A sizeable category in terms of organic content within MSW is represented by Absorbent Hygiene Products (AHPs; e.g. nappies, adult incontinence products, feminine hygiene items, wipes, etc.) waste, which is currently considered as non-recyclable fraction of MSW and finds its way to landfills or incineration, leading to important environmental concerns. Indeed, each year 8,500,000 tons of such waste are incinerated or landfilled in Europe (the equivalent of almost 30 landfills every year), and over 30,000,000 tons in the world. AHP are mainly composed of a mix of natural fibres (cellulose) and polymers (PP/PE and superabsorbent polymer), valuable materials that currently don’t find a proper valorization. Within EMBRACED project, a first-of-its-kind multi-purpose integrated biorefinery will be established in order to valorize in a relevant environment scenario the cellulosic fractions obtained from AHP waste towards the production of bio-products of significant commercial interest, and – concurrently – high added-value co-products, such polyolefinic plastics and SAP (superabsorbent polymers).
This innovative biorefinery model will involve all the main actors of the whole value chain, from AHP consumers and local population to waste management and logistic companies, leading AHP producers and bioprocess developers, as well as final products developers. In a view of circular economy, all the fractions obtained from the processed AHP waste will be reused through valorization into final products, and in particular the high-quality cellulosic fraction of AHP (ca. 1,275,000 ton/y in Europe), which has significant advantages vs. traditional 2nd generation lignocellulosic feedstocks in terms of homogeneity and downstream bioprocessing costs, will be converted and valorized in two parallel value chains, leading to the production of biobased building blocks, polymers and fertilizers.
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