Even wipes, one of the original disposables, have in the last decade grown dramatically as clever marketing made them increasingly essential for a wide range of personal, domestic and industrial cleaning jobs. Here too, a sector once dominated by cellulosics has evolved to use increasing percentages of the non-renewables.
- Back in the 1960’s the leading disposable wipe in Europe were “J-Cloths” made by the Chicopee division of Johnson and Johnson, these being shadowed by numerous own-brand versions, one of which was made by the company I was doing Research for at that time – the BFF division of Courtaulds –then the leading rayon producer and the leading supplier of fibres to nonwovens.
- Baby wet-wipes were unknown, but most users of towelling diapers used a nonwoven “nappy-liner” and these were often used for the initial clean-up during a change. Incidentally the nappy liners were flushable and biodegradable.
- Wet wipes as we know them now were initially used for hand cleaning when travelling, came in canisters, and were also made of either wet or dry laid rayon, latex bonded.
- Air-laid woodpulp with a minor content of reinforcing fibres took the lions share of growth in the
- In the 1990’s hydroentangled rayon/polyester blends were successfully introduced into
Europeas premium-priced ultra-soft (c.f.air-laid) baby wipes.
- Since then the growth in the wipes sector has been dramatic, with spin-offs into household wipes for kitchen, bathroom, floors and furniture, and into dry-dusters using statically charged tow fibres.
External protection has had a similar evolution to diapers, initially being based entirely on natural materials, mainly cotton. Early products were reusable but as nonwovens became available for disposable (insert-pad) diapers, disposable sanitary pads could be made, these to being flushable and biodegradable but for the small percentage of incompletely cross-linked latex used to bind the nonwoven. Like diapers they too evolved to make use of the cheaper synthetic fibres, films and synthetic superabsorbents.
The tampon market was always regarded as a “fortress” by the cellulosic fibre producers, where prices were good, innovation was justified, and competition from non-absorbent synthetics unlikely. I can recall the excitement when in 1980 Tampax decided to launch a new tampon with the trilobal inflated-rayon which had been under development for the previous 10 years in Courtaulds Research, only to witness the initial dramatic success of P&G’s new “Rely” tampon – which contained superabsorbent powder on urethane sponge inside a polyester “tea-bag”, instead of absorbent fibres. “Rely”, probably for the wrong reasons, was associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome and was abandoned, and while the rayon industry breathed a sigh of relief, Tampax too postponed their launch of the trilobal rayon as too risky in the immediate aftermath of "Rely". P&G stopped production of “Rely” and the superabsorbent on which it was based, and exited tampons, until acquiring Tampax in the late ‘90’s. Had it been otherwise, tampons too would now be based mainly on non-renewable fossil reserves.