. 

The Dutch have embraced the diaper recycling technique as a cost-effective,
environmentally sound and lucrative business solution to what amounts to a
messy problem for such a small country. 

Canadian mom thinks big 

The technology was brainstormed in the mid-80s by Marlene Conway, a single
mother of two toddlers. 

Literally dragging garbage bags out to the curb, Conway realised, she was
hauling an incredible volume of waste, both harmful to the environment and
potentially useful if safe material could be recovered. 

 According to at least 85 percent of parents use
disposable diapers. She experimented for a few years until she discovered a
treatment to separate diaper compounds based on her premise that fluff wood
pulp had sufficient integrity to re-enter the manufacturing process. 

Conway grew Knowaste into a commercial enterprise by 1996 and then stepped
down to continue inventing solutions to environmental problems. Today she
teaches math and is the President of Envirolutions Canada. 

Her Knowaste toddler has grown and flown the coop, moving full-scale
operations in 1999 to the Netherlands. 

Dutch government gets on board 

The company has impressed upon the population and government to the extent
that in October 2001 the Dutch ministry of the environment introduced a
directive obliging health care institutes and municipalities to recycle
diapers wherever the technology exists providing the costs do not exceed
NLG 100 per ton more than current disposal methods. 

In response to this government directive, Knowaste BV, the only disposable
diaper recycling company has changed its business plan. 

”Within a year we aim to have 60 percent of the adult market and extend
baby diaper pick-ups to more than 50 municipalities in the three Benelux
countries, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands,” said Knowaste
President, Roy Brown. Currently, baby diapers are only collected in the
town of Arnhem but Knowaste plans to set up baby diaper stations in
Nijmegen and Eindhoven before the end of the year. 
The company collects the bulk of diapers from 1000 nursing homes in the
Benelux region, which is, according to Brown, 40 percent of the adult market. 

“We wanted to introduce the technology and get the business in Arnhem off
the ground at our first full-scale plant. Collecting from nursing homes is,
frankly, easier than door to door. The demand for service from parents and
daycares has been overwhelming and we are very keen to think up creative
solutions to collect baby diapers,” said Brown. 

Dutch parents organise 

News reports in Holland about Knowaste have provoked Dutch parents and
daycares to organize. Demand for diaper drop-off sites with parents willing
to hand deliver their packages is increasing in cities and towns around the

The Dutch ride bikes or walk their newspapers and glass for recycle to
neighbourhood bins and now they are looking for appropriate diaper drop-off
spots. The Arnhem test case, which locates odour and bacteria controlled
units outside day-care centres has proven extremely popular both with the
centres and parents delivering their children to day-care. 

“I am willing to hand-deliver the little bundles and I would be very happy
if Knowaste set up in Amsterdam,” said Nies Medema, a new mother. “This
service does not exist here and I wish it would because these diapers are
terrible for the environment.” 

Until toilet trained, one toddler will use between 5500 and 6000 disposable
diapers creating one metric ton or 2200lbs of waste. In North America, most
of those diapers end up in landfills and as non-biodegradable garbage
outlive the toddlers who wear them by more than four lifetimes. 

It is unknown how disposable diapers, with untreated human waste, affects
ground water. 

Recycle versus landfill or incineration 

The Netherlands is a country reclaimed in part from waters of the North
Sea, an artificially created land, of which almost half is at or below
sea-level and where ground water contamination could provoke a national
catastrophe. Those diapers not captured by Knowaste are most likely

The Knowaste BV plant, situated on a three acre, leafy, compound with ten
other environmental companies is spotless and feels more like the inside of
an Ikea outlet than a factory. Tests are conducted daily both on site and
at an independent lab to insure all bacteria are killed and chemicals

The recovered pulp is high-quality, ink free, has long fibres and is
pre-sold to a Dutch paper company. The recovered plastic is used to produce
industrial plastic products. The SAP is also recovered and used in farming
as bio-gas. The Arnhem plant recycles 5000 diapers per hour and has
capacity to process 70,000 metric tons at full capacity. 
“The Benelux is the perfect launching pad for our technology with low
lands, high density population and near capacity incineration and land
fills and of course, a public concerned about their environment,” said
Brown. “Landfills are abundant and cheap in North America and even though
ground water issues should be of the highest priority, we still have a lot
more public education ahead of us at home.” 

