According to Smithers, the market for nonwoven wipes consumed 1.4 million tons of nonwovens in 2020 while its market value reached $19.6 billion. From 2015-2020 annual growth was reported at 7.9%. This figure rose significantly, however, amidst heightened demand for wipes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even after demand peaked during the second quarter of 2020, sales in some categories continue to be more than 20% higher than they were pre-pandemic.
This growth is being driven by more consumers than ever before using wipes. According to recent surveys, 30% more people use wipes regularly than did in 2008. Additionally, 44% more people are using surface disinfectant wipes than they were at the start of the Covid pandemic and this behavior is expected to continue.
This growth has been met with investment from most major wipes manufacturers and their suppliers looking to capitalize on this growth. The industry’s two largest wipes converters, Nice-Pak and Rockline Industries, have announced widespread investment in the U.S., largely devoted to surface disinfectant wipes, while disinfectant wipes leader Clorox has added a new production line in Atlanta, GA, and expanded its network of contract manufacturers both in the U.S. and globally.
As wipes usage continues to climb, the industry is being faced with the challenge of keeping its products green. This is being driven not only by government legislation like Europe’s Single Use Plastics Directive and similar measures being evaluated in several U.S. states, but also by consumer preferences for more natural products.
Pricie Hanna, managing partner of Price Hanna Consultants, continues to see more direct-to-consumer brands competing for consumers who value sustainable materials in all disposable categories. “Millennials and younger consumers are driving this trend, but the general public is increasingly concerned about sustainability,” she explains. “Besides direct-to-consumer brands, we also see the major manufacturers and their brands following this strategy in the baby and femcare categories.”
Earlier this year, Kimberly-Clark launched a new range of Huggies Pure Biodegradable wipes in the U.K. that biodegrade after 15 days in simulated landfill conditions.
The plastic-free wipes are made with 100% naturally derived fibers, Huggies says. Independent testing shows Huggies Pure Biodegradable wipes will biodegrade in landfill conditions after 15 days, making them the brand’s first biodegradable product.
The brand has committed to eliminating plastic from its baby wipes range in the U.K. within five years or sooner.
In addition to launching its first biodegradable product, Huggies has made significant progress against the other goals that make up its ‘Tiniest Footprint’ Mission. Achievements made to date include: removing 359 tons of plastic from its total baby wipes portfolio (on an annual basis); removing 17 tons of plastic a year from the Huggies Extra Care portfolio (on an annual basis) and removing the internal plastic bags within its large pack boxes, a saving of 43 tons of plastic (on an annual basis).
“We know this announcement will be welcome news for parents who rely on these wipes as an everyday childcare essential but are also trying to reduce their impact on the planet,” says Ori Ben Shai, vice president & managing director Kimberly-Clark UK & Ireland. “No parent should have to compromise between caring for their baby and caring for the environment, so we’re proud to be able to offer them an affordable and sustainable solution, with baby’s skin care at its core.
“Launching our first biodegradable product brings us ever closer to fulfilling the goals made in our ‘Tiniest Footprint’ Mission. We know we still have a long way to go on this ambitious plan, but we are committed to developing the best possible products that meet our consumers’ ever-changing demands.”
Also this month, Unicharm Corporation is launching Mamy Poko Premium Baby Wipes in Taiwan. The new product copes with both safety and the environment by using an organic cotton compound sheet which has been certified STANDARD100 by “OEKO-TEX,” a proof of the world’s highest safety standard, and acquiring “FSC Certification,” a proof of using fabrics properly managed by an international forest stewardship organization.
STANDARD100 by “OEKO-TEX” is an international safety certification to be granted only to the textile products which have fulfilled the strict standards as a result of analysis and experiments covering more than 350 kinds of hazardous chemical substances conducted by certification inspection units under OEKO-TEX International Community. To receive this certification label, all materials and chemicals used in the products must clear their experimental standards. In other words, products with this label are “proved” to possess high safety standard.
