Sunday 25 December 2005

PIRA Biodegradables Conference 13-14/12/05

Key Points
• The UK government sponsored Waste Resources Action Programme is campaigning to reduce the use of disposable diapers and wants the producers of hygienic disposables to be responsible for disposal of the used products.
• WRAP is also against flushable products on the grounds that the UK taxpayer would pay for their treatment in sewage.
• Sustainability emerged as more important (environmentally speaking) than biodegradability.
• Development of sustainable or biodegradable or flushable products is still being hindered by unclear definitions of these words.
• Biodegradable plastics will need to be separated from conventional plastics destined for recycling.
• PLA appears to be making slow progress in developing applications outside food packaging.
• $ Sales of drug treatments for overactive bladder will exceed value of absorbent incontinence products by 2010.

Biodegradable = Sustainable?

Philip Ward, Director of the UK Government's Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), was concerned to respond to the EU Landfill directive and divert solids from the landfill route. The points he made were:

  • Recycling will not be enough. He is proposing the distribution of free home-composting bins to million of households, and then encouraging the disposal of any biodegradables through these bins.
  • He's working with the retail sector – the source of half the UK's landfilled waste – to design out the packaging waste (4.6 million tonnes/year), and the food waste (3.5 million tonnes/year)
  • Disposable nappies, at 300-400,000 tonnes (2-3% of domestic waste) are a problem and he is working to persuade consumers to move back to reusables.
  • This he saw as a battle between convenience and sustainability, and he felt that in the interests of the planet, everyone should be prepared to sacrifice a little convenience. He was hoping to reduce the 90-94% of diaper changes in the UK which now go to disposables.
  • Slow evolution of methane from biodegradables in a landfill was also a problem, methane being a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
  • He used a balance sheet to illustrate the need to preserve global assets and not deplete them. The balance sheet was said to be P&G for 2004.
  • Providing consumer satisfaction without assessing long term sustainability leads to unforeseen consequences. Thomas Midgely's invention of Freon for fridges and tetra-ethyl lead for gasoline in the 20's led to environmental damage which will take 60 years to repair.
  • 1 tonne of consumer product requires 11 tonnes of Earth's resources.
  • We will need 5 new planets to get through the next century if China , India etc achieve the same living standards as USA .
  • WRAP is promoting Novamont Mater-bi for waste bin liners and carrier bags so that they can be composted in the home.
  • Biodegradation must be aerobic to avoid methane emissions.
  • Convenience products must not work by transferring some of their “system costs” elsewhere. (He feels that P&G and KC should now be paying for the costs of disposal of their diapers, because it is unfair to burden the UK taxpayer with this.)
  • He is anti-flushable products on the same grounds: the taxpayer would pay for any sewage treatment problems.
  • Biodegradables could contaminate the recycling stream and spoil the end products.
  • A universally recognisable biodegradable standard and mark is required.
  • He likes PLA packaging and thinks anything made from cornstarch must be good.
  • He regarded disposable nappies as a Genie, who escaped from the bottle before all the right questions had been asked.
  • He wished to emphasise his main message: “P&G and KC fail to take responsibility for their products – they leave it to the tax payer and this is no longer acceptable”
In response to questions - comments:

  • Methane was a valuable source of energy and could be collected from landfills and sewage, and even home anaerobic digesters on a larger scale than currently achieved. This was surely a better way of treating biodegradables than taking them straight to carbon dioxide with no energy recovery. He seemed to agree, and added that he would like to see all food manufacturers disposing of their food waste in on-site anaerobic digesters, and additionally retrieving food waste from the local community for similar conversion to energy and compost.
  • Diaper volume had been reduced by using more SAP. So the disposal benefit of “reduction at source” had been neutralised by moving from non-sustainable/biodegradable woodpulp to non-biodegradable non-sustainable fossil-fuelled SAP. (Statement from delegate)

European Tissue & Hygiene Trends

Irina Barbalova of Euromonitor UK said the population age shift in Western Europe was the key driver in this market, using a graph showing the median age rising from 39 in 2004 to 53 in 2020.

