Wednesday 9 January 2008

PIRA's Future of Sustainable Hygiene Products – Prague - Dec 2007

  1. Global Hygiene Trends
  2. The Holistic Approach to Personal Care
  3. Organic Cotton
  4. Sustainable Procurement in the NHS
  5. Sustainable Procurement of Forest Products
  6. Sustainable Production
  7. Time for Green Thinking
  8. Innovation in Sustainability
  9. Recycling Hygiene Products
  10. Disposing of Hygiene Products
  11. Measuring Biodegradability
  12. A new Biodegradable Superabsorbent
  13. Enhancing Sustainable Performance
  14. Wound-care developments

Key Points

• Disposal of used diapers in landfill is likely to be banned as moves to exclude biodegradable materials from European landfills take effect over the next few years.

• Disposal of used diapers in the biodegradable waste stream is unlikely to be allowed due to their high content of non-biodegradable materials.
• Incineration of use diapers is unacceptable due to high energy input needed.
• The Knowaste used-diaper recycling process appears to be gaining ground in Europe . The main payback is now from recycling PP into roof tiles and pulp/faeces into biogas.
• Used diaper collection logistics remain the key problem. A diaper tax could be the answer. Calls for the “producer pays” principal to be applied to diaper disposal appear to be getting more strident.
• Organic food's success over the last 10 years could be a model for the future of currently high-price, niche “organic” sustainable disposables.
• Purchasers of organic food will also try premium-priced sustainable hygiene products if they are available in the same store.
• Organic cotton tampons are said to improve the well-being of users. Natracare, the manufacturer, now selling in 45 countries, will not use US-grown organic cotton because farming and certification standards are too low.
• Consumers appreciate the carbon-footprint labelling which is emerging on biodegradable hygiene products. Water-footprinting could be the next differentiation.
• Dow and Crystalsev are collaborating on the production of 350,000 tonnes/year of polyethylene from sugar cane.
• A biodegradable superabsorbent based on styrene maleic anhydride polymer in a biocomposite with gelatin is said to cost less than PAA and have similar properties. It can also be spun into fine soft fibres.

Global Hygiene Trends
Adrian Atterby of Euromonitor International (UK) provided an updated version of the paper given several outings by Euromonitor at disposables conferences this year. The notable points this time were as follows:-

• The rapidly growing single person households are proving to be trend-setters in the use of convenience products in general and disposable cleaning products in particular.

• Within Europe, Spain and Russia will show the highest growth rates due to their higher birth rates in the period to 2020.
• Western Europe will be stagnant, but Eastern Europe including Russia will grow at 10% per annum. Russia will be the largest hygiene product market (>$3bn) by 2011.
• Use of disposable hygiene products declined in France during the last year.
• A backlash against “green” marketing could be occurring as consumers begin to doubt the validity of the claims now made by most suppliers, and suspect they are cashing-in on environmental concern.
• There is a growing unease about disposables and their environmental impact, coupled with concerns about their effects on baby's skin.
• Niche brands with good eco-credibility (e.g. Natracare, g-Diapers) could benefit.
• Washable diapers are leading the “green” diaper market, but the flushable g-Diapers product is doing well despite limited availability and premium pricing for the inserts.
• Sanpro as a whole is declining in WE, but sanpro with organic cotton is growing. Tampax with flushable applicator was described here as a new development and an example of big-brand commitment to sustainability.
• Boundaries between sanpro and inco were being blurred by products such as Nana+.
• Wipes with natural ingredients are moving ahead; flushable, biodegradable claims based on new materials being seen more often. However these have made little impact in the market.
• Peer-to-peer marketing based on My Space and Facebook web-site popularity is gaining. P&G's Tremor Unit in the USA was mentioned, but would a similar approach work in Europe ? Europeans thought EU youth would reject such attempts at “infiltration” of their sites.
• Organic food's success over the last 10 years could be the model for sustainable hygiene products over the next 10.
• The main motivation for buying organic products is not concern for the environment but a belief that personal health will benefit. (This applies to tampons and wipes as well as food.)
• For “green” claims to succeed in future, the whole production route (cradle-grave) must be visibly green, including energy sources.

