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It's not easy being green: nonwovens environmental update 1993.

multiple environmental issues affect nonwovens; the environmental year in review

Composting. Dioxin. Clean Air Act. Clean Water Act. Recycling. Reusables vs. Disposables. When talk turns to the environment, many topics surface. The following is a sampling of environmental news from past year or so. Just where do nonwovens fit into the environmental equation? Part of the answer can be found below.

Environment & Waste Management Conference Asks Difficult Questions... The lack of an easy answer to the environmental question may have kept attendance down, but it provided for spirited discussions at the recent Environment & Waste Management Conference, held June 15-17, Stouffer Concourse Hotel, Arlington, VA. Speakers at the conference, sponsored by INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, pointed out over and over that the environmental question is by no means resolved. For consumers especially, the environment continues to be an important concern and they are not yet satisfied with the answers provided by industry.

The conference began with a marketing discussion from Anthony Casale, president of Environmental Research Associates, Princeton, NJ. The key, noted Mr. Casale, is that the environment will not go away as an issue. In fact, for consumers, environmental concerns have stopped being a new concern and have already become a part of everyday life.

With this more widespread but deeper personal concern among consumers, marketing efforts need to be tailored to fit the changing needs. In particular, Mr. Casale highlighted the fact that children play a major role in the environmental consciousness of today's households, a fact that affects buying trends today and those of the future. Mr. Casale also noted that at present, there is no company leading the way in environmental leadership from a manufacturing standpoint, at least not in the consumer's view.

In a surprising note, company research has also revealed that consumers believe that recycling is the only way to handle the waste stream. However, with environmental experts showing that only 20-30% of municipal solid waste at the most can be recycled, a problem exists. Mr. Casale warned companies to be ready for a backlash when the consumer is confronted with the fact that not every piece of refuse can be recycled.

A spirited discussion followed Mr. Casale's speech, with various concerns aired. At one point, a warning was issued to all manufacturers to be on the watch for legislation that copies the present strict German recycling laws, which require a manufacturer to take back all the packaging and the product itself after its use for recycling.

The conference continued on many topics, including the economic values of recycling. "Garbage is never free," Dr. Harvey Alter, a manager of resources policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, emphatically stated. Dr. Alter continued on the theme of Mr. Casale's comments regarding the consumer's view on recycling and outlined some of the hurdles that prevent it from being as large a part of the waste handling effort as people would hope. Dr. Alter also exploded another recycling myth - revenue from recycling rarely covers costs. "There is no gold in garbage," he concluded.

While there were no scientific breakthroughs revealed at the meeting, the level of interest and discussion of the attendees indicated that the environment will continue to provoke research and response.

Dioxin Reassessment... Dioxin. A potent danger or nothing to worry about? Conflicting reports have followed the dioxin debate for several years. In 1985, following a series of animal tests, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first classified dioxin as a probable human carcinogen. Then, in April 1990, the EPA issued a statement that the chances of contracting cancer from dioxin in baby diapers was 0.2 in one billion. The EPA opened a yearlong review of dioxin in the fall of 1991 and hinted that preliminary information suggested that an official lower risk assessment be applied.

However, in the Wall Street Journal (February 20, 1992), there appeared an article claiming that the favorable findings were just a good public relations effort by companies with investments in the dioxin industry. Later, in 1992, the EPA decided to initiate yet another reassessment, this one organized with a much wider base of scientific study in an effort to reach a consensus. The results of this "final" EPA reassessment have not yet been revealed as the final peer review is not scheduled until January 1994.

Legislation - The Government Steps In... A vast array of federal and state government agencies and commissions have authority over environmental issues. A review of recent legislative and regulatory activities that impact nonwovens is provided monthly in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY by Peter Mayberry, director of INDA government relations.

On the regulatory side concerning the environment, Mr. Mayberry in the past year highlighted several different topics. One of these is the pending EPA pulp and paper industry air and water effluent and emission standards due in October These standards will have a significant impact on manufacturers of bleached pulp and certain small segments of the nonwovens industry since the EPA views nonwovens as a subcategory of the pulp and paper industry. Another issue is the Federal Trade Commission's voluntary guidelines on green advertising unveiled in August 1992, which the commission has designed to restrict deceptive environmental claims.

