Environmental consciousness was running high at the IDEA07 show last month with a number of companies launching products touting eco-friendly benefits. Perhaps this is a direct offshoot of the industry's quest—like so many others—to lessen its dependency on petroleum-based raw materials. As prices for materials like polypropylene and polyester have skyrocketed in recent years, it makes good business sense to explore other materials, a number of which are based on sustainable materials and are thus ecologically preferable.
Of course, some could argue that this greening of the nonwovens industry is the result of a general societal trend where consumers and marketers are becoming more cognizant of their environmental impact. Major retailer Wal-Mart is helping drive this awareness with its promise to become "packaging neutral" by 2025, meaning that through recycling, reusing or perhaps even composting, Wal-Mart will try to recover as much material as was used in the packaging that flows through its stores. To reach that goal, Wal-Mart will enlist the help of its vendors—many of which use nonwovens—to cut back on their packaging.
Therefore, in order to do business with Wal-Mart, companies have to adopt an eco-consciousness so hopefully this retailer's philosophies will have a trickle-down effect into a number of consumer goods businesses, paving the way for new technologies across many markets.
While many nonwovens producers are disposable, and by their very nature will always have some environmental impact, it is now up to our industry to lessen this impact in some way or another.While the development of new raw materials and substrates to create more earth-friendly products is certainly important, many actions don't have to be drastic. It could mean replacing traditional light bulbs with CFLs in all of your plants, shipping product in larger containers or using more recycled materials in your daily operations. Even, the smallest steps can make a difference.
Karen Bitz McIntyre