Flushablewipes range from adult moist toilet tissue and toddler toilet care to femininehygiene wipes, and the sector is growing all the time. The total flushablewipes market is estimated at 55,720 tons, or about $1.4 billion in salesaccording to The Future of Flushable Wipes to 2018, a new market report fromSmithers Apex.
These sales are mainly driven by convenience, hygiene, performance, cost andcustomer eco-perception. But what is next for the market as a whole, and whatdevelopments will we see over coming years? According to Smithers Apex, thereare four top things to look out for in the flushable wipes industry.
A change innonwoven substrates
The choice and selection of nonwoven substrates for flushable wipes ischanging. Why? Mainly due to concerns that historical problems with performancein wastewater systems will lead to unrealistic or excessively difficultgovernmental regulations. For example, ‘flushable by size’ products have causedproblems in the U.S., the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.
Equally importantly, petroleum-based non-biodegradable fibers have rapidlyincreased in price (as has petroleum) to the point that they are nowapproaching and even surpassing historically expensive biodegradable fiberslike rayon and cotton. What was once a trade-off between price andbiodegradability has now become much closer and much less of an issue.
Wood pulp, even near its historical high price, still costs less than 50% ofthe least expensive petroleum-based fiber used in wipes. While the prices ofwood pulp, rayon and cotton may increase with time, most experts agree thatpetroleum-based fibers will definitely increase in price with time, and atrates exceeding those of non-petroleum-based fibers. This has led to awidespread rethink of the substrates used in flushable nonwovens.
Increaseduse of wood pulp and cotton
Following on from this, a second important trend is the increased use of woodpulp and cotton in flushable wipes. Wood pulp is, and has been, an obviouschoice for cost reduction. Historically, airlaid has had an advantage in theability to incorporate very high levels of wood pulp—commercial products at85-90% are common—while spunlace and airlace have been limited to around 50%wood pulp. Today, 60-70% wood-containing spunlaces are commercial, andSuominen’s Hydraspun dispersible substrate hydroentangled wetlaid product usedin private label moist toilet tissue contains almost 80% pulp.
Wood pulp is the most sustainable raw material used in wipes, and cotton inboth airlaid and spunlace nonwovens is still moderately popular with consumers.Producers are also becoming more interested as the price differential betweencotton and other fibers like Rayon and polypropylene diminishes; regeneratedcotton is even more sustainable, and available at a lower cost than virgincotton used in nonwoven wipes. It is expected that this material will becomemore common in the flushable wipes market in the future, as more suppliersproduce it.
A move awayfrom ‘flushable by size’ to truly dispersible wipes
Most importantly, there has been a marked move away from ‘flushable by size’ totruly dispersible wipes. In 2001, when Kimberly-Clark attempted to acceleratemarket growth in the adult moist toilet tissue market with the introduction ofCottonelle Rollwipes, it was the first major commercial dispersible wipe. Theirmajor branded and private label competitors countered with flushable by sizeproducts. Rollwipes failed to generate the projected rapid sales increasesdesired, and within a few years, they disappeared.
Rollwipes, besides being dispersible, were sold as pre-moistened wipes on aroll. There were numerous issues with this format, from technical problems withthe required dispenser to marketing issues with the presentation. When salesgrowth failed to meet projections, Kimberly-Clark eliminated the roll formatand sold the wipe itself as a sheeted product in a tub, which was flushable bysize. At this point, all major products servicing the adult moist toilet tissuemarket were flushable by size. Surprisingly, with only modest marketingsupport, the adult moist toilet tissue segment grew. Today, this segment is thelargest sub-segment in the personal care wipes market segment, a high value andgrowing segment.
The difference between 2001 and 2013 is that adult moist toilet tissue productsfrom Kimberly-Clark, Procter and Gamble and major private label converterstoday are dispersible not flushable by size. These products meet the INDA/EDANAguidelines on flushability; so this change appears to be driven primarily byconcerns about regulatory action, not by consumer demand.
Thermoembossing to hydro embossing
In the past, hydro embossing has had disadvantages in processing speed andemboss quality in lightweight products, it has also required capitalinvestment. Price (volatility and magnitude) for polypropylene fiber led to amajor move by nonwovens producers away from this fiber. Procter and Gamble,using spunlace produced with Fibervisions’ trilobal polypropylene fiber, is oneof the major holdouts. This then accelerated the move to hydroembossing.
Hydroembossing does not include the thermal bonds usually caused by thermalembossing (these thermal bonds are usually irreversible in wastewater systems);and is therefore ideal for flushable wipes. Now, all natural fiber products arefeasible, making biodegradability and flushability an easier target.
Finally, there is a global consumer trend to sustainable products. As economicstress is relieved, the consumer can begin to buy with their conscience again.The developed regions will lead this movement including the U.S., WesternEurope and Japan, but even developing markets have consumer segments that valuesustainability. Flushable wipes are inherently sustainable products, withalmost all residual components ending up as a useful soil amendment rather thana landfill problem.