  • European tissue and hygiene product sales amounted to €24 billion in 2004, 25% of this being toilet tissue, 23% diapers/pants, and 17% femcare.
  • The next largest sector, wipes (10%) was the most dynamic growth area followed by incontinence products (3%).
  • Facial tissues (6%), kitchen towels (9%), and cotton-wool buds and pads (3%) made up the remainder of the market.
  • UK was the most penetrated region spending €71/capita on these products, with Russia bringing up the rear at €8/capita.
  • Eastern Europe was growing fastest (11% pa) but only amounted to 1/6 th the size of the WE market, which was growing at 2% p.a. In this region, diapers/pants had grown by 18% CAGR since 1998.
  • Russia , Poland and Hungary were the fastest growing diaper markets.
  • If diapers/pants were separated, pants became the fastest growing sector in the West (12% p.a.) due to the reluctance of busy parents to spend time on potty training.
  • Here, P&G's “Feel and Learn” and KC's “Pull-ups with Wetness Liner” helped the training process by providing a wetter topsheet.
  • Femcare was being repositioned as a beauty accessory: ultra slim, ultra comfort, invisible, and discreet being the keywords for products in modern and matchbox style packs.
  • SAP fibres contributed to the discretion of “Alldays”, while “Always Freshelle” combined pad and wipe in the same pack.
  • Wipes was a €2.3 billion market in 2004, €1.4 billion being personal wipes, the rest (in the hygiene category) being household. Sector growth was down to 7% for 2003-4.
  • KC's “Kleenex Anti-Viral” facial tissue claims to kill 99.9% of all viruses.
  • Attempts to improve profitability of toilet tissue will include reducing the number of sheets per roll, e.g. KC's “Andrex” down from 240 to 180. Moist toilet tissue is now growing rapidly.
  • For the 2004 to 2009 period, Ms Barbalova forecast the following CAGRs:
    • Wipes 4.5%
    • Incontinence products 7.0%
    • Diapers 3.5%
    • Femcare 3.0%
    • Toilet paper 1.8%
In response to questions she said all her growth rates were based on value: unit growth would be lower due to price increases. Euromonitor do not track biodegradable products, awareness of this attribute being in its infancy.

Non-Absorbent Hygiene Products

Helena Engquist (Consultant) acknowledged the ageing of Europe 's population and the resulting growth opportunities, but reminded us that the major pharmaceutical companies were developing life-style drugs to alleviate incontinence. Furthermore the “Seasonale” pill allowed women to reduce their periods to 4 a year with obvious potential to impact femcare sales.
• Drug companies are now advising sufferers to talk to their doctor about incontinence problems to see if a prescription drug would help.
• Novartis/P&G are collaborating to further develop the “Enablex” treatment for over-active bladder (FDA approved for prescription use in 2004) to allow an OTC version.
• Yamanouchi and GlaxoSmithKline to co-market Vesicare in the USA
• Takeda and Toray developing a novel OAB drug therapy in Japan
• $ sales of incontinence drugs will overtake $ sales of absorbents during 2009.

Biodegradable/Sustainable Fibres

Dr Richard Blackburn, Head of the Green Chemistry Group at Leeds University (UK) predicted demand for oil would exceed supply in 10 years, and landfill options for waste disposal would be running out. Biodegradable, or to be more accurate, sustainable polymers would be the solution to the resulting problems. Some biodegradable polymers (polycaprolactones) were made from oil, and these were not good. Some sustainable polymers made from sugar (“Sorona” from Dupont/Tate and Lyle) were not biodegradable but these were good. Cotton was not sustainable (too much oil-based fertiliser/pesticide needed), lyocell was better, but bast fibres (e.g flax, hemp, jute and ramie) will inherit the earth.

