unicharm

Gentle care for life

 

CSR & EnvironmentCSR & Environment Top

03
 

Our basic approach and strategy

It is imperative for us, a consumer-goods company, to acknowledge the great responsibility we bear for handling disposable products and produce in a way that takes the environment into account. We are going forward with building a recycling-oriented model of disposable diaper production while maintaining its safety as a sanitary product, which is vital. We contribute to realizing a sustainable society through balancing environmental conservation and economic growth.

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

We aim to manufacture products that are environmentally friendly throughout their lifecycle.

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

Change in the volume of CO2 emissions caused by incineration of disposable 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 1/8th of total household waste and the cost of incineration is rising.

In addition, at a time when global warming deriving from CO2 emissions is becoming a serious problem for the entire planet, dealing with used disposable diapers by incinerating them generates additional CO2 emissions. A further point is that disposable diapers are made from paper pulp which has wood as its raw material; rising pulp usage thus leads to the consumption of forest resources.

Recognizing that reducing waste incineration costs and CO2 emissions can be of great value to society, from both the economic and environmental perspective, and that, as a manufacturer of disposal diapers, Unicharm has a responsibility in this regard, we have been implementing measures to put the recycling of used disposable diapers on a proper commercial footing.

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 undertaking technological development and empirical experimentation aimed at facilitating the recycling of used disposable diapers.

Our activities

Activities towards recycling disposable diapers

Unicharm launched its used disposable diaper recycling program starting from 2015. Previously, Unicharm has 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 bring the cost of recycling down to around the same level as the cost of disposal by incineration and to enhance the value of the recycled product.

By improving processing efficiency while taking into account the needs of sustainable operation, Unicharm succeeded in developing a unique recycling system that reduces the cost of recycling to a similar level to that of incineration and which generates recycled pulp that is of the same quality as virgin pulp.

About Unicharm's unique, improved recycling system

The recycling system that we developed in 2015 applies a unique ionization process to the low-grade 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 have continued to improve the technology in order to be able to use this system for volume production. By reusing the treatment water used when washing and separating the used disposable diapers, we have been able to make processing more efficient and also reduce the amount of waste water that is discharged. In addition, through collaborative research with Hokkaido University, we have developed technology for recovering calcium hydrogenphosphate dihydrate (DCPD)*, a type of nutrient salt, from high-concentration waste water and for the recycling of superabsorbent polymer. In collaborative research with Hiroshima University, we have undertaken experiments on purifying recycled high-concentration waste water to use it in the generation of electricity. In September 2017, Unicharm was granted an original patent for microbial fuel cell processing.

By combining Unicharm's accumulated technology development and research with universities' know-how and research capabilities, we have been able to undertake the development of unique recycling systems.

*Nutrient salt function as “fertilizer” in the oceans and is a key factor in the growth of certain types of plankton.

Unicharm's recycling-oriented model for disposable diapers

Establishing a recycling system that can be spread throughout the world with the City of Shibushi

Disposable diaper recycling cannot be achieved without the assistance of local governments and waste collection businesses. Starting in May 2016, we have been carrying out verification testing of our used disposable diaper recycling system in collaboration with local government authorities and waste collection firms in Shibushi City, Kagoshima Prefecture.

The goal for Unicharm and Shibushi City is to establish a disposable diaper recycling system that can be widely adopted both in Japan and in other countries. We aim to thoroughly begin separated collection and recycling within Shibushi City by 2020, while continuing to examine various possibilities for the future.

Since this activity will have limited impact unless it can be expanded beyond a single municipality and adopted more widely, we are already holding talks with other municipalities located near Shibushi City. We aim to strengthen the measures being adopted so that we can secure the understanding and support of local government authorities and consumers and realize separated collection and recycling of used disposable diapers throughout Japan.

Voice from the Shibushi City government official
Mr. Junichi Nishikawa
Director, Department of Environment,
Shibushi City Government, Kagoshima Prefecture

We started to become aware of the need to recycle used disposable diapers around 10 years ago. However, because recycling them as fuel could create a high environmental burden and because if they were recycled into pulp there would be a problem with residual superabsorbent polymer (SAP), it was not possible to put this idea into practice. While we were looking for a business enterprise that could work together with us on this initiative, we found the “Contributing to the Global Environment” section on Unicharm's website and realized that Unicharm was thinking along the same lines as us, so we got in touch with them. Since May 2016, we and Unicharm have been working together vigorously to implement verification testing; we are very grateful for Unicharm's assistance. One of our goals for the future is to start working with a larger number of local authorities that share Shibushi City's vision of “Valuing material resources and valuing people.” Similarly, in order to further expand the impact of Unicharm's environmentally-friendly business activities, we hope Unicharm to function as a “pathfinder” that can act as a model for other business enterprises to emulate.

Examining environmental and human friendliness in recycling disposable diapers

We examined from multiple aspects what actual effects employing the recycle system would have. What we found was that the amount of greenhouse gas emitted and the amount of water and wood used could be largely reduced when we compared burning used disposable diapers and creating new ones from virgin pulp versus recycling used disposable diapers to make new disposable diapers (we assumed that the environmental impact was the same whether manufacturing diapers from virgin pulp or recycled pulp). We were also able to confirm that the sanitation level of ozonated pulp was also maintained at a high level similar to that of virgin pulp. The verification testing at Shibushi City has shown that, thanks to the substantial increase in the recycling rate for pulp from used disposable diapers, the amount of energy needed for drying can be reduced and it is also possible to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 84% compared to landfill disposal and 69% by comparison with conventional incineration processing.

○ Comparison with greenhouse gas emission volume and landfill disposal

○ Comparison with greenhouse gas emission volume and landfill disposal
* Including the substitution effect from recycled product.

○ Comparison with greenhouse gas emission volume and incineration disposal

○ Comparison with greenhouse gas emission volume and incineration disposal
* Including the substitution effect from recycled product.

Voice of the person in charge
Noritomo Kameda,
Director,
New Platform Center,
Global Research & Development Division,
Unicharm Corporation

We are continuing to undertake development work aimed at returning materials to their original constituent elements as far as possible, so that the materials can be used again as disposable diapers, while at the same time extracting other types of materials and energy.

In our verification testing in Shibushi City, we have been working together with the officials of the local government authority to take on the challenge of getting this technology established as rapidly as possible, with the aim of developing a cyclical resource use model that supports the utilization of recycled products. Local residents and local government officials have collaborated enthusiastically on the verification testing and have been very encouraging, expressing comments such as “It seems likely to jump-start a dramatic reduction in the quantity of waste generated!”, “I hope this system gets adopted as soon as possible!” and “I wish they would expand the scope of verification testing to include our neighborhood too!”

While, in the past, diaper manufacturing has relied on a disposable-type business model, taking into account the need to ensure the sustainability of the global environment and Unicharm's own desire to be a sustainable business, it is clearly vitally important that we switch over to an emphasis on recycling and resource recovery. Through resource recovery, the mountains of waste that would otherwise be disposed of by incineration can be transformed into “mountains of treasure”. We believe that, if this cyclic business model can spread and become the de facto standard for the industry, then this will make a real contribution towards the sustainability of the global environment; that is why all of us on the development team and everyone in the local government authority are working flat-out to realize our goal.

 

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