Key drivers and trends for hygiene textiles

An insight into the global hygiene market that continues to grow globally, with annual growth rates (2016-21) projected to be 6.4%.

For 2016, the global hygiene market (baby diapers/nappies, feminine hygiene pads and tampons, and adult incontinence products as well as the medical and wipes markets) will consume 4.4 million tonnes valued at $17.0 billion states Smithers Pira’s report The Future of Global Hygiene Markets to 2021: Wovens vs Nonwovens. The nonwovens segment of this market is projected to grow at over twice the rate from 2016 to 2021, as the large surgical gowns and drapes market continues to transition to disposable nonwoven based products globally, and the nonwovens based industrial wipes market benefits form the US EPS’s recent favourable treatment.

Growth of disposables versus re-usables

Each of the three major segments of the hygiene market have a segment where disposables are replacing or continue to replace re-usable products. 

In traditional hygiene, it is the continued battle between cloth diapers/nappies and disposables.  In emerging markets, it usually is strictly an income based decision; as soon as the population reaches a minimal GDP, they choose disposable diapers.  In developed markets, the decision is usually based on sustainability.  Here, a small percentage of consumers believes that re-usable textile based diaper/nappies are more sustainable than disposables and are willing to forego the convenience of disposables.

In all cases, the trend globally is toward disposables over re-usables and nonwoven based products over woven or textiles.

Disposability of nonwoven wipers versus laundering textiles/wovens

This issue has slowed conversion from re-usables to disposables. 

It took nearly thirty years, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally published its long- awaited, final solvent-contaminated wipes rule (a.k.a. “wiper rule”), thereby better leveling the regulatory playing field between non-laundered wipes and rags and laundered shop towels.

As was the case in the earlier proposal, the EPA created a conditional exclusion from the definition of hazardous waste for non-laundered wipes and a conditional exclusion from the definition of solid waste for laundered wipes. These exclusions are only applicable to the wipes and shop towels themselves, EPA notes, and any solvent extracted or remaining in containers will still be considered solid waste and potentially subject to hazardous waste regulations.

Now requirements for achieving exclusion are nearly equivalent between the two classes of wiping products.

Assuming these requirements are met, non-laundered wipes will be able to be disposed of in either a lined, non-hazardous waste landfill or in a hazardous waste landfill; a municipal waste combustor regulated or a hazardous waste combustor or hazardous waste boiler or industrial furnace. Meanwhile, laundered shop towels may be sent to either an industrial laundry or dry cleaner.

With these new regulations finally in place (in most states), a renewed push to disposable, nonwoven based wipers in the US (with ramifications globally) is projected.

Economics of disposable diapers/nappies versus cloth/woven diapers/nappies

Economics are often used to justify the use of textile/woven diapers/nappies.  These economics are supposed to offset convenience advantages of disposables. 

It is generally agreed that two years of disposable diaper use costs $2,000 - $3,000.  Use of cloth diapers for the same time period is only $800 - $1,000, if the consumer launders them.  If a laundering diaper service is used, the cost is about the same as for disposables.

So, for those wishing to justify the use of cloth diapers, economics can be used.  But disposables users can equally point to the cost with the diaper service.  Cloth diaper advocates point to the potential use for subsequent children, while disposables advocates want to include cost to home launder, including labour. This trend actually drives both disposable and cloth diaper/nappie use.

Potential of hybrid nonwoven/ woven products

The best example of this type of product is the growing hybrid diaper/nappies market. There are many variants of diapers with reusable components:

  • Cloth diapers
  • ‘Diaper doublers’ with cloth diaper
  • ‘Diaper doublers’ with disposable diaper
  • Hybrid diapers
  • Multi-use disposable chassis – disposable insert (e.g. P&G’s Change ‘n Go or KC’s discontinued Depend Boost for AI)

The hybrid diaper typically uses a reusable chassis or shell with disposable inserts. This type of product has been common for adult incontinence for decades, but is relatively new for infant diapers. There are estimates that hybrids now account for 80–85% of the non-disposable diaper market in developed regions like North America and Western Europe.

These five variants describe the reusable diaper market today. These reusable diapers have led to some market growth in the mature regions and appear to represent potential for hybrid products.

Increased need for lighter weight fabrics/substrates in a wide variety of hygiene markets

One solution to improving sustainability (reducing waste, minimizing raw material and energy usage) and cost is to reduce the basis weight (weight per area) of the substrate.  Whether woven or nonwoven, producers have improved performance so that they can do the same job with lower weight fabrics.  Some examples include feminine hygiene secondary topsheet (the equivalent of acquisition/distribution layer), which has dropped from 80 grams per square metre to 60 grams per square metre and diaper topsheet, which has dropped from 17 grams per square metre to as low as 9 grams per square metre.  The same is true for launderable wipers, which have dropped from over 100 grams per square metre to around 90 grams per square metre. Nonwovens can more easily and economically attain lower basis weights than wovens. 

The Future of Global Hygiene Markets to 2021: Wovens vs Nonwovens contains further global market data and analysis and is available to purchase online.

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