unicharm

Gentle care for life

 

SustainabilitySustainability Top

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Our basic approach and strategy

As a manufacturer of disposable products such as diapers and sanitary products, Unicharm recognizes that the achievement of environmentally-friendly manufacturing is a vitally important issue that we cannot afford to neglect. Focusing on the utilization of paper pulp, which is made from wood, and on addressing the CO2 emissions associated with the disposal of used products by incineration, we are taking steps to realize a recycling system for diapers. By establishing a cyclical model that covers the entire product lifecycle, we are contributing towards the realization of a sustainable society that is able to maintain economic growth while also safeguarding the global environment.

Contributing to the realization of the SDGs

Unicharm's activities are in conformity with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) objectives shown below. In the future, we will continue to leverage our company's unique strengths to make an even greater contribution towards the solving of the world's shared problems.

Social impact
Change in the ratio of environmentally-friendly products

Background

Disposable diaper recycling is a responsibility that Unicharm is committed to fulfilling

Change in the volume of CO2 emissions caused by incineration of disposable paper diapers

With elderly people coming to account for an ever larger share of the population, production of disposable adult incontinence diapers continues to increase. There is also a commensurate increase in the quantity of used disposable diapers that are incinerated. By volume, disposable diapers account for around 1/8th of total household waste . At the same time, incineration costs and the CO2 emissions associated with incineration are increasing. A further point is that disposable diapers are made from paper pulp which is made of wood as its raw material; rising pulp usage thus leads to the increased consumption of forest resources. The impact on global warming which is a major problem facing the earth is significant.
The European Union (EU) has set a target of increasing the percentage of urban waste that is recycled to 65% by 2030 and steps are already being taken to recycle used disposable diapers. Unicharm too is implementing initiatives aimed at realizing improvements in various areas including reducing incineration costs and CO2 emissions and achieving more efficient utilization of resources. Starting in 2015, Unicharm has been implementing a project to put the recycling of used diapers on a commercial footing. As a manufacturer of disposable diapers, we feel that we have a responsibility to do this and we are proceeding with related technology development and verification testing.

Our activities

Initiative No. 1: Activities towards recycling disposable diapers

We aim to manufacture products that are environmentally friendly throughout their lifecycle. Initiative No. 1: Activities towards recycling disposable diapers

Building our own unique recycling system

Unicharm launched its used disposable diaper recycling program starting from 2015. Previously, Unicharm had already been extracting plastic pulp and low-grade pulp from some used disposable diapers and plastic pulp had been recycled as Refuse Paper and Plastic Fuel (RPF). The challenge was to reduce recycling costs and to enhance the value of the recycled product. Taking up this challenge, by making recycling processing more efficient, we have succeeded in creating a recycling system that keeps processing fees down to the same level as the cost of incineration and which produces pulp of the same quality as pulp made from virgin material.

Unicharm's recycling-oriented model for disposable diapers

Our recycling system applies a unique ionization process to the pulp that we extract from used disposable diapers by means of cleaning and separation; the ionization process destroys the bacteria contained in the excretion. In this way, recycling is able to generate high-quality pulp that is just as hygienic and safe as virgin pulp. We also recycle the waste water generated in the cleaning and separation process thereby making processing more efficient and also reducing the amount of waste water that needs to be discharged. In addition, we undertook collaborative research with Hiroshima University to develop technology for the generation of electricity using the purification of recycled, concentrated waste water; in 2017, Unicharm was awarded a core patent for microbial fuel cell (MFC) processing.

Developing a recycling system in collaboration with the City of Shibushi

In order to be able to realize the recycling of used disposable diapers, it is vitally important to arrange collaboration with local government authorities and recycling firms on the collection and recycling of used diapers. Starting in May 2016, Unicharm has been collaborating on used disposable diaper recycling system verification testing with Shibushi City, Kagoshima Prefecture. The goal is to achieve full-scale separated collection and recycling of used diapers in Shibushi City by 2020.

Aiming to build a recycling system that can be adopted widely both within and outside Japan, we are fostering collaboration with other municipalities located near Shibushi City. In the future, we will continue to strengthen our efforts to realize the separated collection and recycling of used disposable diapers throughout Japan.

Examining ways of making the recycling of disposable diapers both environmentally-friendly and people-friendly

We examined from multiple aspects what actual effects employing the recycling system would have. What we found was that the amount of greenhouse gas emitted could be substantially reduced, compared to burning used disposable diapers and creating new ones from virgin pulp. With the recycling approach, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 87% compared to using incineration. We were also able to confirm that the safety and sanitation level of recycled pulp was also maintained at a high level similar to that of virgin pulp.

Greenhouse gas emission volume
Greenhouse gas emission volume

○ Greenhouse gas emission volume (compared to incineration disposal)
* Including the substitution effect from recycled product.