Unicharm is striving to safeguard the promising future of babies by, not to mention, providing the safe and secure products and working very hard on the ORGABITS project, a sustainable activity that is friendly to the planet. In 2019, the company already acquired “OEKO-TEX Certification for its Natural Moony, a premium brand in Japan and is now launching “Mamy Poko Premium Baby Wipes” in Taiwan featuring both high quality and friendly-to-environment.
In the Fiber
The use of natural fibers—including cotton, viscose, flax and hemp—is set for rapid growth in many wipes and nonwovens applications during the next decade as many manufacturers and retailers have established sustainability goals.
An overall reduction in synthetic or plastic-based fibers will lead to increases in the use of both natural and man-made cellulosic fibers which offer benefits like biodegradability and compostability and contribute to the goal of a circular economy. The emergence of more natural-minded consumers who pay greater attention to the materials that go in and near their bodies is also driving the need for more natural materials.
“Awareness of sustainability problems and the impact of non-biodegradable waste in our environment has motivated companies and their supply chains to take action,” says Janet O’Regan, director of nonwovens marketing at Cotton Incorporated. “This is not new. It has been building for many years now, becoming more visible and important.”
This growth has been driven by both brands and retailers who have developed sustainability goals as part of their standard business reporting, pushing the pressure to include more sustainable materials to their suppliers. More importantly, the European Union’s Single Use Plastics Directive has put the pressure on makers of wipes and feminine hygiene products, which are on the first list of products subject to regulations and labeling requirements.
According to Rahul Bansal, global business development head, nonwovens, at Birla Cellulose, cost and performance have been replaced by a combination of sustainability, performance and cost as key drivers for fiber selection. “Now, the raw material selection primarily depends on being sustainable in nature,” he says. “When I say sustainable, it means the raw material sourcing, manufacturing, product and its end of life phase don’t harm or degrade the environment, and this is followed by the most important criteria of suitability of raw material for present nonwoven technologies.”
Japan’s Asahi Kasei has introduced Bemliese, its proprietary ultra-sustainable continuous-filament cellulosic nonwoven fabric, in North America in response to the increasing need for sustainable materials that reduce the overall carbon footprint in the product lifecycle.
“Bemliese is about as green as any product I’ve seen in nonwovens from beginning of life to end of life,” says Chad Provonsha, sales and marketing director of Asahi Kasei Advance America. “The whole product cycle itself including the processing sites is extremely sustainable. You don’t have to make any sacrifice when it comes to sustainability and this product.”
Bemliese is a nonwoven fabric sheet made from cotton linter – tiny hair-like fibers on cotton seeds. Through science, Asahi Kasei is the only company in the world that has developed a clean proprietary process for treating this linter to produce sheets that can be integrated in a diverse array of product designs. Prior to Asahi Kasei’s innovation in this realm, linter was a pre-consumer waste by-product of the traditional cotton harvesting process, and now has been converted to roughly 3% of the total yield.
When dry, Bemliese leaves virtually no lint, scratches, or chemicals on the surfaces it touches, making it an ideal material for cleaning equipment in industrial, laboratory, or medical environments that must remain contamination-free. Its high purity keeps the material free from excess oils or chemicals that may be inherent in similar materials. It also has a higher rate of absorbency than cotton gauze, rayon/PET, or nonwoven cotton.
“One of the items at the forefront of wipes and disposable markets is regulations and how they will influence market trends,” says Provonsha. “The single use plastics directive was a big discussion at the World of Wipes Conference. Now the question is, where do we go from there? Bemliese differs from a traditional cotton spunlace sheet because of its spunbond continuous filament structure with no staple fibers – an ideal alternative to single-use plastics.”
Bemliese also becomes extraordinarily soft after moistening and drapes well over any surface it touches with little to no abrasion. Its extraordinary absorption of moisture and ability to hold onto tiny particles makes it an ideal material for hygienic applications or medical sterilization.
