Lenzing spokesperson attribution: Jürgen Eizinger, Vice President of Global Business Management Nonwovens Division

There has been substantial global growth in the demand for sustainable nonwoven products over the past decade. Biodegradability has gradually shifted to the forefront of the conversation around nonwoven products, with a spike in interest around products such as cleaning wipes, makeup removal pads, facial masks, baby wipes and many more. This comes as research conducted by Smithers Pira revealed that the global consumption of all nonwovens in 2017 was 10.1 million tonnes, yet global consumption of sustainable nonwovens in the same year only amounted to 3.7 million tonnes, a figure that certainly needs addressing and drive further awareness. These figures clearly outline the need for improvement in sustainability terms of biodegradability, from both manufacturers and consumers. The need for improvement comes from concerns over the environmental impact of nonwoven products, in which disposability, sewer blockages, ecological footprint, plastic pollution, and climate change are named the top 5 environmental issues facing the nonwoven industry globally according to a recent Lenzing consumer survey.

When faced with such a challenging environment, it is important to address how companies should act, to ensure that not only are their products are up to standard, but that they help combat environmental issues while enhancing sustainability.

Use of sustainable raw materials and eco-responsible processes

One of the nonwoven industry’s main priorities has been the adoption of sustainable raw materials which can be produced in ecologically responsible ways. Sustainable production options are already available and have been included in some companies’ production processes. These options rely on the use of renewable raw materials such as wood, cotton and other natural cellulosic fibers. Industry manufacturers are making use of technological innovation such as Lenzing’s Eco Disperse technology, when producing fibers for flushable moist toilet tissues. When coupled with Eco Disperse technology, raw materials with botanic origin and sustainable production process can be used to produce flushable nonwoven fabrics that can quickly disintegrate after flushing and are fully biodegradable after use. One of the next goals the nonwoven industry hopes to achieve is to set up a scalable production of this process, ensuring a wide adoption of biodegradable, nonwoven products.

Enhancing raw material transparency

Enhancing raw material transparency is inevitable for the industry ecosystem, especially as consumers are now becoming more mindful of the source of raw materials, production processes and the social and environmental impacts created by those processes. Although consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious in their choices, a recent Lenzing consumer survey revealed that they still had limited knowledge around the composition of nonwoven products they used. Despite most nonwoven products being made with plastic materials such as polyester or polypropylene, results indicated that only one out of ten survey participants of the Lenzing consumer survey is aware of that. . At the same time, most of the respondents stated that the inclusion of biodegradability on product packaging was an extremely attractive factor in nonwoven products. Under such circumstances, disclosing essential information on the product packaging is crucial to addressing consumers interest around sustainable products.

In addition to the efforts of manufacturers, nonwoven industry bodies, INDA and EDANA, have tightened their 4th edition of guideline for assessing the flushability of disposable nonwoven products in May 2018. Their guidelines now require wipe manufacturers to only label products as “flushable” after evaluating whether products can be flushed into the wastewater stream and passing seven qualified tests. Adopting and implementing stringent guidelines will lead to enhanced supply-chain transparency, which in turn will help not only educate but also instill confidence in the consumer when they purchase sustainable nonwoven products.

Ongoing innovation on product packaging

A key aspect of enhancing sustainability is to engage in innovation in terms of product packaging. Despite a global shift towards sustainability, the majority of nonwoven product packaging are tubs and pouches, which are petroleum byproducts and damaging to the environment during manufacturing. As momentum for sustainable packaging continues to grow across all industries, producers must continue to search for suitable materials to eradicate the use of unsustainable options, while also increasing the ratio of reduce and reuse packaging materials. It is imperative to continue developing new technologies that can provide manufacturers with sustainable product packaging solutions.

Sustainability is a quality to strive for, and there is so much manufacturers can do to ensure the adoption of sustainability in the nonwoven industry. Investing in innovative production processes including eco-friendly raw materials, in not only the products but also the packaging, are just some of the ways they can do so. It is vital to not neglect the need for greater transparency in raw materials, which in turn encourages and reassures consumers when purchasing environmentally friendly options. It is important for the nonwoven industry to be eco-conscious and start acting now to ensure the sustainable development of the industry.