Reducing environmental impact of Absorbent Hygiene Products (AHP) using sustainable eco-technology

LIFE18 ENV/DE/000137 ECOCARE

The LIFE EcoCare project explores new sustainable material alternatives for absorbent hygiene products (AHP) such as baby diapers, pantyliners & tampons. The research team looks into renewable & recycled resources, for example cotton, cellulose, corn, bio-SAP, bio-films, bio PE/PP nonwovens and bio-based naphtha, including EU locally-sourced fibres. The applied innovative multilayer absorbent technology considerably reduces the material and volume.

The EcoCare project is the successor of the CELSTAB project “A novel and highly sustainable feminine pad product”, LIFE13ENV/DE/001131, from 2014-2018.

Single use diapers and sanitary pads or pantyliners consist mainly of top and intermediate layers of synthetic or nature-derived materials (such as polyethylene, polyester or polypropylene, or viscose or cotton), an internal absorbent core of cellulose fluff with or without polyacrylate super-absorber (SAP), and a watertight bottom layer (for detailed composition info see links below). Past experiments to develop industrially biodegradable absorbent devices (paper- or cotton-based) for the hygiene sector have not been commercially successful, starting with a lack of comfort, efficacy, and the difficulty of producing them in the high quantities required. Also, especially in the case of menstrual protection products, hygienic reasons speak against public collection and disposal via biodegradation or recycling.

Sustainable innovation must reduce the environmental impact (related to resource consumption, transport, and packaging) and include the product safety and technological performance. This complex task requires research teams to analyze and consider the tradeoffs of different materials, processes, and end-of-life solutions, with no difference for re-usable or single-use products.

With EcoCare and its precursor project CELSTAB, a step-by-step approach to more sustainability for single-use products has been chosen, accompanied by intensive consumer testing for feedback on product comfort and efficacy.

Objectives:

Reduce environmental impacts of AHP with a new eco-design, in 3 areas:

  • Material Reduction (core, lofted fibers = CELSTAB eco-design)
  • Integration of new sustainable materials into products (bio-based, from renewable resources, recycled)
  • Supplier localization (EU-based)

The EcoCare project has got different product paths: Baby diapers, pantyliners and tampons.

The EcoCare project success targets (see illustration) are based on the results achieved with CELSTAB in 2018 (2), and will further increase sustainability of the products:

  • Reduced material (10-25%)
  • Waste prevention/reduction (10-25%)
  • Green House Gas emission reduction (5-15%)
  • Increasing sustainable resources:
    up to 50% in baby diapers,
    over 75% in menstrual protection

Actions:

  • Demonstrate the multilayer reduced material concept CELSTAB reapplication to pantyliners and baby diapers, which meet consumer quality demands as well as industrial scale production requirements and preserve the cost/ benefit ratio.
  • Evaluate the use of up to 50% sustainable materials for BabyCare diapers and >75% in the complete absorbent FemCare articles (top sheet, absorbent core, backsheet), without interfering with quality and performance. Exploratory sustainable materials can be based on cotton, cellulose, corn, bio-superabsorber, bio-films, bio-PE/PP nonwovens, and other feedstock. Their advantage is reducing consumption of non-renewable fossil resources and increasing sustainable resources.