There is no denying the impact—both good and bad—plastic has had on the lives of consumers over the past several decades. According to Samuele Furfari of the Free University of Brussels, demand for it is growing faster than any other bulk material in the world, and demand is 20 times stronger in high income countries than in lower income economies. As the use of plastic increases more quickly than the GDP in many countries, demand will only continue to grow for the material.
The EU Plastics Directive, announced in January and amended in May 2018, aims to transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU. The directive has ambitious goals for the reduction in the use of plastics and increases in the recycling of plastic materials between now and 2030. How these mandates can be achieved will surely be the source of much debate over the next months and years as companies throughout the consumer products spectrum come up with ways to not only change their product lines but also to educate their customers on how to reduce plastic’s impact on the environment.
For its part, the nonwovens industry is not at a lack for solutions to the plastic problems and the agenda at Outlook clearly illustrated this. Stakeholders throughout the nonwovens supply chain are working hard to develop solutions that will lessen plastic’s impact on the environment. Fater and its industry partner Procter & Gamble are developing the technology and infrastructure necessary to recycle diapers and other absorbent products; Lenzing has developed biodegradable and flushable fibers for wipes and other materials; Stora Enso has focused on the implementation of wood-based materials in personal care products and Tethis has developed a sustainable option of absorbent material. It is clear that reducing the impact of disposable products was a concern of the industry long before the EU issued this directive.
While many nonwovens are sourced from plastic-based materials, our industry represents just a small portion of products that are deposited into landfills both in Europe and around the world. Hopefully other industries that are bigger users of plastics are working just as hard—whether they do business in Europe or not—to reduce plastic’s impact on the environment.