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A group of engineers uses diapers to replaced sand to make a building

By: Ziyin Niu

As usual, engineers will rely on sand and other common materials to build house with concrete. However, some common building materials, especially those that make for strong structures, are not only expensive but also creates a lot of environment problem.

According to the United Nations, nearly 4 hundred million sands mined to building house per year.

To address this issue, Siswanti Zuraida an environmental engineer from Indonesia, find this unusual way: use diapers as building materials. This plan aims to tackle both pollutions caused by diaper and increasing demand for affordable housing in developing countries like Indonesia. The number of people in Indonesia's cities has climbed about 4 percent in last 30 years. All the people waste is becoming a problem. Make home more affordable become a big need.

Zuraida choose diapers as new building materials stem from the fact that diapers are a huge source of Indonesia, for instance, one 2018 study showed that nasty nappies made up more than 20% of the trash pulled from waterways in 15 cities. And in US alone, over 8 billion pounds of them are thrown away each year. Most of used disposable diapers mostly pile up in landfills or get burned, no one noticed the wood pulp; cotton and plastic in disposable diapers are potentially useful building materials.

By repurposing old diapers, Zuraida believes that could be the best choice to help those problem. However, there are big hurdles to adopting diapers or other unusual building materials, Zuraida says.

After extensive work, the team successful designed and build a small home based on the waste diapers the found they can used. Furthermore, the team found, taller buildings cannot use utilize as much diaper material, but in the parts of homes where load-bearing requirements are lower, diaper can replace more than 40% of sand.

While the diapers’ plant-based fibers can be used for building, the plastic part need to be separated out. And that's the most difficult part, which is only available in develop country.

The idea of building with waste is worthwhile, says Christof Schröfl. A chemist, he works at Technische Universität Dresden in Germany, who wasn't part of the new work. He points out the problem. He says the diapers might not to be that environmentally friendly, because it's tricky and cost lots of energy to separate dirty diapers from waste and sanitize them.

The concept of using diapers as building materials offer a unique approach to addressing both pollution and housing need. While the idea shows promise, challenges remain, especially in separating the plastics components and ensure the environmentally friendly processes. Further searching is necessary to overcome these problems and finding new unconventional building materials to creating sustainable and affordable housing solutions.

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