Also at the government level is the EPA's Worker Protection Standard for workers handling pesticides, a policy that while not specifically naming nonwovens as the best solution, presents disposable personal protection equipment as one of the least restrictive options. Mr. Mayberry also discussed the EPA's "interim final" hazardous waste guidelines released in May that outline the basic elements of an acceptable hazardous waste minimization program that apply to any nonwoven company that generates RCRA-listed hazardous waste as well as any ignitable, reactive, corrosive or toxic materials.

Finally, Mr. Mayberry detailed future legislation on emissions for medical incineration and the federal purchasing requirement for recycled content in geotextiles. The wait on RCRA reauthorization will also likely continue, he said, with Superfund Reauthorization and the Clean Water Act taking precedence in Congress.

Composting: In, Out Or Up In The Air? ... While the debate over compostable consumer products has lessened (mainly because manufacturers were forced to change some of their claims), the research goes on. Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, continues with the development of a fully compostable baby diaper. The Degradable Polymeric Materials Project, funded by nine different organizations under the ASTM Institute for Standards Research, has been working since early 1992 to provide a framework of tests and reference materials for which results from laboratory to fullscale behavior in disposal systems can be predicted.

A survey of environmental experts completed by the Roper Organization and sponsored by the Novon Products Group, Rockford, IL, found that nine out of ten respondents believed that composting, recycling and source reduction, in that order of importance, would increase in the next five to ten years. These are exactly the alternative waste methods that nonwovens companies have already begun to adopt. However, without a national composting infrastructure, product development can only go so far.

Company Recycling Programs ... Various nonwovens companies and their suppliers have initiated in-house recycling programs or have developed recycled products of their own. The Carlee Corporation, Rockleigh, NJ, has introduced "Ecofil," a polyester fiberfill product made from Wellman's "Fortrel EcoSpun" fiber (see related story on page 60).

Wood pulp recycling has emerged from Wood Recycling, Peabody, MA. The company has developed a high technology thermal mechanical process for reclaiming wood to form a malleable fiber; a nonwoven product - an air laid, thermally moldable mat for use in automotive trim - is being tested.

Beginning in February 1993, the entire line of "Tyvek" first class mail envelopes manufactured by International Envelope, Exton, PA, were being made with DuPont nonwovens with 25% post-consumer recycled material. In fact, as of June 1993, DuPont has ensured that all Tyvek shipped for every consumer envelope application contains 25% post-consumer waste.

DuPont has also provided customers with the opportunity to recycle their used envelopes. The company has developed a recycling pouch, made of Tyvek, complete with a postage paid mailing label for the return of used envelopes for recycling. Originally introduced exclusively for the envelope segment, DuPont hopes to extend this program to other areas.

Kimberly-Clark Professional Health Care, Roswell, GA, in conjunction with the South Georgia Medical Center, Valdosta, GA, developed a program to recycle its "Kimguard" sterile wrap, a 100% polypropylene nonwoven material used in the wrapping of sterile instrument trays. With the program, uncontaminated Kimguard material is segregated, collected, baled and eventually transported by a recycling company that uses the material in the manufacture of fence posts and parking lot bumper guards.

Casual athletic shoes made from recycled materials from Deja Incorporated, Tigard, OR, made nonwovens news in late 1992. The shoes, a line of "Eco Sneaks" and "Envirolites," are made with several different kinds of pre- and post-consumer waste materials including a nonwoven polyester lining material that is 80% post-consumer recycled PET soda bottles.

Nonwovens are a potential target of a new venture for Himont, Wilmington, DE. The acquisition of a 50% interest in Polymer Resource Group, Baltimore, MD, an established post-consumer plastics recycling concern, gives Himont access to the technology and network of centers that recycle plastics to recover individual plastic resins close to 100% pure.

At the Environment & Waste Management Conference in June, Allen Hopkins discussed the polyester-based product recycling practices at Hoechst Celanese, Spartanburg, SC. By using methanolysis, Hoechst Celanese is able to achieve full depolymerization, completing the recycling circle and turning post consumer waste into a clean, pure raw material.

Bruce Rau, manager-Absorbent Products, also speaking at the conference detailed the environmental partnership program that DuPont, Wilmington, DE, has designed to handle its "Sontara" hazardous waste wipes, a program that has since turned into a new business venture for the company.

Also at the conference, on the medical side, Hollie Shaner, a waste reduction specialist, outlined the formation and implementation of a plan for the separation and reuse or recycling of dry, non-patient contact packaging and unused supplies from the surgical services wing at the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont. Formerly, this material, a majority of which is nonwoven, was handled as contaminated medical waste. Under one part of the Medical Center Hospital program now in place, unused materials and devices are segregated and donated to a local veterinary clinic.

