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'Our' waste problems.

the solid waste dilemma has hit at the Pennsylvania home of the author, causing him to reflect fu on the challenges facing the nonwovens and disposables industries of today

Have you watched the news on television, read newspapers or answered the door for the person with the clipboard lately? Then you are probably aware that it is getting to be "panic" time regarding our waste, garbage, reclamation or whatever it is you wish to call it.

I say panic time because we have known for years that we had to take action and we did little or nothing. The year 1990 may be cited as the turning point in this dilemma; it certainly won't be the year we solved it.

These problems extend from raw material suppliers through all converting operations to the end user and they are not going away. The nonwovens industry will certainly have its share of troubles and I don't just mean the bad press we have received that has informed the public over and over that more than 16 billion baby diapers used in 1988 were a significant contributor to our national waste problem. We have all heard the cries from various sectors saying that something must be done. Well, what have you done, what has your company done differently or to improve the situation in the past few years?

Staying On The Defensive

Most of us would answer by stating that we have taken actions to meet the local laws or ordinances and other "defensive" moves. You would probably add that you are studying the situation and attempting to keep abreast of alternatives or methods to improve the situation such as the current "burn, bury or recycle" dilemma.

Recently, I received a notice from my township that as of June 1, 1990 all trash must be separated in our area as mandated by the state of Pennsylvania. We must separate newspapers, glass, metal cans and plastics from other trash. If your area is not already on such a program, it probably will be in the not-so-distant future.

These "Curbside Recycling Programs" are one step in attempting to slow our waste problems in this country. They are a positive move to cut down on the three-and-one-half pounds of refuse each of us creates every day. If you want to get rid of old tires, an old refrigerator or the like, you must wait for special pick-up days, which come only once or twice a year.

This problem will cost us all time and money because we have been neglecting the situation. Conservation and recycling have been terms someone else worked with; we send all of our problems down the drain, in the garbage or to the dump. Well, the dumps and landfills are now a major issue themselves.

Many sites in the U.S. have been closed for various reasons, including the simple fact that they are filled to capacity. In 1979, there were more than 18,000 landfills for solid waste in the U.S., but that number has declined to some 9300 in 1986. New Jersey is a state that has had some of the worst of it. It had some 370 sites in 1970, but only 1 1 remain today.

The government will not stop pollution, nor will it correct our waste handling, even though the current administration is attempting to write tougher legislation and rules on acid rain, toxic air pollution, urban smog and the like. In 1989, the government spent billions while rewriting the Clean Air Act. It plans to spend increasing amounts in the future. It will have to, since the state and local governments are not in any position to solve our problems.

Seizing The Day

In adversity there is opportunity. There are many companies making big profits from waste, recycling and environmental problems. As an example, a company called Allwaste, Inc. began with one man and one truck in Texas in 1978. R.L. Nelson believed then that he could build a good business by specializing in removing waste from petrochemical smokestacks and tanks with a powerful vacuum cleaner. The company has been extremely successful and has gone into other specialty areas such as asbestos removal and glass recycling. Today, the company is doing more than $85 million in sales with $6.5 million in profits.

This type of business offers many opportunities for the nonwovens industry. The protective garments, filters, wipes, absorbents and other products used in many businesses in removing, handling and processing waste materials are consuming more nonwovens every year. If you are not aware of it, today there are nonwovens roll goods producers, converters and product fabricators designing specific materials and items for this area of opportunity.

In my column of May, 1989, which we called "How Durable and How Disposable?" I attempted to bring attention to that question and hopefully have our industry set some standards or definitions for it. If we don't, the government may do just that for us and we will be get stuck with a shoe that won't fit. We should also define the term biodegradable," because the same situation is imminent there as well.

The definition of these two terms is only the tip of this iceberg. Some of the other questions you may want to consider regarding the overall problem are:

Should we reduce the amount of limited life products and produce longer lasting or durable items?

What is a nonwoven product as defined by consumers, government or organizations that may affect us?

What time frame do we have to work in before we are affected by outside influences?

"If there is a problem with a nonwoven, where is the legal responsibility-with the supplier, the converter, the manufacturer, the consumer or the waste processor?

How do nonwovens compare with competitive products regarding disposability, recycling and biodegradability?

How can nonwovens manufacturers work together to assist in solving these problems?

How much information should be given to the user in advertising, instructions, cautions, etc.?

Should we design products that separate easily?

What does the market want? What will it pay for?

Even after you have answered or satisfied these questions, you may have to raise the price of your nonwoven roll goods or finished packaged product to reflect your additional expenses. This may or may not be too much to swallow.

Of course, as a consumer you will also feel the increased costs in many non-nonwoven items as well. The choice is the consumers ... and yours. Tom Holliday is a well known consultant to the nonwovens and textile industries whose column on a wide range of nonwovens-related topics appears every month in Nonwovens Industry. Mr. Holliday operates his consultancy firm, Thomas M. Holliday & Associates out of his office at 25 Edgewood Road, Yardley, PA 19067; (215)493-2501.
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Title Annotation:solid waste problem
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1990
Previous Article:The U.S. and European market for industrial durables.
Next Article:Nonwoven imports to and exports from Japan.

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