“We are excited by the success and reception of Bemliese in Asia for its diverse applications and sustainability,” says Provonsha. “This biodegradable fabric has been highlighted in sheet masks and cosmetic wipes, but Bemliese goes beyond sustainable beauty and can be utilized in every industry including agriculture, landscaping, and household goods. Its application possibilities are endless and because it is a one-of-a-kind material that not only shows superior performance, but also is virtually 100% biodegradable within four weeks, we look forward to new innovations that will stem from its introduction to the U.S. market.”
On the Shelf
In May, baby care brand Coterie launched a new wipe made from 100% plant-based biodegradable and compostable materials. Designed in partnership with the Veocel brand, the Coterie Wipes, consisting of 99% water, are the most sustainable and the largest (up to 30% bigger) baby wipes on the U.S. market.
Following recent certification testing, the wipes proved to be fully compostable after just a few weeks versus—similar wipes which take hundreds of years—and can decompose even under the toughest of conditions. By comparison, the acceptable standard for compostable products can take up to six months, and plastic-based products, like most competitive wipes, can take hundreds of years. Additionally, the new wipes are the first-ever across the nation to be certified by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for chemical safety, the National Eczema Association for gentleness, and TÜV-OK Compost HOME for sustainability.
“Let’s face it, the process of changing diapers or cleaning up after your baby isn’t the most desirable task. Our new wipes make the process simple and efficient, all the while being gentle on babies, parents, and the planet,” says Frank Yu, founder, and CEO of Coterie. “We’re on a mission to revitalize the baby-care space while setting new industry standards for performance and sustainability. Our partnership with Veocel is a testament to our continued investment and dedication to sustainable innovation, and we’re proud to have designed another high-performing product that provides the perfect combination of effective cleaning, enhanced skin health, and efficiency for the environment.”
Meanwhile, Radienz Living, a North American manufacturer of home and personal care products for the private label and branded markets, has added an exclusive citric acid-based botanicals disinfecting formula and a sustainable 105mm wipes canister made with Altium’s Dura-Lite technology that uses 23% less plastic. The inclusion of both innovative solutions reaffirms the company’s commitment to creating a more sustainable world through products that are as safe as they are effective.
“As a direct result of the latest consumer insights, Radienz Living recognized that incorporating an exclusive citric acid-based botanicals disinfecting formula and Altium’s Dura-Lite wipes canister into our portfolio was a crucial way to reinforce our company’s commitment to sustainable solutions,” Radienz Living CEO Matt Stillings says. “With six out of 10 consumers viewing natural cleaning products as beneficial ways to keep their households safe and our environment clean, we recognized the importance of our continued investment in these sustainable product solutions. We are looking forward to seeing the ways these new innovations strengthen our customer partnerships and impact consumers.”
Radienz Living’s commitment to sustainability is also seen with its new 105mm wipes canister utilizing Altium’s Dura-Lite design, which uses 23% less plastic than traditional canisters. Nearly one billion plastic canisters are used each year in the U.S. according to IRI Data.
It is estimated that if every company used the Altium’s Dura-Lite canister, the U.S. would reduce plastic consumption by about 14,000 metric tons each year.
On the substrate side, nonwovens producers serving the global wipes market continue to focus on alternative raw materials. Nonwovens supplier Suominen has made a target is to increase sales of sustainable materials by 50% and to have more than 10 sustainable product launches per year. In 2020, the company launched nine sustainable products and sales increased by 22.5%.
“Sustainability is growing importance to our customers and other stakeholders,” says SVP business development, Lynda Kelly. “We help our customers to achieve their own environmental targets by offering them products made from for example renewable, recycled, compostable and plastic-free raw materials. As such we have launched a number of sustainable options for the household market.”
