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The environmental question: how green can we get.

As the green issue continues to rear its ugly head in the disposables industry, right and wrong is becoming increasingly cloudy and actions once looked upon as steps in the right direction are now being questioned or judged unacceptable by "the powers that be."

The questions now are "how green can we get?" given the conflicting guidelines offered by a variety of sources, and when will some government agency or task force finally establish acceptable "green" advertising, packaging and marketing regulations?

Legislative edicts have certainly dominated the environmental pages of newspapers and magazines in recent months, as Attorneys General task force reports and consumer affairs office memos are published, airing their grievances with the disposables industry.

On the other side of the coin, durables manufacturers are also receiving their air share of attention; this type of attention is much more welcome by an industry struggling to maintain its image in increasingly environmentally conscious times. Markets such as disposable protective apparel, landfill covers and landscape fabrics are becoming established as viable alternatives to more traditional media.

In other areas, surveys regarding consumers and the environment abound, while a broad range of consumer publications still continue to count on the environmental controversy to fill their pages.

An update of what's been happening in recent months begins logically with a look at the news in Washington D.C. and around various state legislatures. It's been a busy time for the government and much of its attention has been focused on the disposables industry. Here's a look at what's going on.

The biggest news on the environmental docket in recent months has been the "Green Report," compiled by a task force of 10 Attorneys General and released last October. The report, put together after a national public forum and a year long investigation, was co-sponsored with representatives from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report is divided into three sections and makes recommendations for the federal government and for industry on how the two sides can make the world a "better environment" in which to live. (For a complete summary of the Green Report, see the January, 1991 issue of NONWOVENS INDUSTRY.)

The major controversy about the report from the disposables industry is in regard to the recommendations made that claims reflect current disposal options only; that is, products currently disposed of in landfills or incinerated should not be promoted as degradable, while a product should not be promoted as compostable unless that option is widely available in that area.

This controversy has continued in a recent suit against Procter & Gamble by the New York City Consumer Affairs Dept., which has charged that a P&G diaper ad appearing in magazines such as TVGUIDE and GOOD HOUSEKEEPING is "deceptive" under city consumer protection laws. The ad promotes the company's "Luvs" and "Pampers" brand diapers as easily compostable but openly adds that, to date, only 10 communities are composting their trash. The Consumer Affairs Dept. argued that since few consumers actually have access to such composting facilities, the ad is not an accurate representation of this disposal option. The department has requested that P&G meet with it to discuss the violations. Under New York law, P&G could be fined and an end put to its ad campaign (for a more detailed report and P&G's response, see Top of the News, p. 8).

On the state level, a significant amount of legislation has also been introduced. Although none have yet progressed beyond the introductory stages, these bills could very well only be the tip of the iceberg in terms of disposables legislation during 1991.

* Bills introduced in New Jersey and Colorado would require disposable diapers be packaged with labeling that provides consumers with information about the environmental "burdens" posed by disposing of the product.

* A measure introduced in Connecticut is specifically designed to encourage the use of cloth diapers by placing a tax on disposable diapers.

* In New York, four separate measures have been introduced that would either prohibit sales of nonbiodegradable diapers and incontinent pads outright or require that hospitals inform new parents about the environmental impact of using disposables diapers.

* On the positive side, a measure introduced in New York would exempt diapers and feminine hygiene products from state sales and use taxes.

In addition to the diaper bills, several measures have been introduced at the state level that would regulate "green" advertising claims and would restrict incineration of medical waste. For example:

* In Indiana, a meausre has been introduced that would require those who engage in environmental advertising file supporting documentation for those claims with the state's Dept. of Environmental Management.

* In New Jersey, a measure has been introduced that would establish standards for "environmentally preferred" packaging. Green advertising measures have already been adopted in California, New York, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

The area of medical nonwovens is also not exempt from the roving eyes of state governments. So far this year, medical waste measures have been introduced in seven states and each of these measures, if adopted, could have severe impact on the use of medical nonwovens. Among them:

* In Vermont, a measure is pending that would require generators of medical waste to determine source reduction techniques and adopt a plan to document and implement source reduction methods. Such methods could likely involve conversion to reusable surgical drapes and gowns and other steps that reduce the use of medical disposables.