Western European countries, including Germany and France, will need to
recycle diapers within a decade according to Knowaste. 

Knowaste LLC is currently negotiating deals in other low land, high-density
countries including Japan and Korea. 

Recycling: facts and fiction 
One of the first things newcomers to the Netherlands might become aware of
is the bewildering array of recycling possibilities found in most

Residents can recycle glass, paper, organic waste, chemical and paint
waste, batteries and clothes. 

It seems the Dutch take environmental issues very seriously - so seriously

the national government was dissolved in 1989 as a result of disasterous
environmental planning. 

As a small country which must allocate residential and industrial zones in
relativly small areas, the recycling of waste products in the Netherlands
becomes essential. 

"I have always been surprised how willing consumers are to separate 

their rubbish;" a chemical engineer specialising in environmental issues,
Robert van Duin, said. 

Van Duin has been advising the government on recycling for the past 20 years. 

"Because the government collapsed over these issues, it shows how important
the environment was as a political issue 15-20 years ago," he said. 

"But while they are still more important than - say the US - the importance
as an issue has lessened over the past few years. 

"The questions of how to go on have changed" 

For example, government statistics revealed that more than 60 percent of
both paper and glass waste was recycled, but Van Duin said recycling
methods were not always the best option. 

"Take glass, which has the highest rate of recycling ... but we are now
aware that it is better to use re-fillable bottles than to process the
glass," he said. 

Another problem with recycling is from the GFT waste (vegetable, fruit and
garden waste) collected for composting. Sometimes the organic waste is
already too polluted or the recycling centres are filled too quickly. 

Also, Van Duin said glass and metal recycling was presently being achieved
with the best methods possible, but these methods could always be improved. 

Recycling questions 

An important question now arises; how good is the recycled product? 

"In the case of plastics, recyling delivers a very low-grade end-product,"
Van Duin said. 

"It is the manner in which it is collected that creates the most problems
in quality." 

In other words, the cheaper and quicker the process, the lower quality

Another question is how much the government spend on recycling all of these

"The government only pays for studies," Van Duin said. 

"It is not a question of what a government is willing to do, but what
industries are willing to do. 

"While the idealism of the government to tackle these issues has lessened,
they have found another manner in which to deal with it by making the
creators of the waste pay for its disposal." 

So, for industry that means agreements on cleaning up industrial waste, for
consummers that means extra taxes on electrical items to cover the cost of
their eventual disposal. 

But according to Van Duin, problems arise because the industries are fond
at finding ways to cut costs, just like consumers look for ways to reduce
their tax burden. 

"The government does not monitor it enough," he said. 

"Interestingly, it is easier in the US because of the freeedom of
information act. 

"Environmentalists can get the information they need." 


There are many problems related to recycling and other environmental issues. 

"Industries have been very active with industrial by-products, but have 

done little on product or packaging waste. This is the real problem 

now," Van Duin said. 

But what about the rumours that often separated waste simply gets dumped
into one big land-fill? 

"It's true," Van Duin said. 

"Sometimes it does happen, but it is still less than 10 percent of the

Recycling is still popular 

Despite the problems, people are still willing to recycle their waste and
you can also contribute to the health of the environment by making it a
part of your routine to separate and dispose your waste. 

It does help to cut down the amount of landfill waste that is simply being

So for further information, contact the Milieudienst Amsterdam 020 551 38 38. 

Amy Perlmutter
Executive Director
Chelsea Center for Recycling and
Economic Development
University of Massachusetts
Chelsea, MA 02150
617-887-2300/fax 617-887-0399
visit our web site at
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