The Holistic Approach to Personal Care

Andrew Jenkins, Sustainable Development Manager, Boots Group PLC (UK) , reminded us of the unique nature of Boots' product development process. This large UK-based retailer with 1400 stores, 66,000 employees, 30,000 product lines and £4.3bn sales last year, develops ~1300 new products per annum and has identified sustainability as the route to future growth and differentiation. Unusually for a retailer they are also the manufacturer of their key products and therefore control a vertical process from raw materials to the consumer. Sustainability is built-in to their product development processes and so their supply chain must now:

• Avoid harsh detergents or problem chemicals

• Use resources ever more efficiently.
• Insist on ethical standards at all stages
• Demand efficient logistics
• Choose materials and design end products to optimise re-use and recycling.
As a case-study, Mr Jenkins described their development of Sweet Gale for use as an antiperspirant/deodorant, insect repellent, and skin protector. The plant, grown in North West Scotland is harvested by clipping the top 10 cm of the bushes to encourage bushy growth and provide extra cover for wild life. The distillate is prepared in a mobile cooker towed behind a Land-Rover to reduce transport of bulky, wet material. The waste is returned to the soil at the harvesting site as compost. The whole process is encouraging agriculture in this economically poor region. Sweet Gale is now incorporated in their “now-biodegradable” wet-wipes based on 85% viscose and 15% cotton.

Commencing July 2007, Boots have started printing the results of their collaboration with the Carbon Trust, ie. Carbon footprint data, on their Botanics shampoo packs. The packs now claim a 20% reduction in CO 2 emissions (to 148 gms of CO 2 per bottle) and suggest the user can help further by washing their hair in cooler water. The 20% CO 2 saving was achieved by using 30% post consumer waste in bottle manufacture and redesigning the logistics to deliver to store in returnable plastic boxes rather than disposable cardboard.

A survey of their customers has shown that 65% like the carbon-footprint labelling and they would encourage them to buy other Boots products similarly labelled. As Mr Jenkins observed, consumers want to make small positive changes to help the planet and carbon-footprint labelling enables them to make choices to feed this desire.

Organic Cotton

Kathleen Woods, Director of Program Integration at the Organic Exchange (USA) opened with the statement that textile production in general and cotton production in particular was far from sustainable, but the large and powerful US cotton lobby was proving adept at bolstering cotton's image in the mind of the consumer. The Organic Exchange was a small non-profit charity dedicated to expanding organic agriculture. It was clearly concerned that the notoriously pesticide and fertiliser-hungry US cotton production was selling its cottonseed oil directly into popular US snacks and indirectly into US milk via the feed given to US dairy cattle. The cotton fibre was however the focus of this presentation:

• It required 10% of world pesticide production including 25% of all insecticides.

• 50% of all pesticides used in the developing world were used to grow cotton.
• 7 of the most common pesticides used on cotton were known, probable or likely to be human carcinogens according to the EPA.
• 0.15kgs of pesticide are needed to produce one cotton shirt.

Organic cotton by contrast:

• Uses fungicide-free, non-GMO seed.

• Builds strong soil through crop-rotation (no fertilisers)
• Weeds are removed mechanically (no herbicides)
• Uses insect predators and/or trap crops to control unwanted insects.
• Defoliates naturally due to seasonal freeze or through water management.

Global organic cotton production increased 53% (2005/6 to 2006/7) to 58,000 tonnes and could reach 90,000 in 2007/8. Half of the crop now feeds products for 5 retailers (WalMart, Nike, Woolworth SA, Coop CH and C&A) and this is mainly used in knitted apparel. Surprisingly in view of their intimate usage, only 2-3% of the crop goes into personal care products, and this tends to be comber waste from yarn production.

Future consumer-motivating issues could involve water footprint, carbon-neutral clothing, and “clothing miles”, all of which would favour organic cotton.

Sustainable Procurement in the NHS

David Wathey, the Sustainable Development Manager at the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (UK) said his department spends £30bn a year on goods and services, this being a fifth of the total UK government expenditure. Since March this year they have been implementing the UK government's sustainable procurement action plan which included the statement that procurement for health in the UK should not endanger health elsewhere. The key challenges were listed as:

• Avoiding healthcare acquired infections (HAI's)

• Increasing usage efficiency
• Segregation of waste for recycling, and minimising packaging.
• Revisiting single-use versus reusable products, in order to reintroduce reusables selectively.
• Ensuring wood products came from “legal” timber.
• Abiding by the International Labour Organisation conventions on human rights.