Biodegradable femcare/diapers

Marco Benedetti of the Wellness Innovation Project (W.I.P. – Italy ) described the problems of a small innovative company trying to compete against P&G/KC with new biodegradable products.

  • PLA fibers had been hard to get at the right specification.
  • No enthusiasm from the nonwovens industry for running trials with lyocell or PLA.
  • Trials were costly and the work needed to optimize nonwoven lines for these fibers was prohibitive.
  • Definitions were unclear in consumers minds. Flushability and biodegradability were regarded as equivalent and conveyed a similar message to compostable , natural and ecological .
WIP were using only biodegradable and hypoallergenic materials to make sanitary napkins and wet-wipes, and were now planning to introduce diapers and breast pads. The main fibers were PLA from Far Eastern Textiles, organic cotton and Lenzing lyocell. Mater-Bi™ from Novamont was the film used and Lysorb™ from Lysac was the SAP. Fama Jersey and Tenotex (BBA) hydroentangled the nonwovens, Polycart and Italpolimeri cast the films and FJWD, CIP4 and CELCOT did the packaging. (Lysorb™ worked well with blood but not with urine.)
The discussion involved more statements than questions:

  • P&G/KC are taking biodegradability seriously and have developments “on the shelf” awaiting profitable opportunities.
  • Mr Benedetti said he doesn't care about profits – he just wants to prove that progress in an important area can be made by a small company.
  • His competitor, “Nature Care” is not small. It's a global brand (£9million sales) and has better access to innovative materials, and gets better attention from nonwovens/film makers.
  • There are no problems processing PLA fiber. The high price of nonwovens is due to the high fiber cost.

Biodegradation: Waste disposal issues

Peter Jones of BIFFA Waste Services provided a view from the grave end of the disposable product lifecycle. Amid a wealth of data on the constituents of the UK 's solid waste stream a way forward emerged:

  • Producers of disposable products should be responsible for their ultimate disposal. BIFFA would bid for the collection and disposal contracts.
  • Hygiene product waste may not be suitable for composting because of the possible pathogen content. Incineration may be the only way.
  • The UK is already burning 160,000,000 tonnes/year of waste – said to be equivalent to putting 4 centuries of fossil carbon back into the atmosphere every year.
  • The UK plan to divert municipal organic matter from landfill to composting would reduce the landfill from 100% in 1995 to 35% in 2016.
  • Aerobic composting infrastructure required an investment of £50/tonne, whereas anaerobic treatment with energy recovery required £200/tonne.
  • Anaerobic treatment may prove the more cost effective in the long-run as energy prices increase.
  • The new BIFFA Wanlip waste-processing/recycling plant which started up in Leicester last year uses anaerobic digesters to treat the sludge and burns the resulting methane in gas-turbines to generate electricity.

Starch-based biodegradables

Frank Glatz of Plantic Technologies ( Netherlands ) described the development of a cornstarch “plastic” which costs the same as PVC, runs like PVC on injection moulding machinery and is now being used by Nestle to replace PVC in chocolate box trays. The development was based on an $18 million Australian investment which commenced 7 years ago.

  • The starch-plastic meets the EN 13432 compostability standard. In fact it dissolves in water.
  • It's being developed as a seed-wrap where it outperforms PVOH.
  • It meets the CEN TC 249 WI 249510 (draft) flushability test scheme for water dispersibility, solubility and biodegradability in waste water.
  • It is used in packaging for detergents, again said to better than PVOH

Asked what happened if it was accidentally splashed with water, Mr Glatz said it would dissolve. It would not be suitable for packing anything hygroscopic, but 80% of detergents were not hygroscopic, and anyway a waterproof coating on one side only would correct this. (no written paper available)

