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The gathering storm?

The Gathering Storm?

Is there really a "gathering storm" threatening the diaper industry, as Francis Bouda so eloquently puts it in his look at the absorbent products business in this issue? All indications are that there certainly is...and that it is going to be a big one.

Mr. Bouda borrowed the "gathering storm" theme from the first of Winston Churchill's books chronicling the events of the 1930's leading up to the Second World War. In that volume, the late British Prime Minister warned early and often that it is best to react decisively when faced with such ominous events. The overriding theme Mr. Churchill presented is that it is imperative to be prepared and, when you are sure of the threat, to move proactively.

On a far less grand scale, the worldwide diaper industry is faced with threats it has seen coming for a number of years. Who can believe we will be celebrating the 20th Earth Day this April? Who would have thought that an inauspicious celebration of our environment would fade away through the early 1980's, only to rise from the ashes more prominent than ever?

While caution and intelligent discussion have been the guiding forces behind most efforts in the absorbent products area, it is time to make a proactive move. We have more than once in the past few months written of the problems faced by a disposables industry in an anti-disposables world. The environment--and all of the emotional baggage that word carries with it--is going to be the dominant theme facing the business well into the 1990's. The subject is debated ad nauseum in the consumer press and is the focus of any number of articles by the trade press.

The first proactive steps have been taken by Procter & Gamble in the search for a viable environmental, rather than merely marketing, solution. Others have not reacted as well. We urge companies at this point to resist the temptation of slapping the word "biodegradable" on their baby diapers to please the "green" lobby. That is a move destined to backfire until we know exactly what biodegradable is and, indeed, if it is even one of the better solutions. An environmental backlash is already evident by some consumer groups tired of manufacturers promoting the green issue in their products without the facts to back up their claims.

These products, of course, are in the soaps and detergents and packaging industries in addition to baby diapers. But we make a highly visible product and we must be acutely aware of our public image. The disposables segment is facing an increasingly organized effort intent on putting "disposability" on a par with "litter."

A storm is certainly gathering around the baby diaper market. But rather than merely battening down the hatches in preparation for the tempest, the industry must steer a course to stay ahead of the bad weather. Only in that manner can we emerge to see the calm after the storm.
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Title Annotation:environmental problems facing absorbent and disposable products industries
Author:Jacobsen, Michael A.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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