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Innovations and Key Challenges in Sustainable Disposable Absorbent Hygiene Products

Posted 18 Aug 2022 by Jyoti Mishra, Marketing Manager

In today’s world, convenience plays a huge part in our lives. We use and dispose of single-use items without much thought. In this blog, we talk about the sustainability challenges that manufacturers of disposable absorbent hygiene products (AHP) face today and how innovations can help address those challenges.

Increased consumer concern about the environment has led to changes across multiple industries. Absorbent hygiene products (AHP) have received increased interest because they are an everyday part of lives, from birth through our golden years. Since the use of AHP is expected to rise, the industry needs to introduce new, innovative solutions to help minimize their impact on our environment. 

Let’s look at what manufacturers in the AHP industry, along with governing bodies, are doing to drive the sustainability narrative. 

  • Reduce: One of the biggest trends today is ultra-thin AHP with reduced fluff. On average, modern disposable diapers weigh as little as 45 grams: about the weight of an egg. Through innovation in materials, design, and manufacturing, disposable diapers weigh 40% less than they did in 1987. These modern diapers perform better, use fewer raw materials, and generate less waste. Smaller diapers also occupy less space and allow for a significant reduction in packaging.
  • Reusable and washable: Brands around the world have launched reusable and washable diapers and feminine care products. While they often contain zero single-use plastics, there are mixed reports on the environmental effects of such products. A report by Britain’s Environment Agency regulator in 2008 found the environmental impacts of using cloth diapers could be higher or lower than using disposable diapers, depending on how they are laundered.
  • Recycling: It is technically possible to take a sanitary pad or diaper apart and recover some components, and companies, like Padcare in India, are experimenting to make this recovery economically feasible. Other companies actively working on this include Ontex in Belgium, NappyCycle in the U.K., and Unicharm in Japan. The main challenge companies and municipalities face when considering recycling options is establishing and planning for the infrastructure to collect and separate the waste.
  • Redesign: Companies are adopting product designs that leverage more natural materials (e.g., cotton, bamboo, or other cellulose-based fibers) or products manufactured with bio-based polymers. One example in recent decades is the progress made in the field of superabsorbent polymers/hydrogels (SAP) because of the high demand in the hygiene industry. BioSAP is creating a new opportunity for eco-friendly AHP. Biodegradable super absorbent polymers are biocompatible and degradable. There are several other bio-based, and even compostable, raw materials, now available. Also, many companies are replacing traditional plastic-based packaging with recyclable paper-based packaging for diapers and feminine care articles.
  • Bio-based Adhesive: Hot melt adhesive formulations traditionally rely on fossil fuel-based components. To address the demand for more sustainable solutions, H.B. Fuller developed hot melt adhesives for key adhesive applications, replacing some of those raw materials with bio-based, renewable materials. As bio-based adhesives gain more popularity, we are working on increasing the bio content to the levels desired by our customers. Learn more here.

These advancements have brought the hygiene and nonwovens industry closer to a more sustainable future, but there are still challenges we must address. 

  • Cost: Sustainable solutions can be more expensive than standard solutions because the costs of sustainable raw materials can be higher than synthetic materials. Sustainable developments also require research and investment to improve technologies and develop products with performance stability. Additionally, AHP manufacturers need to understand how to price their sustainable products, when there is constant pressure for cost reductions in the AHP market. 
  • Awareness: As discussed at the ‘Right’ Hygiene conference in June, while millennial consumers are helping to push the prioritization of sustainability trends, the majority of consumers are still unaware about the environmental impact of AHP. Even the administration of many countries, including India, can be unaware of the science behind them and their disposal. There is an opportunity to raise awareness about products that minimally impact the environment, including their disposal.

At H.B. Fuller, we are committed to helping our customers meet their sustainability goals. Our adhesive technologies are designed to help support customers in manufacturing a new generation of sustainable hygiene products. Contact us today to learn about our sustainable adhesive solutions in the disposable hygiene market. 


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