In recent years flushable wipes have had some bad press. Perhaps unfairly, this $1.4 billion industry is accused of causing the increasing number of clogs plaguing sewage systems worldwide. The solution under consideration in several states is a legislative approach to flushability.
To avoid this legal sledgehammer, the INDA and EDANA trade associations for nonwovens are taking a proactive approach. One avenue they are following is consumer education, the other is to push for dispersibility of wipes.
It's dispersibility, or more accurately, lack of dispersibility, that's at the root of the issue. The spun lace process used for nonwoven textiles since the '70's, uses relatively long fibers. These give good entanglement, which results in a strong product, but as result, they don't break down.
Consumer education is being addressed through advertising and by putting labels on packaging showing if the product can be flushed. Recognizing however that some don't read the labels, INDA/EDANA have also pushed for a definition of flushability.
This has led to third party testing of dispersibility, which is forcing manufacturers to explore new materials and processes.
Good dispersibility needs short fibers and pulp. These kinds of raw materials don't work well with spun lace, but they are suitable for wet laid-types of processes. Unfortunately, wet laid alone doesn't produce material with sufficient strength for wipe applications.
The emerging solution seems to be combining wet laid with some form of entanglement. This adds the necessary strength yet maintains dispersibility by incorporating a high percentage of pulp. The result is a wipe that disperses when flushed.
Adopting new processes is expensive. In the case of flushable wipes though, the cost of not changing may be greater. But by adopting dispersibility standards, the trade associations are actively encouraging the development of new manufacturing processes.
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