When you flush the toilet, you’re probably not thinking about bike lanes or home insulation. But that’s where your used loo roll could one day end up if a Dutch project to extract cellulose from sewage rolls out.
At the Geestmerambacht wastewater treatment plant near Alkmaar in the Netherlands, a two-year pilot project is using an industrial sieve to sift 400kg of cellulose, the natural fibres found in loo roll, from toilet sludge each day.
The cellulose, which would otherwise be incinerated at the end of the sewage treatment process, is cleaned and sterilised with very high temperatures and turned into a fluffy material or pellets. These are sold on as a raw material for products like asphalt and building materials.
A portion is also exported to the UK, where Brunel University is working on technology to transform it into an energy source, bioplastic bottles and other products.
The Cellvation project is just one of many schemes around the country attempting to extract value from sewage, says Ney. Another company, AquaMinerals, works with various water providers to produce calcite pellets from wastewater, which can then be reused for softening water, or for products like ceramics and paint.
Not everyone is convinced that recycling loo roll makes sense, however, given the energy and financial investment required for extracting and sterilising it.
Singer Sheryl Crow famously urged people to use just one square a visit to help protect the planet. But there are other options too. Helen Rankin, managing director of Cheeky Wipes, sells reusable fabric toilet paper, known as ‘family cloth’, which she also uses at home.
“We have a bin in each bathroom and a couple of times a week chuck them in a long, hot wash,” she says. “It is a niche market and a lot of people are grossed out about it, but compared with cloth nappies, it’s nothing.
In many countries, water is already the main way of getting clean after a loo visit. In Thailand for example, toilets tend to come with a hose and Japan’s all-singing, all-dancing toilet seats include nozzles for spraying water. Even in the UK, where the French bidet never really thrived, loos with in-built washing systems are now widely available to buy.
But persuading people to ditch toilet paper is tricky, says professor Mizi Fan of Brunel University London, a research partner on the Dutch project. “It is not easy to change this sort of habit,” he says. “Toilet paper utilisation does vary from country to country, but… there is a link to a perception of hygiene.”
Could that link also hamper efforts to recycle toilet paper into consumer products? John Bissell, chief executive of start-up Origin Materials, which has worked on a project to turn sewage sludge into plastic bottles, admits there is an ick factor: “Consumers have a perception problem dealing with the sewage aspect,” he says.
Source : The Guardian