Testing Biodegradability

Bruno de Wilde of Organic Waste Systems (OWS) Belgium is the official Belgian delegate on the ISO and CEN biodegradable plastics and packaging committees and is a member of DIN and ASTM.
Compostability needed evaluation in three parts: biodegradation, disintegration and compost quality. EN 13432 recommended the ISO 14855 test method along with 14851 and 14852 for biodegradation. Biodegradation was measured by CO 2 evolution over a composting period up to 6 months (45 days on the graphs). Disintegration was tested in pilot or (ideally) full-scale composting over 12 weeks when less than 10% of the original product should remain in a >2mm size fraction to be declared compostable. Compost quality was assessed against the physico-chemical standards (including limits on heavy metals) and by 2 plant growth tests. Additional toxicological tests involving daphnia and earthworms may be added in future.
Compost quality certification systems were now in place in Germany , Belgium , USA , Finland and Japan , each with its own logo, and one challenge for the future would be to distil these into a single global compostable certificate and logo. Other challenges would be covering biodegradation via liquid stream disposal (flushables), biodegradation by soil-burial (mulching products) and biodegradation in home composting.

Nappy Recycling

Paul Elder of Knowaste (UK) cancelled on the day he was due to speak, but his written paper observed that the UK generates a million tonnes of disposable nappy and incontinence pad waste each year, and 80% of this is now landfilled. Knowaste deals specifically with incontinence waste through its plants in Canada , Australia , Japan and Holland . It hopes to build a recycling plant in the UK and feels this is a competitive alternative to biodegradability, particularly if disposable nappies can be recycled also.

  • British people feel disposal of human waste in landfill is unhygienic, and worry about human waste leachate getting into ground water.
  • Recycling the materials from nappies conserves natural resources.
  • The Knowaste process produces plastic pellets for re-extrusion and paper pulp.
  • The superabsorbent enters the pulp stream and is deactivated chemically prior to the pulp being washed, cleaned screened and baled.
  • Urine and faeces are removed as sludge and could be tankered to anaerobic digesters on sewage farms for final treatment.
  • A plant to convert 50,000 tonnes/year of nappy waste into refined and dried product would cost £7m
  • The plastic pellets would be recycled into roofing, flooring and other non-critical goods.
  • The pulp would go into paper, cardboard and filter making.

PLA Update

Eamonn Tighe of Natureworks ( Ireland ) provided a comprehensive update under the heading “Sustainability in the Hygiene Sector”. Notable information was as follows:

  • Ingeo™ fiber-producing partners were listed as Accent, O'Mara, and FIT (USA), Antex and Radici (EU),Toray, Unitika, and Kuraray ( Japan ), and Far Eastern Textiles ( Taiwan ).
  • Spunbond/spunlace fabrics are available from Rieter Perfojet (presumably samples only).
  • The 2005 price for PLA on a 5000+ tonne contract is $1.4/kg, said to be the same as polyester (This was on a slide provided by Rieter/Perfojet)
  • On a slide labelled “Fossil Fuel Use” PLA polymer used 80 MJ/kg of which all but 26 was “renewable”. (Maybe the title should have been Energy Use.)
  • This 26 MJ/kg would be reduced to 16.6 by installation of windmills to power the Nebraska plant, planned for 2006.
  • The polymer production was CO 2 neutral (or negative in the case of the next generation products.)
  • Estimates of the environmental benefits were calculated on the basis of replacing 1000 tonnes of polyester (landfilled) with 1000 tonnes of PLA (composted).
    • 7900 barrels of oil saved
    • Or, 1.47 million litres of petrol
    • And 1147 tonnes of landfill waste avoided.
  • The first user in femcare was WIP ( Biodegradable femcare/diapers )
  • Healthquest were using it in a baby wipe.
  • Other applications in the EU for 2005 outside fashion apparel were fillings and waddings, blankets and draperies. (“ Europe has lead in product innovation and downstream market development”)
  • The main applications are clearly in packaging.

