Going easy on the environment

15th of June 2010
Going easy on the environment
Going easy on the environment

In the context of an increasing demand for green and sustainable cleaning products, wipes are proving no exception. ECJ's Menaha Thiru spoke to three leading manufacturers to look at some of the ways in which they are developing and fostering environmentally friendly wipes.

Pal International produces impregnated hygiene wipes for the food manufacturing, healthcare, janitorial and pharmaceutical markets. According to the company's technical manager Iain de Grey: "Customers have been demonstrating an increasing interest in issues of sustainability and environmental friendliness regarding wipes."

Although the company has not as yet experienced an overwhelming demand, nevertheless, for ethical reasons it wants to be completely on board with all issues green and sustainable. An example of its commitment is apparent in the field of research and development. "We have been working on a wipe in the labs that is fully biodegradable, flushable and water dispersible. This is a live research project which is nearing completion," says de Grey.

Pal currently employs a variety of substrates in its wipes but they all tend to be various proportions of viscose and polypropylene. Although viscose is biodegradable, polypropylene is not. De Grey explains: "We have been searching for a substitute for poly-viscose which is 100 per cent cellulose and we have found one. The trouble with many biodegradable cellulose materials is that they have no structural integrity, dissolving like toilet paper the moment they are wet. But the substance that we have obtained through our suppliers is 100 per cent cellulose and nevertheless retains its structural integrity when wet. You can keep the wet impregnated wipe made from this material in a soft pack but when it is flushed and the water is agitated the wipe becomes dispersible.’’

Repeated use

The life cycle of the majority of Pal's impregnated wipes is limited. The products tend to be used once and thrown away because of their hygienic applications.  However the company has now devised a wipe that can be used repeatedly and is environmentally friendly in this respect. A dry wipe is impregnated with disinfectant and then dried in an oven. When wet with water it can be used to clean a number of times until the disinfectant runs out. The wipe has a blue stripe that is linked to the disinfectant and as long as the former is visible you can keep using the wipe. However despite the environmental benefits of this product de Grey comments that sales have been surprisingly low.

Another area in which Pal takes green and sustainable issues seriously is packaging. All its packages for wipes - apart from its soft packs which are composed of a laminate composite - are made from recyclable plastic. Reducing the amount of packaging used is also a priority. De Grey claims: "We are actively trying to decrease the amount of packaging we use. For example we are increasing the number of wipes per tub so that an empty container is thrown away
less often."

Despite Pal’s keenness to be as environmentally friendly as possible de Grey points out: "We are aware that making all the ranges of wipes biodegradable might not be practical. The biodegradable wipes aren't as hard-wearing as the standard wipes and this also limits packaging. For example we are  planning to sell our biodegradable wipe in a soft pack because it is quite a delicate wipe so pulling it through a hole in a  lid might be too destructive to it."

Chicopee Europe manufactures professional wipes for sectors pertaining to the food services, floor surface cleaning, industrial, automotive and after-care, and healthcare sectors. Branding and communications manager Merav Mayer-Mattijssen observes: "If you look at environmental friendliness there are various degrees or levels. Level four is biodegradable products, level three is compostable and level two is recyclable. Although recyclable products are the most environmentally  friendly, at the moment we  are working on both biodegradable and
compostable wipes since our products cannot be recycled as they are used to wipe several elements from various surfaces, floors and workplaces.’’

Mayer-Mattijssen emphasises: "Green issues are becoming increasingly important to a variety of customers, and as market leaders we want to avoid creating more of a burden on our environment. Even though customers are increasingly enthusiastic about environmentally friendly products, naturally they should not cost more than our alternative products already available on
the market."

Chicopee Europe is planning to launch a both biodegradable and compostable wipe in the last quarter of this year.

Renewable sources

Chicopee's current range of non-woven wipes is environmentally friendly in the sense that wipes are made from elements such as wood and cotton obtained from natural renewable sources.  Moreover its newest durable wipe has a very long life cycle. It can be cleaned in a washing machine at up to 95 degrees and be reused 150 times, while still retaining its strength and performance.

The company is concerned with reducing the amount of waste created by various wiping methods and for this reason avoids using paper wipes, as for any particular task more paper is required as opposed to non-woven wipes. Contaminated paper cannot be recycled.

Two years ago the firm modified all its dispensers so now the user can pull out one wipe at a time. Although this was originally done for economic reasons it has a direct environmental impact. Another arena where Chicopee advocates green cleaning is in its use of dry wipes to clean floor surfaces, thus saving on consumption of water. Chicopee dry wipes obviously do not consume any electricity and they collect the dry dirt rather than spreading it.

Wecovi’s marketing and sales director Derik Landman tells ECJ: "There is an interest and a higher demand for environmentally friendly products among customers and we also recognise a development on the producers' side of various different types of fibre that are 100 per cent compostable or biodegradable. On the other hand, there is still a higher cost attached to biodegradable wipes compared to traditional ones and this is holding customers back from switching over."

Biodegradable substitute

At present the pure viscose wipes Wecovi produces are biodegradable. However the majority of its non-woven wipes are about 90 per cent viscose and 10 per cent non biodegradable polypropylene. The company has now discovered a biodegradable substitute for the polypropylene in wipes in the form of a fibre called PLA, which is made from corn. The new biodegradable wipe will be released on the market in two months.

The company is also exploring the use of other types of fibres that could be used to manufacture non-woven wipes. Functionality and expense are always important considerations. Bamboo is a possible future alternative to viscose as bamboo grows quicker than wood. Another option is the cotton waste which is a by-product in the industrial manufacturing of clothes.

Landman comments: "The market at present is very price-orientated as opposed to environmentally orientated but I expect to see a dramatic shift in demand over the next couple of years for the biodegradable wipe. The 100 per cent biodegradable wipe will gain market share."

He also believes that microfibre wipes have gained a higher market share because of their increased popularity due to their environmental friendliness. Wecovi microfibre wipes can be used up to 500 times and no chemicals are involved in the cleaning process.

How often a non-woven wipe can be reused depends on its thickness, laundry services available, and what its application is. For example if the wipe is used with disinfectant to clean human fluids it needs to be thrown away immediately. Wecovi makes non-woven cloths with a minimum of 135 grams per square metre and the thicker nature of the wipes facilitates their repeated use. They can be used up to 20 times.

The wipe has certainly come a long way from the days of being a mere rag and has evolved into a highly sophisticated  and carefully calibrated cleaning product that strives to meet the demands of environmental consciousness on a variety of fronts.

•Read more about wiping products


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