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Concrete solution: Using dirty diapers to build houses

An international team of researchers from the University of Kitakyushu in Japan has discovered that used disposable diapers could be mixed with sand, gravel and other materials to make concrete and mortar

Published: May 27, 2023 09:02:35 AM IST

Concrete solution: Using dirty diapers to build housesUsed disposable diapers could be mixed with sand, gravel and other materials to make concrete and mortar. Image: Shutterstock

Building houses from dirty diapers might sound far-fetched, but it's a highly serious proposal from researchers who tried and tested the idea on a prototype house in Indonesia.

Disposable diapers represent 2% to 7% of all household waste worldwide. Given that used diapers are neither entirely compostable nor entirely biodegradable, the majority of them are incinerated, which contributes to polluting the atmosphere. But their status as waste is not the only problem, since their production, which uses a lot of water, is also problematic and harmful to the planet. An international team of researchers from the University of Kitakyushu in Japan has come up with a way to extend the lifespan of these products while reducing their environmental impact and providing an alternative to one of the most widely used and polluting construction materials: concrete.

According to their research, published in the journal, Scientific Reports, used disposable diapers could be mixed with sand, gravel and other materials to make concrete and mortar. Rest assured, the diapers are washed after collection and then stripped down to a viscous substance that serves as a binder for the building material. As eccentric as it may seem, this idea serves a dual purpose, reducing the amount of diaper waste while providing a better quality concrete.

To test their theory, the researchers conducted a laboratory experiment to calculate the number of disposable diapers that could be used in materials for building a low-cost, 36-square-meter dwelling, meeting construction standards in Indonesia. According to the researchers, the substance recovered from used diapers can be used to a maximum capacity of up to 10% in concrete used to build structural elements (such as load-bearing columns or beams) and up to 40% for non-structural components, such as floors or partition walls. "Incorporating experimental study findings into the design of low-cost housing, the total waste capacity of disposable diapers that can be utilized for single-story housing type 36 (36 m2) is 1.73 m3 out of a total composite material volume of 22.79 m3," the study concludes.

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