As is often the case with this government-controlled leviathan employing 1.3 million people in the UK , the words were warm and the substance undetectable.

Sustainable Procurement of Forest Products

Celeste Kuta, the External Relations Manager – Family Care, P&G (USA) stood in for James Griffiths, MD of the Sustainable Forest Products Industry Ecosystems Focus Area (SFPIEFA) of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBBCSD – Switzerland ) who had decided that the Bali conference was more important. She introduced the 10 key issues recommended in the WBSCD report. These were designed to help industry's customers understand the sustainability issues and to help expand the market for sustainable timber.

• Where did the timber originate?

• Is this information credible?
• Has the timber been produced legally?
• Were the forests sustainably managed?
• Were sensitive ecosystems protected?
• Were climate change issues addressed?
• Were appropriate environmental controls applied?
• Has recycled fibre been used appropriately?
• Have other resources been used appropriately?
• Have the needs of indigenous people in the forests been addressed?

It will be issued in Jan 2008. Their next deliberations, on carbon-footprinting and methane from landfills, will follow soon.

Sustainable Production

Gert Classen, Global Development Leader (Nonwovens and Fibres) for Dow Europe GmbH gave an overlong introduction to the company and its mission statements related to sustainability. However, in contrast to the previous 2 speakers action was evident.

Dow and Crystalsev are forming a JV to design and build in Brazil the first integrated world-scale facility to produce polyethylene from sugar cane. The 350,000 tonne plant will start up in 2011 and will have a significantly lower carbon footprint than their current Dowlex™ range whilst being otherwise identical in use and recycling. Crystalsev would convert the cane to ethanol and Dow would convert this to ethylene and polymerise it. A slide apparently unrelated to the rest showed the results of a recent Athena/Franklin life cycle study of PLA versus traditional polymers in disposable cups. The production of 10,000 traditional PP cups consumed 9.8 GJ energy and emitted 345 kgs of CO 2 equivalent while producing 84 kgs of post consumer waste. The comparable figures for PLA cups were 14.5 GJ energy, 510 kgs CO 2 and 118 kgs of solid waste, which was interesting coming from the company claiming to have developed the PLA route.

Asked if PP could be made from sugar, Mr Claasen thought it could, but would not be economic. A self-confessed ecowarrior asked aggressive questions about pollution from Dow's Canadian plastics plant for effect rather than information.

Time for Green Thinking

Susie Hewson, Founder and International Sales and Marketing Director of Natracare (UK) described her early involvement with the Women's Environmental Network where she championed educating the consumer about dioxin in pulp and hence in tampons because tampons were really made of rayon and not cotton.

Her company was founded on strictly ethical and environmental principles and avoids the use of non-renewables and non-organic cotton. Natracare tampons and pads are made under contract and certified organic from their origins in the organic cotton fields of Turkey and Israel through the production process, which is audited to ensure no possible contamination with non-organic material. She will not use US produced organic cotton because in her view the US certification process is not independent and the USDA is bending over backwards to include farmers whose practices would not pass the EU standards. (e.g. the US allows insufficient space between ordinary and organic fields.)

ISO 14025 (Environmental Product Declarations) has been applied for, and Natracare is already publishing carbon-footprint data on the packs. (Natracare pads have an 18gm/pad CO 2 equivalent.). She used to use TCF rayon as well as organic cotton but the viscose producers withdrew it arguing that ECF was satisfactory. Susie disagreed and switched to organic cotton. She claims users of her organic tampons actually feel better wearing them. The product is now available in 45 countries.

Innovation in Sustainability

Marco Benedetti, General Manager of the Wellness Innovation Project ( Italy ) opened with the observation, surprising to many, that “sustainable disposables” was a contradiction in terms and fundamentally unachievable. Sustainability as now applied to disposables was nothing more than marketing hype, and the producers attempts to push sustainability on consumers failed in concept. The only way to develop sustainability in Mr Benedetti's view was to train the consumer in responsible consumption, and this was so against their need for convenience and business's need to grow continuously that it could never be done without political intervention. Alluding to the accepted definition of sustainability, he argued that a future for the next generation could not be guaranteed unless consumers could be re-educated to consume less. In the case of the USA , the per capita emissions of pollutants would have to be reduced to one-twelfth of current levels to reach the rate that would be sustainable if every person on the planet lived at the same standard.

