Disposable diapers produce a great deal of waste for landfills, and some contribute to other environmental hazards. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average baby will go through 8,000 diapers. Researchers from the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico are hoping to reduce some of this waste by using used diapers to grow mushrooms.
Gizmag reports the scientists used diapers containing liquid waste only and first sterilized them in an autoclave before grinding them up to be mixed with a material that contains lignin from pasture, grape pomace, coffee or pineapple crown in order to create a substrate.
A fungus grown on wheat or sorghum is spread on the substrate and placed in a plastic bag, where it is kept for two to three weeks. It is kept in dark conditions with controlled humidity and temperature before it is exposed to light. The mushrooms feed on the cellulose present in the diapers and, after about two-and-a-half to three months, the diaper begins to degrade and reduces in volume and weight by up to 80 percent.
"For example, if we apply this technology in a kilo (2.2 lb) of diapers, at the end of the process it will be reduced to 200 g (7 oz) and 300 g (11 oz) of mushrooms," said Rosa María Espinosa Valdemar, the project's lead.
Diapers also contain non-biodegradeable materials like polyethylene, polypropylene and superabsorbent gel. The plastic actually helps the growth of mushrooms as it takes up space and provides increase aeration and growing area. Also, the gel, which collects liquids, could be recovered after the growth process to potentially be used in soils with low moisture retention.
The team insists that the mushrooms were free of contaminants and other infectious organisms, as they gave the mushrooms a taste test themselves.
"We performed an analysis and found that the contents of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are the same as that of commercial yeast," said Valdemar Espinosa. "It shouldn’t have to be different, mainly because diapers are sterilized."
However the researchers aren't intending for their diaper-grown mushrooms to be consumed by humans.
"The project is not intended to produce mushrooms targeted for human consumption, since the main objective is to get rid of diapers to avoid damaging the environment more," Valdemar Espinosa added. "However, the mushrooms could be used as food supplement for cattle, the gel can be used to increase moisture retention in some crops and the plastic can be sent to recycling."
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