Europe generates around 60 million tons of recyclable paper annually, 40% of which is made up of cardboard. VTT Technical Research Centre based in Finland has figured out how to use recycled cardboard and paper to make hygiene and nonwoven homecare products like diapers, sanitary towels and cleaning cloths. Around 1.9 million such nonwoven products were produced in Europe in 2011, and those numbers are only growing, which tells you how popular this green innovation is in the marketplace.
Nonwovens have traditionally been made with biologically non-degradable raw materials, such as polyester. That’s why when your baby’s diaper ends up in the landfill, it will stay there almost indefinitely. And up until now, biodegradable nonwovens have been slow to enter the market because of prohibitive production costs.
This new process developed by VTT means that biodegradable nonwovens will be much more competitive in price compared with plastic-based products. The manufacturing costs of cardboard-based nonwovens are around 20% lower than nonwovens produced from wood raw materials. “This means new business opportunities should open up fairly rapidly, since the technology for manufacturing nonwovens from recycled materials is already in place,” says Ali Harlin, Research Professor at VTT.
The method developed by VTT could also mean extended possibilities for the reuse of cardboard, which is more cost-effective to use as a raw material than paper. The biggest hurdle to reusing cardboard as a raw material for nonwovens is making sure it is clear of lignin and hemicellulose. VTT used several fiber-processing methods to obtain pure cellulose from recycled cardboard. And to dissolve the pulp, they used their patented carbamate technology, which is safer and more environmentally friendly than the traditional viscose process. Furthermore, they were able to produce the nonwovens with a foam-forming technology that uses little water.
This exciting new development by VTT could mean a lucrative new use for recycled cardboard and paper and at the same time, help keep non-biodegradable nonwovens out of the landfill.
Images © Antonin Halas