Used diapers can replace sand in concrete and mortar, study finds

According to a new study, used diapers can replace up to 8% of sand used in concrete and mortar for a small, single-story building.
Christopher McFadden
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This building is partly made from old diapers, believe it or not.

Siswanti Zuraida et al, 2023 

An interesting new study has revealed how old diapers can replace sand in concrete and mortar. In fact, according to the study, an average small single-story house could see, in the future, as much as 8% of sand used in its construction replaced with processed used diapers. What's more, the process the researchers behind the study have developed can do this without significantly compromising the structural integrity of the build.

This process, the authors believe, could be used as an innovative way to help build low-cost housing in various parts of the world. It could also help dramatically reduce the amount of used diapers sent to landfill sites or burnt by making them a potentially valuable resource. This is significant, as it is currently estimated that millions of tons are thrown away each year.

But how is this possible? Well, disposable diapers are manufactured from wood pulp, cotton, viscose rayon, and plastics such as polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene. With a bit of processing, like cleaning away baby poop, used diapers can readily replace sand with little effort.

To make the new concrete and mortar, Siswanti Zuraida and her team used a combination of washing, drying, and shredding disposable diaper waste, cement, sand, gravel, and water. The samples were left to cure for 28 days, and the team tested six samples with varying proportions of diaper waste to determine their resistance to pressure. Based on their findings, they calculated the maximum amount of sand that could be replaced with disposable diapers in building materials used in constructing an Indonesian-standard 388 ft2 (36-square-meter) house.

According to the study, disposable diaper waste can replace a significant amount of sand needed for concrete in building construction. For a three-story house, up to ten percent of sand can be replaced for columns and beams; for a single-story house, this proportion can increase to 27 percent. Additionally, disposable diapers can replace up to 40 percent of the sand needed for mortar in partition walls, compared to only nine percent for floors and garden paving.

Overall, up to eight percent of sand in all concrete and mortar materials required for a 388 ft2 (36-square-meter) single-story house can be replaced with disposable diaper waste, which amounts to around 1.7 cubic meters of waste. Impressive.

The authors suggest that if their findings are to be widely implemented, it would require the participation of various stakeholders in government and waste treatment to develop processes for the large-scale collection, sanitization, and shredding of diaper waste. Moreover, modifications in building regulations would be necessary to enable the utilization of diaper waste as a construction material.

You can review the study for yourself in the journal Nature.

Study abstract:

"Building material is one of the essential aspects in accommodating the supply and demand of low-cost housing in Indonesia. Recently, several researchers have devoted much time and effort to developing waste recycling for building materials since it is more ecologically benign, particularly for non-degradable waste. This article focuses on recycling disposable diaper waste as composite material for a structural and architectural component of the building based on Indonesian building standards. In addition to offering a broad perspective on implementing experimental findings, the design scenario comprised the construction of low-cost housing with a floorplan area of 36 m2. The experimental results indicate that disposable diapers waste to use as composite materials of the building have a maximum capacity of 10% for structural components and 40% for nonstructural and architectural components. The prototype housing also reveals that 1.73 m3 of disposable diaper waste can be decreased and utilized for a housing area of 36 m2."

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