Bacteria count in each process
Bacteria count in each process
Amount of residual proteins
Amount of residual proteins
○ Bacteria count in each process and amount of residual proteins / Realizing the same high quality and the same level of cleanliness and whiteness as with virgin pulp made from wood

If adult diapers from 100 users are recycled over a one-year period, this would reduce the quantity of waste generated by an amount approximately equivalent to the waste contained in 23 2-ton refuse collection vehicles and would save an amount of wood equivalent to 100 trees. (Based on a survey conducted by Unicharm)

Initiative No. 2: Realizing the goal of “zero waste”*1 by repurposing the waste generated by our factories on a commercial footing

We aim to manufacture products that are environmentally friendly throughout their lifecycle. - Initiative No. 2: Repurposing

During the process of manufacturing disposable diapers, various types of waste are generated that are difficult to recycle, including product loss generated during production and the paper tubes, pulp dust and paper dust, offcuts, etc.*2 that are disposed of as waste by factories. Unicharm undertook repeated studies to determine whether these types of waste could be repurposed and found that it was possible to utilize this waste in the production of cat excretion care materials. After a process of experimentation, in 2011, Unicharm launched Deo-Sand Cat Litter® made using recycled waste. Currently, besides the waste generated during the disposable diaper production process, we are also working on effectively repurposing other hard-to-recycle materials that in the past have generally been incinerated, such as used tickets and stamps, used wallpaper, etc.

  • *1: Based on final disposal in landfill.
  • *2: See Figure “Waste generated in the disposable diaper production process.”
Waste generated in the disposable diaper production process

Deo-Sand®Scented Deodorizing Paper Litter®

Deo-Sand®: Paper sands that harden®

Wastes collected from Unicharm factories in and outside Japan are cut up finely together with waste paper and the polymer-based absorbent material in the diapers is separated out. The finely-cut material is solidified to create Cat Litter pellets and the colored pellets are then coated with polymer-based absorbent material and paper dust to make Deo-Sand® Paper Sand. When a pet urinates on this product, the part that was urinated on dries solid and this part (only) can then be disposed of easily as burnable waste, making this an environmentally-friendly product.

Reducing food waste in relation to fresh food products while safeguarding flavor

Unicharm has, for over 40 years now, been manufacturing and selling the tray mats on which fresh fish and meat are placed for sale in supermarkets. Conventional tray mats only function to soak up the fluids (blood etc.) that drip from the meat or fish. As a result, the product tended to dry out while that part that is contact with the tray mat got sticky; the use of this type of tray mat thus caused to deterioration in product freshness. Unicharm examined this issue to see whether it would be possible to address it using the non-woven fabric and absorbent material processing and forming technology that we have developed over the years and, in 2001, we launched Fresh Master , a tray mat product that not only absorbs fluids but also helps to keep products fresh. By only absorbing excess fluid, Fresh Master helps products to retain their freshness. Also, because the fluid drips do not remain on the tray mat film surface, the growth of unwanted bacteria can be controlled, making it less likely that the food will go off. In addition, the fact that air can pass through the air-permeable film helps to reduce discoloration, which is a major cause of food having to be discarded. Today, many supermarkets are using Unicharm's Fresh Master tray mat products.

From our conversations with customers who gave us positive feedback about the impressive ability of Fresh Master to keep food fresh, it became apparent that, besides supermarkets, there was also a need for this kind of product in other types of business where fresh food is prepared and stored, such as restaurants. Responding to this need, in 2003, Unicharm launched large-sized Fresh Master Freshness Preserving Absorbent Sheet , designed for use in restaurants' and supermarkets' storage and food preparation areas. One head chef whose restaurant was using this new product commented happily that “Previously, when we were using kitchen paper etc. to put food on when it was in cold storage, the food would only last one day before it had to be thrown away because of discoloration or bad odor. Now that we have started using Fresh Master Freshness-preserving Absorbent Sheet, we can store food for three to four days with no problem, which has enabled us to realize a significant reduction in food loss.” This new product can also be used effectively to prevent discoloration and malodor in meat or fish that is being “aged” (a process which has become increasingly popular in recent years) and we have received very positive comments about the product from sushi restaurants, etc.

The term “food loss” is used to refer to food products that are wasted despite the fact that they are safe to eat. According to Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the restaurant sector accounts for around one-fifth of all food loss in Japan. Reducing food loss and food waste is vitally important for realizing a sustainable society. At meetings that Unicharm has held with restaurant operators, we have received many reports that using our Fresh Master products helps to reduce food loss. In the future, we will continue to develop products that contribute to reducing food loss.

Beef discoloration test - after three days of storage (showing the underside of the meat)
(Left) Fresh Master (Right) Unicharm's meat paper product

Bluefin tuna that has been stored for six days
(Upper left and bottom left) Fresh Master (Upper right and bottom right) Unicharm's kitchen paper product

All data are based on surveys conducted by Unicharm.

 

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