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From Baby Bottoms to Building Blocks: Nappies Transforming Concrete as Eco-friendly Alternative

According to recent research published in Scientific Reports, used disposable nappies could be utilized as a replacement for sand in the construction of concrete and mortar for single-story houses without significantly affecting their structural integrity. This innovative approach could be especially beneficial in developing low-cost housing in low and middle-income countries. Disposable nappies, which are typically made from a variety of materials such as wood pulp, cotton, viscose rayon, and plastics like polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene, mostly end up in landfills or are incinerated. This research suggests a more sustainable and beneficial use for this abundant waste material​​.

In the study, Siswanti Zuraida and her team created concrete and mortar samples by mixing shredded used disposable nappies with cement, sand, gravel, and water. After a curing period of 28 days, they tested the samples to measure their structural resilience. The researchers then calculated the maximum amount of sand that could be replaced with diaper waste for various building materials, with the intention of constructing a house adhering to Indonesian building standards with a floor plan of 36 square meters​​.

The results showed that used disposable nappies could substitute up to 10% of the sand required for concrete used in constructing columns and beams in a three-story house. This proportion increased to 27% for concrete columns and beams in a single-story house. When it comes to the sand needed for mortar in partition walls, up to 40% of it could be replaced with disposable nappies. The percentage for sand in mortar for floors and garden paving was lower, standing at 9%. Overall, up to 8% of the sand in all the concrete and mortar required to build a single-story house with a 36 square meter floor plan could be replaced with disposable nappy waste. This amounts to a substantial waste reduction, equivalent to 1.7 cubic meters​.

The implementation of these findings on a larger scale would require the collaboration of various stakeholders, including government entities and waste treatment facilities. To enable the large-scale collection, sanitization, and shredding of nappy waste, processes would need to be developed and streamlined. Additionally, modifications to building regulations would be necessary to permit the use of nappy waste as a construction material​​.

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