There is a growing need and interest in plastic-free nonwovens and advanced textiles.
On July 18, 2023, the World of Wipes international conference organized by the Cary-based Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry-INDA began with its largest gathering ever, which is in its 17th edition. About 500 people are attending the three-day event in Atlanta.
Growing regulations on the use of plastic-based products in the EU and in the United States have heightened the need for the nonwoven and advanced textiles sector to look for alternatives to synthetic materials. The first-day talks focused heavily on sustainability and the efforts by the global nonwoven sector to become carbon neutral.
There are enormous opportunities for cellulosic such as pulp and cotton and other natural fibers such as flax and hemp in developing single-use and durable nonwovens.
Given the quantity of nonwovens that come out of high-speed machines that can operate at 1200 m/min, there may not be enough non-plastic materials to meet the need in the immediate future, stated, octogenarian Mr. C. K. Wong, Chairman and CEO of Hong Kong-based U.S. Pacific Nonwovens, who has been in the industry for over 53 years.
Cotton can find new opportunities in the nonwoven sector as the cost will be competitive with bioplastics, added C. K. Wong. The industry has been successful in developing food packaging and medical products using bio-based materials such as PLA. Japan’s AsahiKASEI has been leading in the development of spunbond nonwovens using cotton linters, to develop products for wipes and the cosmetics industry.
Consumers like green products but expect products with good functionality at similar cost levels as synthetic-based nonwovens, which is a challenge for the industry. “The nonwoven industry is transitioning to less plastic-based raw materials. Consumers are becoming curious about resources, which will drive innovation. Furthermore, growing regulations such as the EU Single-Use Plastic Directive will necessitate the immediate need,” stated Tom Carlyle, Nonwovens Commercial Manager-Americas at Lenzing Fibers.
“Spunlace (hydro entangling) technology is employed in China to develop virgin cotton-based nonwovens with 6 or more lines running,” stated Oliver Doring, Director of Sales & Marketing at Trutzschler Nonwovens. Two spunlace lines are developing cotton-based spunlace nonwovens in India and an additional line will be online in 6 weeks which can develop cotton-based wipes.
The nonwoven and advanced textiles industry is moving towards an interesting spot to develop sustainable materials at competitive price levels.
By Seshadri Ramkumar, Professor, Texas Tech University, USA