August 3, 1998
Akiyoshi's solution for pollution
by Shandra Henning
Woodinville Weekly intern
Pollution, a growing problem in today's society, affects the health of an increasing number of people throughout the world each day. Solutions are constantly being sought. Many local water tables are contaminated due to buried waste.
"Ninety percent of landfills are buried underground," said Frank Akiyoshi, president of Bot-Chan Inc., a Woodinville company dedicated to finding solutions.
"Forty to fifty percent of the paper and food products that go into landfills can be recycled with current technology," Akiyoshi said. "There are many ways to reuse other products that are being thrown into the landfills."
Akiyoshi has found a way to recycle the three main components of disposable diapers: plastic, wood fibers and super gel. Bot-Chan Inc.'s goal is to disinfect and reclaim original components that are contained in the diapers. The recycled components are made into new diapers, flame retardants, jet fuel and a green foam product that helps retain moisture in the ground.
"Our patented process uses water that is heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, filters, screens and ultra-violet light to separate the components. The bacteria from the solid waste is killed, and waste water is removed from the mass. The elements are separated and used again," said Akiyoshi. "Bot-Chan Inc. is trying to help diminish the amount of disposable diapers that go into dumpsites. We can recycle ones that would otherwise be tossed in the trash."
Sanitation and recycling have been of interest to Akiyoshi for some time.
"When I was 10 years old," said Akiyoshi, "I was sent to a Japanese work camp during World War II where I worked in the butcher's department because I wanted to get extra food for my family. People started getting sick from the meat and no one could figure out why. I thought that it might be from the metal containers that they used to store meat. So I had one of my relatives, who was a doctor, come and look at it. We came to the conclusion that the metal was having a chemical reaction with the meat, causing people to get sick. We convinced the butchers to switch to wooden crates with paper between the crate and meat. It solved the problem. I haven't always been in the sanitary business, but as you can see, I was thinking about it at an early age."
Today, Aikyoshi is looking forward to using his patented process to make a difference.
"I estimate that we will be able to recycle 50,000 tons of diapers a year, with the appropriate funding and machinery," he said.
Disposable diapers are normally put either in landfills or incinerators. Whether or not disposable diaper recycling is technically and economically feasible has been studied. Landfills cause ground water pollution, and incineration is costly and creates air pollution.
"The healthy alternative is the Bot-Chan Inc. method, which is technically and financially feasible," said Akiyoshi. "There have not been many other successful tries to handle diaper recycling in a cost efficient, environmentally safe manner.
"A company in Toronto, Canada has attempted, but has made very little profit and is only 30 percent efficient, whereas Bot-Chan, Inc. would be 70 percent efficient," he said.
In 1991, Seattle Solid Waste Utility did a report on the Disposable Diaper Recycling Project. It was a ten month experiment in which they tested the technical and financial feasibility of diaper recycling.
According to their report, the disposable diaper market is at eighty percent, compared to cloth diapers. At any given time five percent of the population is using a diaper.
Each of the households using diapers produces about forty-five every week with a single baby using from 5.4 to 6.4 disposable diapers per day, which accounts for a significant amount of space in landfills.
The alternative to disposables would be the old-fashioned cloth and pin diapers. These are not thrown away after each usage, but washed and reused again. Even though they may seem to be more environmentally safe than disposable diapers, the necessity of washing and drying uses unnecessary water, according to Seattle Solid Waste Ultility's report.
Akiyoshi's company is not trying to convert disposable users but finding an alternative to throwing away or burning the diapers people already use.
The disposable diaper recycling project through Bot-Chan Inc. is still in its early stages.
"We need $1.5 to $2 million to get off the ground. Once that has happened, we hope to start with 50 thousand tons per year and maybe someday along the road help recycle paper, too."