A 100% biodegradable spunbonded nonwoven was introduced at April's INDEX exhibition by Freudenberg, Weinheim, Germany. The material, made with a polyester-based biodegradable polymer, continues to exhibit all the typical properties of traditional spunbonds.

Tacolin, a film supplier based in the U.K., last year received its BS 7750 certification, the "Green Dove" award, a kind of environmental ISO 9000 program that signifies that the company follows rigid standards for in-house environmental management systems. In receiving the award, Tacolin becomes one of the first companies in the U.K. to have its environmental programs and policies inspected and certified by an outside agency.

The Diaper Debate ... An article in the New York Times (October 23, 1992) highlighted the changing times in the disposable baby diaper's duel with the environment. When disposing of disposables and the filling of landfills first started making news, disposable baby diapers were targeted as a symbol of the North American throwaway society and a major detriment to the environment. In a knee jerk reaction, overnight it became environmentally incorrect to use disposable diapers.

Further study however, including complete life cycles analyses, has revealed that the environmental impacts of cloth and disposable diapers are about equal. People have noticed. As the New York Times reported "Three years ago 22 states considered taxing or banning disposables. None have succeeded." Even Patricia Poore, editor of Garbage magazine, reversed her earlier criticism of disposables following her experience with her children and the revealing results of the life cycle analyses. In addition, with disposable diapers making up less than 2% of the waste stream, Ms. Poore denounced the "vigilante environmentalism" that targeted disposable diapers and the "diaper hysteria" it caused.

The Medical Gown Dilemma: Reusable Or Disposable? ... The medical gown segment came under investigation from various sources in the past year, with sometimes conflicting results. The Wall Street Journal (April 2, 1993) reported that a Dallas, TX hospital switched from disposable surgical supplies to reusables, a move that the article predicted more hospitals would make. The move came as the hospital looked for ways to cut down its trash hauling costs. The article also noted that Medline, a manufacturer of reusable surgical supplies, experienced growth of 180% last year.

In contrast to the Wall Street Journal report, a paper by Christene Rotolo, RN, BSN, Porter Memorial Hospital, Denver, CO, delivered at the IDEA Show last November, outlined her hospital's study of the environmental, health, legal, environmental and protection issues and its decision on operating gowns and materials. After running concurrent trials and examining the full costs and performance of both types of products, the hospital decided on disposables. Today, more than 80% of the surgical gowns used in hospitals in North America are disposable.

Consumer Surveys: What Do They Really Think? ... An Advertising Age survey (June 29, 1992) on green marketing revealed the effects environmental claims can have on consumers. While 62% of the people surveyed replied that they were more likely to purchase a product making environmental claims now than they were a year ago, 52% replied that the overabundance of environmental messages is causing them to pay less attention to the claims. Rankings of specific products showed that only 13% of consumers felt that baby diapers are "environmentally responsible," no change from a survey in 1991. Taken as a whole, the survey revealed that consumers, initially overwhelmed and then inured to the abundance of environmental claims, have become more informed and sophisticated about the world of green advertising.

Ecolabeling in Europe ... Early 1992 saw the unveiling of a voluntary scheme for environmental labeling of consumer products throughout Europe. Developed by the European Community, the flower and |E' symbol is initially being awarded to only 10% of products within a particular category, products that have reduced impacts in cradle-to-grave assessments. Although no nonwoven products were chosen in the initial 20 product groups, if the program increases in scope, a wider range of products will soon encompass nonwoven consumer goods.

Where Is the Issue? ... The environment as an issue (or issues) can be difficult to pin down. On one hand, almost every company and community is addressing the environmental situation in an effort to control costs and waste. On the other, the media has been writing about how the environment has become less of an issue for industry and less of a crusade for the consumer. And while consumers do want answers, they will rarely give up convenience or price. No one has a satisfactory solution.

The fact of the matter is that the environment has slipped from its number one priority position. But, because everyone has an opinion about the environment, it does not completely fade away. Whether it is because industry has determined that the environmental answers it can provide at the moment will not fully satisfy the consumer or because companies simply want to work quietly on solutions and stop discussing the "issue," the environment is no longer in the spotlight as it once was.
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Title Annotation:Environment and Waste Management Conference
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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