In sync with this strategy, Suominen has introduced products like Biolace Pure, a 100% plant-based product with superior cleaning power. The development of this innovative material with excellent liquid management and cleaning properties is based on Suominen’s long history and know-how in producing pulp-based products.
Another sustainable household product launched is Biolace Bamboo, also with superior cleaning power. As the name indicates, the main raw material used in Biolace bamboo consists of bamboo – a perennial grass that is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. The speed of its re-growth after harvesting makes it a considerable alternative for use in place of other renewable raw materials.
“Compared to the traditional fossil-based nonwovens used in wipes, Biolace Pure & Biolace Bamboo provide clear advantages in terms of reducing the CO2 footprint and a lower environmental impact,” Kelly adds.
Meanwhile, Biolace Ultrasoft is a nonwoven for personal care and baby products made of plant-based, biodegradable, plastic-free, and compostable raw materials. It is the newest addition to Suominen’s sustainable product portfolio and a continuation for its growing Biolace product line that was launched over a decade ago.
Biolace Ultrasoft was developed to match both the sustainability demands and the quality expectations of its customers and the consumers. Biolace Ultrasoft nonwovens’ structure and composition enables 25% higher cleaning efficiency compared to same basis weight of 100% viscose spunlace and a 38% improvement when compared to polyester wipes, according to tests conducted by Suominen.
“Biolace Ultrasoft is a sustainable product with great cleaning efficiency and exceptional softness. It is a perfect solution for baby and personal care products, such as cosmetic wipes and baby wipes. The softness makes it also suitable for gentle skin products,” says Johanna Sirén, manager, Category Management.
Meanwhile, Jacob Holm has introduced a new sustainable member to its Sontara EC family in the EMEA region. Sontara EC Green is a unique, new high performance 100% cellulosic substrate product made from proprietary Sontara technology. This ultra-pure production process creates a 100% bio-based product without any binders, chemicals or silicone. Sontara EC Green is patent-protected and produced from renewable sources, making it an excellent alternative to non-biodegradable substrates. Food contact safe, the wipes come in a convenient dispenser box with sealed packs to prevent any contamination. With this product, users can have the critical cleaning power they need while being environmentally responsible.
Along with new sustainable packaging made from recycled materials and a new folded wipes format, Jacob Holm is adding this sustainable option to its Sontara EC product range. This new addition is one more step forward into Jacob Holm’s commitment to sustainability and continuous innovation.
The development of more sustainable materials is a large part of Jacob Holm’s Project Boost, a multi-million global expansion plan that will increase capacity at all of its global sites.
“Project Boost is our response to the needs of our partners across the globe for increasing capacity, providing more sustainable substrate choices and continuing to uphold our position as an innovation leader in nonwovens,” says company CEO Martin Mikkelsen.
This focus on sustainability will continue when Jacob Holm is acquired by Glatfelter in a deal expected to close later this year. A maker of airlaid nonwovens, Glatfelter has 30 grades of substrates for wipes that contain a high percentage of renewable materials and wood pulp. Additionally, most of these products do not require the “Plastic in Product” logo as demanded by the European Single Use Plastics Directive.
For the disinfectant wipes market, Glatfelter now offers an eco-friendly, cellulose-based airlaid substrate for GlatClean disinfecting wipes.
“Glatfelter is committed to offering our customers wipes substrates that outperform standards in hygiene, safety, and sustainability,” says Chris Astley, senior vice president and chief commercial officer. “High quality disinfectants deserve the best substrates like those found in GlatClean and we are proud to have invented an eco-friendly, cellulose-based airlaid solution for cleaning and disinfecting wipes.”
GlatClean is durable, soft, and has superior liquid absorption capacity. It offers low fluid migration through the stack or roll during storage and maintains strength and integrity over time in aqueous, quaternary ammonium and alcohol-based solutions. Formed primarily of cellulose-pulp, GlatClean provides a sustainable and effective solution to the growing disinfecting and sanitizing wipes market given its unique combination of attributes.