* Bill introduced in Montana, Missouri and Nebraska would all restrict or prohibit the establishment of medical waste incinerators. Two bills introduced in New York would require that bonds be posted by medical waste permit holders to ensure the cleanup of medical waste that has been illegally disposed.

* A New Jersey measure would require that the state's Dept. of Environmental Protection maintain a list of all medical waste transporters.

All the news in the environmental spotlight is not unfavorable for the nonwovens industry, however. A comprehensive study on composting, thought by many in the industry to be the most viable method of waste disposal, is being undertaken by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) at the request of Congress. The study, already underway, is intended to identify composting methods, uses of composted materials and markets for compost.

The bill also orders the USDA to initiate a "composting extension program," which will provide information to the agricultural community and the general public on composting techniques and procedures for using compost. The law requires that this extension program be established by late 1991, although no fixed time has been established for the general research.

While compiling this information into a single source will be a tremendous benefit in itself to composting advocates, one major stumbling block to greater use of compost has been the lack of markets for composted material. To increase demand, more markets will have to be created, which is one of the primary reasons behind the USDA study.

In other governmental news beneficial to the nonwovens industry, EPA is expected to release a final rule later this year requiring that all agricultural workers wear personal protective garments when handling certain types of pesticides. Protective garments made from nonwoven fabrics would be ideal for complying with the new rule and the regulations could create a huge new market for these types of garments.

The proposed rule, which should be released in the next few months, would require that most agriculture workers wear a protective suit, chemical-resistant gloves, chemical-resistant shoes, shoe covers or boots, respiratory protection devices and goggles or a face shield. The regulations would also apply to workers in forests, nurseries and greenhouses and would affect nearly 2.5 million people.

EPA is also developing a two-year, $1 million program called the Consumer Product Comparative Risk Project to assess the cradle-to-grave environmental impact of consumer products and label them accordingly. The project is divided into five phases: 1) select a peer review group; 2) develop a method for applying life cycle impacts; 3) select products for initial evaluation using the method; 4) analyze and refine the method; and 5) develop a communications strategy to make consumers aware of the informations strategy to make consumers aware of the information. The project is a joint effort of EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning, Office of Solid Waste and Office of Research and Development.

Of course, no coverage of the environment is complete with mention of the major players in the field. In this case, there is no doubt who the largest and most newsworthy company in the environmental arena has been. Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, manufacturers of Pampers and Luvs disposable diapers, has been in the news constantly of late with its efforts to appease the environmental lobby. The company has made moves ranging from investing millions of dollars in a composting project to working on a degradable backsheet, a post-consumer waste diaper film packaging and compact packaging to simply representing the industry against the environmental wolves at its door. Not surprisingly, P&G has also been the most visible scapegoat of regulatory objections.

While the previously mentioned New York City Consumer Affairs Dept. issue has been in the news most recently, P&G has been active in a variety of other areas as well. The most recent marketing move at P&G was an intimate tie-in with the Earth Day festivities last month. An advertising campaign linked to the festivities was part of a free standing insert delivered to 50 million American households. The insert offered rebates for proucts such as Luvs and Pampers and a host of other P&G products. In addition, for every refund certificate received, P&G pledged to contribute $1, up to $300,000, to Keep America Beautiful. In another aspect of the promotion, P&G is offering $5000 grants to the 20 best local environmental education programs.

Looking at the longer term, other big news at P&G last fall was the well publicized undertaking of an extensive composting project and a $20 million investment in promoting composting nationwide. P&G last fall announced plans to develop and market diapers it claims are more compostable than the current diapers on the market, which are already 80% compostable. It hopes to have the products in test market some time this year.

