Disposable diapers are mostly indestructible, but a group of researchers led by Rosa María Espinosa Valdemar, at Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University, Azcapotzalco, has found a way to degrade the soiled garments by growing mushrooms on them. Disposable diapers can last for hundreds of years in landfills because they contain not only the plant-based material cellulose that mushrooms consume, but also non-biodegradable materials such as polyethylene, polypropylene and the superabsorbent gel sodium polyacrylate.
The scientists grew the oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, on a substance made from used diapers and were able to reduce the diaper’s weight and volume by up to 80 percent. For the experiment, the researchers only used diapers containing liquid waste. They sterilized and ground up the garments; mixed them with lignin from the remains of pressed grapes, coffee or pineapple tops; covered the mixture with commercially available fungus spores; and kept it in a plastic bag for three weeks.
The resulting mushrooms had similar amounts of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals as in commercial yeast. They’re not intended for human consumption, but could be used as a supplement in cattle feed.