The technology (ie. Biopolymers) now existed to produce and dispose of sustainable hygiene products but 90% of all hygiene product production was controlled by a few global corporations who were not interested in rapid change to sustainable materials. Diaper packs for instance contained no information to help the user move to more sustainable products. Carbon footprint data as now printed on the packs by smaller companies would be a start. Mr Benadetti dismissed the studies which purported to show that disposables were equivalent to reusables from an ecological standpoint. Since the change from reusables, diapering had been extended to 3 years from 2, and the volume of waste produced by disposables – maybe 10,000 times greater than reusables – was not properly accounted for. Furthermore, disposables growth looked set to continue as China and India adopted Western diapering and adults everywhere used more light incontinence pads.

Recycling Hygiene Products

Roy Brown, President of Knowaste LLC, (Canada) said his company was set up in 1989 to recycle the pulp component of diaper waste, but since then SAP percentages had increased so much that Knowaste now focuses mainly on plastics recycling – now more valuable than pulp. Furthermore Knowaste is now a UK company and the operations are now mainly in Europe . In their new Czech plant they recycle 60-70,000 tonnes/year of waste diapers and 10-15,000 tonnes of adult incontinence products. They do not deal with feminine hygiene products because of the blood issue. Their Netherlands plant has just closed (too old to be updated) but they still run the original Toronto plant.

Mr Brown claimed massive EU public interest in diaper recycling, the logic being to keep human excrement out of landfill where it can contaminate ground water, diapers out of incinerators where they require more energy than their calorific value to burn, and because we need to reuse the plastics. In Germany diapers have been identified as the single largest waste stream not yet dealt with by recycling. The big problem is collection logistics. They need to be kept separate in every household, day-care centre, hospital and care home, and collected at the same time as other municipal waste.

The benefits of his process were listed as follows, the basis being 40,000 tonnes of used diapers:

• 8,000 tonnes of pulp recycled

• 5,990 tonnes of plastics recycled
• The non-production of the above saved 76 million gallons of water
• 548,625 cubic metres of natural gas were saved.
• 4,668 tons less CO 2 were emitted.

The long-fibred recycled pulp can increase the strength of paper but can only be reused in packaging which could never come into contact with food and would not itself be recycled. (It is currently more practical to let the pulp go out with the sludge into the anaerobic digester to yield gas and energy.) The plastic is converted into roof tiles and other plastic lumber. Surprisingly in view of its ability to retain soil moisture, the digested sludge cannot be used as fertiliser in the EU because of the polyacryate content, and technology for separating out the SAP remains to be developed.

Disposing of Hygiene Products

Peter Jones, Director of External Affairs for BIFFA (UK) observed that UK landfill charges, historically around €10/tonne are now moving up and expected to reach €100/tonne by 2011. Tonnage disposed in landfill was expected to fall from around 100 million tonnes at €10/tonne to around 10 million tonnes at €100/tonne. Disposable diaper waste, should in the opinion of Mr Jones and the UK government be subject to the producer-pays principle, and the diaper producers should now be paying for the collection and disposal of their used products. However the UK government had proved particularly inept at applying this principle and Mr Jones warned Mr Benedetti we should not rely on politicians to solve the climate-change problem.

The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions means the landfill option for biodegradables was being phased out. Waste-to-energy recycling would be a long-term winner as technologies improved, and composting and recycling would remain important. Industrial composting had proved uneconomic and farmers were reluctant to pay for this type of compost, but the EU could change this by legislating in its favour. Recycling would likewise be encouraged by rising raw material costs and by trading in pollution permits. Biodegradable plastics were a problem because they could not easily be segregated into the right stream, causing problems in the plastics recycling stream and also in the biodegradables stream if they did not breakdown quickly enough.