Starch-Based Films

Stefanco Facco of Novamont ( Italy ) described the benefits of the Mater-Bi™ polymer. Destructured GMO-free cornstarch and chemical modifiers were converted into amorphous amylase and amylopectin, which was then reacted with polymeric complexing agents to form the Mater-Bi™ complexed starch. 35,000 tonnes/year were produced at the Terni plant in Italy . This comprised 60% annually renewable material which would degrade to CO 2 . It was non-toxic and compostable according to EN 13432 where it degraded faster than pure cellulose.
The polymer could be processed at above 80% of the efficiency of polyethylene and the resulting film was microporous having a permeability of 500-1000 g/m 2 /24 hours c.f. 15 for the same thickness of PE. In addition to a wide range of packaging applications, the film had been developed for hygiene product backsheets and apertured topsheets. It could be extrusion coated onto nonwovens.

SAP Update

Edgar Herrmann of Hy-Tec Hygiene Technology GmbH ( Germany ) commented on the current shortage of SAP arising from high demand ( China effect) and the diversion of acrylic acid into more profitable paints and coatings.

  • Of the 1264 kt SAP (2005) capacity,
    • 453 kt was used in the Far East
    • 445 kt in the USA
    • 366 kt in Europe
  • BASF was the largest producer with 305 kt, followed by Degussa (276 kt), Nippon Shokubai (230 kt) and Dow (150 kt)
  • New developments in SAP were listed as:
    • Fibers, but these are costly and have low retention under pressure.
    • Reducing gel-blocking – clay/SAP combinations or shell crosslinking with polyol/aluminimsulphates
    • Incorporation of odor control – silver, plant extracts, or cyclodextrine additions,
    • Improving saline absorbency – by incorporation of ion-exchange polymers
    • Manufacture from renewable resources – polycarboxy-polysaccharides, lignin grafting, Starch, CMC or guar gum.
    • Controlled release of pharmaceuticals and pesticides.

Cellulose-based packaging films

Andy Sweetman of Innovia Films (UK) described Natureflex™ and the process for making it without mentioning Cellophane, or the origins of Innovia in Courtaulds. He described the process for making this “transparent paper” out of wood-pulp using the viscose process and the various means of coating it to achieve heat-sealability or to modify its water sensitivity.
Coating developments were enabling it to enter some new markets:

  • The NE 30 White grade used matt viscose to make a white cellophane and this was coated with barrier sealants on both sides. This reduced moisture permeability compared with the semi-permeable sealed NE 600 film from 600 to 30 (units not given). It nevertheless remained fully biodegradable and flushable – as evidenced by its use to wrap digital tampons.
  • 23 micron E947M, a metallised high barrier cellophane, achieved OPP levels of barrier performance and was being tested in twist-wrap.
  • 45 micron E946 had an ultrareceptive coating for use in labels.

Protein-based hydrogels

Dr Srinivasan Damodaran of the University of Wisconsin ( Madison – USA ) suggested that protein sources could be used to make hydrogels via the following process:

  • Denature the protein at pH 11.5 and 60 o C for 30 mins.
  • React with ethylenediamine tetracetic anhydride at a weight ratio of 1:8 (converts it to an anionic polymer).
  • Concentrate to 15% by ultrafiltration.
  • Cross-link, e.g. with glutaraldehyde.
  • Dehydrate with ethanol and air-dry.
  • Size to give 300-600 mm (sic) particles.
Possible protein sources included fish biomass, oilseeds, and slaughterhouse waste.
Water uptake over 24 hours ranged from 150-300 g/g. Saline uptake reached 26 g/g after 1 hour. The hydrogels were able to bind the heavy metals mercury (1 mmol/gm), lead (0.75 mmol/gm) and zinc (0.65 mmol/gm). Soy protein hydrogel had a centrifuge retention capacity of 13 g/g which could be increased to 20 g/g by addition of 5% of CMC hydrogel.
Calvin Woodings