The $20 million investment will be used in three key areas. First, it will fund projects to demonstrate how composting should be integrated into a community's total solid waste system. Second, it will fund projects showing how composted solid waste humus can improve the quality of top soil and, third, it will fund research to test compost for growing various crops. (For a detailed description of P&G composting efforts, see the Winter, 1991, issue of the INDIA JOURNAL OF NONWOVENS RESEARCH.)

Research programs for material recycling of soiled baby diapers are another part of P&G's worldwide solid waste initiative.

Pilot demonstration projects for material recycling of used diapers are being conducted in the U.S. and in the U.K. The goal is to explore the feasibility of removing the components of soiled diapers for other uses. These might include use of the plastics for rubbish bags and use of the pulp for wallboard or insulation purposes. In the U.S., a wet process is being studied, while in Europe dry processing will be tested.

In another recent development, P&G has teamed with a number of suppliers and converters to utilize post-consumer waste in new film packaging for its baby diapers. The technology is expected to spread to other soft film packaging applications as well.

Last fall P&G began to test in Pittsburgh its "Ultra Pampers" and "Luvs Deluxe" disposable diapers packaged in flexible film that contained a minimum of 25% post-consumer recycled plastic. P&G's partner in the recycled packaging development has been Exxon Chemical Film Products, Mar-Lin, PA, which is blending ethylene-vinyl acetate with post-consumer recycled homopolymer high density polyethylene to make clear film. The post-consumer polyethylene is almost exclusively obtained from milk jugs and water bottles. This film is then laminated to another printed film from Exxon to make the P&G two-ply diaper bags.

Looking at the environmental issue from a consumer point of] view has been the object of a great many magazine and newspaper article. Most have only covered one side of the story, although recently more unbiased opinions have been surfacing in consumer media.

One of the most popular women's magazines, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, ran a "Green Watch" section in its April, 1991 issue. An article in the section, "The Diaper Dilemma" gave a refreshingly impartial view of the disposable versus cloth diaper contest. Here's what's GOOD HOUSEKEEPING's 27 million readers were told:

" news of the solid-waste crisis spreads, cloth diapers have gained ground as the environmentally sounder choice... Now recent studies cast doubt on thatt assumption...

"The bottom line: 'No matter what you choose it's going to have an impact,' said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. 'We simply do not have enough information to indicate that one type of diaper is categorically better than the other.'"

The article also mentioned biodegradable diapers, composting and recycling as other options, but remained noncommittal about the success of any of these methods.

Another publications that was introduced not too long ago by The Earth Works Group was "50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth." The twist is that now Tambrands, manufacturers of "Tampax" tampons, gave away more than one million special editions of the book as part of a 1991 Earth Day promotion. This 96-page paper-back book was on the NEW YORK TIMES best seller list for 31 weeks and has been described by PEOPLE magazine as a "primer for environmental beginners." It normally retails for $4.95.

Tambrands signed up many major chains for the promotion and backed it up with substantial advertising resources. Some of the national and regional chains participating were A&P Stores, CVS Drugstores, Eckerd Drugs, Kroger's, Pathmark Supermarkets, Safeway Supermarkets, Shoprite Stores, Walgreen's and Winn-Dixie. The company is promoting the book offer through national television advertising and co-op radio advertising in 61 local markets.

Consumers were able to get the book in two ways. Copies were available at special store displays where they were free with the purchase of a 40 count box of Tampax tampons. A certificate was also included in more than 10 million specially-marked 40 count packages that enabled the buyer to mail in their receipt for a copy of the book.

It is ironic that Tambrands used this type of promotion, since the environmental hue and cry over tampon applicators floating up on beaches has been supplanted by the concern over disposable diapers and landfills. One of the "50 Things" suggested in the book is to use cloth diapers.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on Advertising Age/Gallup poll survey of environmentally-conscious businesses; nonwoven fabrics and disposable products
Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:1990 figures: U.S. exports for nonwovens almost twice as much as imports.
Next Article:The nonwovens industry meets the filtration business.

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