Nursing homes across the country are literally piling up with absorbent disposable products needed to help residents struggling to control their urination and bowel movements, creating an immense problem.
Aksh Bhola, who manages the Arcare facility in Knox, east of Melbourne, said the amount of incontinence waste the center produces is a constant challenge.
“We always have to ask for more collections,” he told AAP.
At Knox, this equates to 10 tons of incontinence waste per year, all of which goes to landfills.
This situation is being replicated in nursing homes across the country, overwhelming the waste stream of disposable diapers.
Incontinence products are estimated to account for 148,000 tonnes of Australian waste each year.
That’s the equivalent of 3,700 humpback whales, or about three Sydney Harbor Bridges.
And that’s a figure that will only grow as Australia’s population ages.
According to Swedish hygiene company Essity, at least 77% of people in nursing homes are incontinent, and one in four women will experience incontinence at some stage in their lives.
Essity conducts waste management testing of incontinence products after customers asked for a better solution.
Project Divert leader Rochelle Lakes said the taboo around incontinence pads keeps people from speaking up.
“Everybody on the street can talk about baby diapers. Hmm,” Lakes said.
“I don’t like to let people know I’m incontinent, but it’s very common.”
Lakes said it’s time to develop a product stewardship plan for incontinence pads.
“This is a lot of waste and our customers have been asking for a better solution,” says Lakes.
“There are many things that have started but failed.”
Waste management is also difficult given the complexity of incontinence.
Sewage expert Emma Thompson-Brewster’s work in this area was conducted in collaboration with the University of Southern Cross and the University of Queensland.
“Babies use disposable diapers most of the time and transition quickly to the potty,” says Brewster.
However, adult incontinence experiences vary greatly, and so do products.
From panty liners to pull-up trunks, they vary in weight and material.
Some people have only urinary incontinence, while others have only faecal incontinence. Others have both.
The care environment also affects the amount of waste, given that pads are changed at certain times in hospitals and homes.
While reusable options have appeared on store shelves as alternatives, Brewster said it’s important to come up with ways to manage disposable pads.
“These products are never replaced,” says Brewster.
“So many societies don’t have reusable fabrics as an option, so I don’t think it’s ethical to completely replace these fabrics.”
Project Divert, which began in February with federal funding, uses a patented pyrolysis technology that heats waste in the absence of oxygen, resulting in lower emissions than traditional incineration. less.
The waste can be converted into biochar (charcoal produced from pyrolysis) and have a variety of commercial uses.
Lakes said pyrolysis technology is a more cost-effective and flexible approach than composting, which requires the removal of plastics and possibly faeces and urine.
Oxygen-free ovens allow you to manage waste on a large scale without worrying about adjustments.
“We also make tenugui, and we know they can be composted.
“That’s why people don’t want to compost tenugui. I can’t imagine composting incontinence products.”
Bora said it was a no-brainer for the facility to participate in the trial.
“This trial was initiated by the same company that actually supplied the incontinence product, so I was very confident going into it,” said Bohla.
“It’s better for product manufacturers who know how to properly dispose of their waste.”
The next step is to determine whether the process is commercially viable.
Although the trial is for commercial operation, it is hoped that the technology can also be used for domestic incontinence waste.