Would diapers be permitted in landfill? One opinion argued that legally they were medical waste and should never have been landfilled. The fact that a blind-eye was turned to this practise was another example of a lack of political will to enforce current law in this area. Mr Jones felt diapers should be excluded on the basis that nothing capable of generating methane should be allowed in landfill.

Incineration would not be used by BIFFA. This route was proving unattractive when carbon-footprinting and greenhouse gas emissions were taken into account.

Measuring Biodegradability

Bruno de Wilde, Lab Manager of Organic Waste Systems ( Belgium ) also said that landfilling of biodegradable waste, including diapers, would be banned in future. He too thought incineration was no longer an option, but on the simple grounds of its high cost. Recycling was superficially attractive but fraught with technical and logistical problems. Industrial composting needed to be at temperatures above 65 0 C by law, and generates CO 2 without any payback. For OWS, bio-waste should be converted to bio-gas and used to generate energy. However Mr de Wilde ran a laboratory which specialised in biodegradation and composting test methods and represented Belgium on ISO and CEN committees. Details of the regulations and test methods governing composting were therefore provided.

Asked if diapers should be biodegradable, he thought they should. Diapers will be excluded from landfill and their high synthetic polymer content meant they could not be added to the biodegradable stream either. They would need separate collection and treatment which would be costly, and governments would therefore be tempted to tax diapers to recoup this cost. Replacement of the synthetics with biodegradable polymers would mean they could be disposed of with other household biodegradables at no extra cost, so presumably biodegradable diapers would avoid the tax.

A new Biodegradable Superabsorbent

Zvika Meiri, CEO of Exotech Bio Solutions ( Israel ) claims to have developed a biodegradable superabsorbent using a solvent free process to yield a granule physically identical to polyacrylates yet free of residual monomers. He used the phrase “plug and play” to emphasise that it can be used on a diaper line instead of the current product without making any other changes and without affecting productivity - spoiling the effect slightly by adding that the 250 diaper/min production rate was maintained through the change.

The ExoSAP product is marketed as an edible dietary additive to fill the stomach and kill hunger, as a soil conditioner for greening the Negev Desert , and as a deep-wound healer, the powder being poured directly into the wound cavity. Exotech is now looking for funding to scale up the process to manufacture for the hygiene industry. To illustrate its benign nature, Mr Meiri ate a suitably soggy spoonful.

Slides which were not fully described during the speech revealed the process as reactive extrusion polymerisation of styrene and maleic anhydride in water. The resulting polymer has less than 10ppm of styrene and less than 50 ppm of maleic anhydride where the old solvent based process yielded a polymer with much higher levels of monomer and 0.2% of an unspecified organic solvent. The ExoTech SMA polymer is converted into a biocomposite by intercoupling with a biopolymer which forms covalent or ionic bonds with the SMA. The only biopolymer mentioned was gelatin from collagen.

Tea-bag, CRC's and AUL's at room and body temperature were shown as comparable with Degussa, BASF and Sanyo acrylic SAPs, the good AUL performance being achieved without any cross-linkers, and said to be a natural property of the spongy structure of the granules. The biocomposite has also been spun into fine soft fibres.

Asked about price, Exotech thought it would cost about 60% of the current cost of PAA, but the selling price would depend on supply and demand. Was the SMA really biodegradable or was it just the gelatin that disappeared in testing? 60% of the ExoSAP is converted to CO 2 in biodegradation testing, and there is evidence that a version containing just 10% gelatine loses 25% of its weight in the test. Mr Meira concluded that some of the SMA must be biodegradable after the formation of the biocomposite.

Enhancing Sustainable Performance

Peter Kingshott, Associate Professor, iNANO ( Denmark ) chose to talk about his collaboration with Fibertex on making polypropylene super-hydrophobic. This was done by depositing nano-beads of iso-tactic PP onto a PP film, making it ultra-white and increasing its contact angle from 90 0 to 120-150 0 .

Wound-care developments

Dr S (Raj) Rajendran of the University of Bolton ( UK ) gave a talk about alginates, chitosan and hydrogels in wound healing. Branan ferulate from corn-bran was mentioned as an antimicrobial which could be blended with alginate without loss of fibre strength. Hollow viscose from Daiwabo Rayon ( Japan ) was being used to make padding bandages with uniform application of applied pressure.

Calvin Woodings

17 th December 2007

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