ReCuring is a diaper recycling system designed for long-term care agency. It has a back-end logistics management system in place to ensure that waste diapers arrive at the recycling plant on time.
ReCuring's solution enhances waste's benefits for Taiwan's healthcare system, making diapers a valuable future economic resource for recycling.
About the Project
This is an industry-academia cooperation project commissioned by Taiwan diaper recycling company and co-organized by the Industrial Development Bureau, Ministry of Economic Affairs. The goal of the B2B project is to integrate the search for domestic technological resources to optimize the diaper recycling system in hospitals.
About Disposable Diapers
Compared with cloth diapers, disposable diapers are more convenient, but they are not biodegradable. In many countries where there is a rapidly aging society, more diapers are used by older, incontinent people than by babies. Older people are particularly prone to health conditions such as diarrhea, dementia, mobility impairment, and incontinence. To counter such problem on day-to-day basis, they rely on hygienic product such adult diapers. Thus, rise in aged population eventually triggers the demand for adult diapers.
According to Taiwan Paper Industy Assoiation (2021) statistical report, the sales of adult diapers in Taiwan will reach 580 million pieces in 2020. If the sales volume is converted into the elimination volume, the cost of disposal will seriously affect the environmental burden of Taiwan.
Diapers Recycle & Reusable
A team of researchers at University in Taiwan, have come up with a solution to diaper disposal (2017). Their new technique uses a decomposition process to retrieve materials in diapers that are reusable. This includes fluff, polyethylene, pulp and sodium polyacrylate.
The team later established a diaper recycling company with investments in Taiwan Petroleum Corporation. The company collects used diapers, especially from hospitals and old age homes, then recycles them to raw materials. These recycled raw materials can be used to make new diapers, building materials, furniture, flood bags, and other industrial applications.
Although the technology and equipment to recycle diapers are available domestically, there are other factors that contribute to recycling diapers in hospitals and nursing homes.
• Non-diaper waste (e.g., food scraps or bags from patients' families) placed in recycling bins can interfere with the decomposition process of diaper recycling plants.
• There is no standardized operation for end-of-life waste removal, and most of the sorted diapers are mixed with other Industrial/Commercial waste.
• Disposal of diapers as Industrial/Commercial waste will increase the additional cost of waste removal for medical facilities.
NOTE: General business waste has to be reported to the Environmental Protection Bureau, and the more the amount of waste, the more expensive it is to remove and tax. However, if the waste can be classified as recycled and handled by a government-permitted recycling plant, the cost of removal will be determined by the recycler.
The largest private hospital organization in Taiwan has plans to introduce intelligent medical services, including recycling business. In 2021, we are consulting with IoT companies that have RTLS (Real Time Locating System) and GPS integration technologies. The system will not only locate the status of people and equipment in the hospital, but will also be used to manage waste resources.
Understanding the Stakeholders
Interviews and observations of the stakeholders (caregiver, patients' families, external cleaning staff... etc.) on their behavior patterns. When hospitals do not have mandatory recycling regulations, they dispose of diapers or other general garbage randomly for their personal convenience, disregarding the original sorting requirements of the waste room in hospital.
• The ratio of caregivers to bedridden patients in the hospital is 1:15. This is a very stressful job for the caregivers. On the one hand, they have to change the patients' diapers frequently, and at the same time, they have to record the amount of urine of the patients, and they are afraid of cross-infection from the diapers.
• Diaper recycling plant have their own logistics fleets, but the amount of discarded diapers successfully collected each time is inconsistent and the cost of a single trip is high. They need to do remote logistics management system from the source to the final collection and return to the recycling plant.
Co-Creation and Concept Output
I held a design workshop with diaper recycling plant and invited stakeholders, hospital facility managers, IoT vendors, EPA officials and waste recycling experts to brainstorm: How Might We integrating technology to aid in the recycling of senior diapers in hospitals and nursing homes ?
I provide many references of intelligent recycling bins for the participants. They like the reference of FaterSmart's partnership with P&G, which is complete in terms of waste management and user feedback services.
• IoT vendors have e-paper-related R&D products that help caregivers calculate diaper weights and display information interfaces for diaper recycling. And with their RTLS, GPS technology, they can help hospitals and diaper recycling plants manage and track diapers.
• To make it easier to record the source of diapers, I suggested to the caregivers that they use the QrCode stickers attached to the small recycling bins on the diaper carts. This allows the recycling station system to know exactly which floor or ward the diapers are from, making it easier to count and manage.
• The disinfectant alcohol storage port installed above the recycling station, in addition to cleaning the hands of users, can also be used for internal deodorizing liquid.
• Since the environment and space of each hospital and nursing home is different, the design of the recycling station structure is modularized.
Combining the above features, we built a new diaper recycling system and recycling station - ReCuring.
By recycling 100% of diapers in hospitals or nursing homes, environmental and economic benefits would far outweigh the cost of building recycling stations. Recycling and material sales can generate revenues while returning recycled products to healthcare facilities, both solving hospital waste problems and reducing 40% operating costs.
The service system can recover nearly 700 tons of diapers a year, and the CO2 produced by incineration and landfill will be avoided.
The interactive prototype is being developed in collaboration with students from Department of Information Engineering and Department of Electrical Engineering and is expected to be completed in the winter of 2021.
Expected to end of the year, ReCuring's prototype and recycling data aresubmitted to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for a benefits assessment. If the recycling system is permitted by the EPA, nearly 15 large hospitals in Taiwan will be able to implement the ReCurings collection service after 2024.