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Diaper-grown mushrooms to cut down waste

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September 3, 2014

Mushrooms grown in used diapers help reduce waste volume by up to 80 percent

Mushrooms grown in used diapers help reduce waste volume by up to 80 percent

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While their contents might be considered an environmental hazard by many, disposable diapers themselves pose a more significant problem for the environment. According to the EPA, the average baby will work their way through 8,000 of them before they end up in landfill where they'll take centuries to break down. In an effort to reduce the problem, scientists at Mexico's Autonomous Metropolitan University, Azcapotzalco (UAM-A), have turned used diapers to the task of growing mushrooms.

The project led by Rosa María Espinosa Valdemar uses only diapers containing liquid waste, which are first sterilized in an autoclave before being ground up and mixed with material containing lignin from pasture, grape pomace, coffee or pineapple crown to create a substrate.

Fungus spores grown on some wheat or sorghum are then spread on this substrate and placed in a plastic bag, where it is held for two to three weeks in dark conditions with controlled humidity and temperature before being exposed to light. With the mushrooms feeding on the cellulose that is present in the diapers, after a period of two-and-a-half to three months, the diaper degrades 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," says Valdemar Espinosa.

Mushrooms grown in used diapers from a process developed at UAM-A

In addition to cellulose, diapers also contain non-biodegradable materials, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and superabsorbent gel (sodium polyacrylate), which collects fluids. But the plastic materials actually turn out to be beneficial to the growth process, taking up space and providing increased aeration and growing area. Also, the team says that the gel material that retains liquid can be recovered after the mushrooms are harvested for potential use in soils with low moisture retention.

Mushrooms grown from used diapers may not sound that appetizing, but the team was confident enough that they were free of contaminants and infectious organisms that they gave them a taste test.

"We performed an analysis and found that the contents of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are the same as that of commercial yeast," says Valdemar Espinosa. "It shouldn’t have to be different, mainly because diapers are sterilized."

Despite this, the team doesn't intend mushrooms grown using diapers to end up on dinner plates.

"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."

Source: Investigación y Desarrollo via Alpha Galileo

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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12 Comments

I don't know how they calculated 8,000 nappies per child, they must have had the stinkiest or slowest children on the planet. It's a gross exaggeration. You've got to watch these tree huggers, they 're often rather economical with the truth. It's like the old terry-towelling vs disposable debate. The damage to the environment from HC burning power stations for washing and drying, the chemicals from detergents, and even the labour practices of cotton growers should all be taken into account. The best thing is probably to just make your kid live in a bath for the first year and a bit of its life!

The Master
3rd September, 2014 @ 01:30 am PDT

"...they must have had the stinkiest or slowest children on the planet." -"The Master"

I've raised three so far and 8000 sounds like an understatement. My youngest is still in diapers and she goes through at least six a day, sometimes as much as ten. Working the math that's about 3000 a year for full diapers so at least 6000 over the first two years. Then pullup/training pants at about 3 a day for the next year or two 8000 is totally possible.

VirtualGathis
3rd September, 2014 @ 07:01 am PDT

Farmers are prevented by law, from using human waste, even that which is partially treated, on crop land. For reasons I don't fully understand, pig and cattle manure is ok. On another note: Advertising such a product could be quite interesting. I've already seen "Baby Bella's" on the shelves. Maybe someone's been doing this already!

pickypilot
3rd September, 2014 @ 08:45 am PDT

This idea is on a par with the one about gathering used cigarette filtres, and used, loaded coffee filtres, and there are probably more that I have not seen. Still a genuinely crappy idea. Bon Appetit`.

StWils
3rd September, 2014 @ 08:50 am PDT

The Germans used human waste as fertilizer on there fields, and it seems black hair was the norm. I know, lets use animal by product from the meat industry as cattle food.

Jay Finke
3rd September, 2014 @ 09:05 am PDT

Maybe they could call them shit-take mushrooms? Yum!

Bassmandan
3rd September, 2014 @ 09:49 am PDT

@pickypilot If the answer to why its illegal was to avoid a parasitic life cycle it would totally not surprise me. There are many parasites that attach themselves to the digestive tract and spread through feces and if it were able to attach itself to the nearby mushroom to later be consumed by a human.. well you get the point.

Humans are fortunate that we aren't targeted by more parasites but that's probably not an accident. It's likely though years of careful food and sanitation practices (like making sure human feces and food sources are quarantined from each other) that allow that to be the case.

Daishi
3rd September, 2014 @ 11:01 am PDT

Diapers, another environment issue.. and hence another business grow.. not sure if they grow better after thunder strike

Jacynth Chaw Yee Chin
4th September, 2014 @ 06:54 am PDT

Looks like they're going to have to start spelling 'shiitake' with one 'i'.

But, seriously. Growing 'shrooms for market in baby poo? Ewwwwwwww! There are reasons 'night-soil' farming is forbidden in the civilized world.

rocketride
4th September, 2014 @ 07:20 am PDT

Diapers compose less than 2% of solid waste disposed in the USA. Yard waste and food scraps are 10 times the amount of diapers composing over 20 if the solid waste production.

Viator
4th September, 2014 @ 01:21 pm PDT

@Viator, most diapers aren't biodegradable yet. That organic waste shouldn't go into landfills is a separate problem, but it's still not comparable to the environmental and health impact of a mixture of excrement, cellulose, plastic and nastier stuff, such as absorbents. www.greenamerica.org/livinggreen/diapers.cfm

Bob Humbly
5th September, 2014 @ 02:41 am PDT

I think it's a good idea, but of course, without all the liberal nonsense about damaging the environment. As the landfill industry doesn't simply just fill the land without harvesting methane, etc. It could be a good project for providing whatever minerals they're considering this to be a good source of. Not as a talking point for implementing unsound economic governmental intervention.

Andrew Zimmerman
5th September, 2014 @ 09:13 am PDT
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