Stinky diapers drive dads to launch pickup composting service

Mark Arishenkoff and Kyle MacQuarrie have eight kids between them and a giant pile of dirty nappies ready for composting.

Mark Arishenkoff and Kyle MacQuarrie have 8 kids between them and a giant pile of dirty nappies

Mark Arishenkoff, left, and Kyle MacQuarrie have started collecting used diapers in hopes of composting them. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

Two Calgary dads are tackling a smelly situation many parents know well.

Mark Arishenkoff and Kyle MacQuarrie — who have eight kids between them — are collecting soiled diapers in hopes of getting enough to put through a composting machine.

They want to keep the millions of tonnes of diapers Calgary babies produce out of the landfill, a job so messy and complicated the city says it won't touch it.

As part of a business school assignment, the two launched Soiled Diapers Composting Service and have about 100 subscribers so far.

By their calculation, a child can go through 5,000 diapers before being potty trained. With roughly 80,000 diaper-aged children in the city in 2016, "the market is there," MacQuarrie said.

"With 110 million diapers just in Calgary alone, there's diapers that are going into the landfill that don't need to go into the landfill," he said.

The two men started collecting diapers in freezers but they ran out of outlets. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

They're hoping to expand to collect in bulk from child care centres and long-term care facilities. Processing the diapers in bulk is more affordable.

For now, they've been collecting by driving home to home around Calgary and saving up the diapers in a giant pile under a sealed tent — in Arishenkoff's driveway.

"Like, are you kidding? I didn't really want them at my house," his wife, Sheri-Lynn Arishenkoff, said. "But they're in the driveway so the kids can still play in the backyard."

The business collects diapers from families in Calgary, and hopes to expand to collecting from daycare and nursing homes. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

The stench in the tent is potent but the idea is old.

On the island nations of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, landfill space is at a premium, unlike "space-spoiled" Canada, he said, and so diaper-composting is popular.

Other cities do it

Closer to home in Toronto, the city has composted diapers since launching its compost program in 2002. It uses a similar process to do so, as well.

The diapers and sanitary napkins are collected in green bins, and can be wrapped in plastic bags. They're put into a big washer-style machine that agitates the diapers until the plastic floats to the top.

Plastic is sent to the landfill, water recycled for the next batch and organic materials used for compost.

The city collects 12,000 tonnes of diapers and sanitary products a year, roughly seven per cent of all green bin materials, according to Nadine Kerr, a manager with Toronto's solid waste management services.

Offering to compost diapers has led to a high compliance rate among single-family homes for compost overall, she said.

Odour 'the enemy'

Kerr was curious about the Calgary start-up's idea and offered some advice.

"Odour can be the enemy of any kind of organic processing facility," Kerr said. "Keeping your neighbours happy in any organic facility is, I would say, key to success."

Mark Arishenkoff is storing the diapers in a carport tent in his driveway. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

But in Calgary, the city is not looking to add diapers to its compost plan, which was only put into place last year.

"We don't accept diapers because while some parts are compostable, there are a lot of pieces that are not," Calgary waste management specialist Laura Hamilton said. "That would be considered contamination in the finished compost."

Even recycle plastic

Arishenkoff and MacQuarrie would like to go a step further than Toronto and even reuse the plastic bits, which make up 10 per cent of the diaper.

They could screen those flecks of plastic up, collect them and sell them. Bits of clean plastic can be turned into plastic pellets to make bags, for example, or incinerated to use the fumes as fuel. They foresee the compost being used locally as mine-reclamation fill or for city roads projects.

So far, the Calgary fathers have more than two tonnes of dirty nappies, almost enough for one load in a composting processor that costs roughly $450,000.

  • Listen to the Calgary Eyeopener's visit to the diaper tent:
The Eyeopener's Danielle Nerman introduces us to Mark Arishenkoff who plans to open North America's first diaper composting facility. 5:04

The machine is on order but they're waiting to ship it from New Zealand. They have only 20 per cent of the diapers they'd like to have before launching the composter.

If they can't collect enough, they have a company overseas willing to process the diapers for them.

"I will never get tired of when I ask somebody, 'Oh, did you know you can compost disposable diapers?' Everyone just stops and looks at me like I have three eyes," MacQuarrie said. "And everybody's super excited about it."


With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a digital journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.