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April 2019

What do you DO with used nappies?

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Cleanliness and Hygiene

Did you know that infants require up to 12 nappies a day, and toddlers about 8? And that adults suffering from incontinence* use up to 4 adult diapers a day. Over a week or a month that adds up to a lot of used nappies.

What do you do with them all? Do you know whether you are disposing of nappy waste safely and correctly?

Instead of “what do you do with used nappies?” the question should rather be “what should  you be doing with used nappies?”  And the answer to this is determined largely by where you are and the volume of nappy waste that you are generating. That’s because nappy waste - when generated in large enough volumes - is deemed to be hazardous waste: if handled incorrectly, it would have a detrimental impact on health and the environment (it’s raw sewage, after all).

At home:

Domestic nappy waste, however, is not classified as hazardous waste. Rather, it’s classified as "general waste" and can, therefore, be put out with your weekly rubbish bin. This is because the quantity of nappy waste generated in most homes is sufficiently small that it’s disregarded as a potential risk to the environment. Even so, when you are at home and dealing with nappies from your children (or perhaps an elderly relative) here are a few things to remember to ensure safe and responsible nappy disposal.

Never throw used nappies in the recycling:

No matter how passionate you are about recycling, the fact is that disposable nappies are simply not recyclable. When they get put in with recycling, the workers at your local recycling facility have to sort through used nappies to make sure that they don’t contaminate other recyclable materials, such as paper and plastic. This makes their whole system less efficient and more expensive, not to mention more unpleasant for the recyclers.

Flush solid waste down the toilet:  

Getting rid of the solid waste from your baby’s nappy before disposal will reduce odour and bacteria. Use gloves or a piece of toilet paper to remove the waste and flush it down the toilet and dispose of the nappy in your nappy bin.

Purchase a separate, hands-free bin for nappies:  

Ideally, you should keep nappy waste separate from other garbage and food waste. Invest in a discreet, washable container with a lid, ideally with a foot pedal that opens the lid so that you don't have to touch the bin with your dirty hands. Be sure to line the bin with a plastic garbage bag so that waste doesn’t touch the sides of the bin.

Once this is full it can be added to your weekly rubbish for collection into the municipal waste stream, and disposal at a landfill.

Just remember that disposable nappies contain plastics which can take up to 500 years to decompose! This means that every disposable nappy that has been sent to landfill  - since their invention in 1961 - is still there, and will be for generations to come. Cloth nappies avoid the problem of contributing to landfill, and use 20 times less raw materials, 2 times less water and 3 times less energy to make. The carbon footprint for cloth nappies is dependent on the washing and drying conditions, but this can be anywhere from 81% -38% lower than disposable nappies.

Creches, pre-schools, or old age homes:

If you run a business that is generating more nappy waste than a domestic household - such as a creche, a pre-school, an old age home, or even a shopping mall with baby change stations - you are no longer permitted to dispose of that nappy waste via your municipal rubbish bins.  

Large volumes of nappy waste require careful handling, collection, packaging, temporary storage, transportation and ultimately disposal in order to ensure that both public health and the environment are protected. Initial is a registered waste carrier and can therefore offer a safe and hygienic nappy bin service to ensure that nappy waste is disposed of in accordance with legislative guidelines.

Initial provides modern, high-capacity nappy bins with a concealed liner retainer, ensuring that the bag is not visible from outside the unit, which is collected on a regular basis. Nappy waste is disposed of in accordance with municipal regulations for hazardous waste.

Hospital or healthcare environment:

To make things just that little bit more complex, nappies which are generated in a healthcare facility such as a hospital or clinic and which are suspected to contain pathogens - or come from people who have been treated with certain drugs - are not classified as hazardous waste, but rather as healthcare risk waste (as per the National Environmental Management: Waste Act 2008 and SANS 10248).

Healthcare risk waste is handled differently to hazardous waste, and whilst it may be difficult to know whether the nappy waste contains pathogens or contaminants, the legislative guidelines suggest that a precautionary approach should always be applied. If there is a reasonable suspicion of the presence of infection or contamination, the highest precaution should be taken and nappies should be disposed of within the healthcare risk waste stream. You can read more about Healthcare risk waste terminology in our previous blog post, and how it should be disposed of, here.

This means that unlike nappies from old age homes or creche’s, nappies originating from hospitals and medical facilities should be treated as medical waste, and disposed of in a designated medical waste disposal unit, with the regulation red 100-micron liner.

Initial offers modern, high-capacity medical waste bins which are collected on a regular basis. We’ll provide you with a waste manifest document so that you can be sure that your nappy waste is disposed of in accordance with municipal and national waste disposal regulations for healthcare risk waste.

Download our handy guide to hazardous waste colour coding here.

*Incontinence is a term that describes any accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel (faecal or bowel incontinence).

Incontinence is a widespread condition that ranges in severity from 'just a small leak' to complete loss of bladder or bowel control. Common reasons for urinary incontinence include childbirth, health reasons including treatments and injury as well as old age. Sometimes there is no known cause. For some, the problems may be temporary, but for many others the problems are long-lasting.

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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