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Potential of Biopolymers and Recycled Synthetic Fibres to Create Sustainable Nonwovens for Absorbent Hygiene Products (AHPs)

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  • 23 Pages
  • April 2021
  • Region: Global
  • Textiles Intelligence Ltd.
  • ID: 5313451

The Biopolymers Market Could Grow Sharply in the Coming Years as the Absorbent Hygiene Products (AHPs) Industry Seeks to Avoid Legislation

Disposable absorbent hygiene products (AHPs)--such as baby diapers, feminine care (femcare) products, and products for coping with adult incontinence (AI)--are convenient and contribute to healthy living. As a result, they enjoy huge popularity among consumers. However, they are manufactured largely from spunmelt nonwovens produced from polymers derived from petroleum, and their manufacturing, use and disposal have an unfavourable environmental footprint.

An estimated 1.5 bn diapers are disposed of each day, and most of the waste is either incinerated or sent to landfill as the recycling of AHPs is extremely difficult. It is not surprising, therefore, that AHP post-consumer waste is a major environmental problem, and the industry is facing restrictions and legislation such as the Single-Use Plastics Directive in the EU. To overcome the impact of legislation, manufacturers of AHPs are exploring the use of biopolymers such as polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) and bio-based polyester, polyamide and polypropylene.

However, global production of biopolymers amounted to only 2.1 mn tons in 2020 and so manufacturers of AHPs have to battle with plastic packaging producers for whatever capacity is available. This report discusses the market for AHPs and the environmental and legislative challenges facing the industry. Also, it examines challenges associated with recycling AHPs, it reviews the latest developments in biopolymers, and it analyses the scope for using them in the manufacture of AHPs. 

Table of Contents



  • The problem of AHP waste
  • Legislation
  • EU Single-Use Plastics Directive
  • US legislation
  • Canadian legislation
  • Avoiding the impending legislation


  • Production of drop-in biopolymers
  • Bio-based polypropylene
  • LyondellBasell
  • Borealis
  • SABIC Trucircle
  • Polylactic acid (PLA)
  • NatureWorks Ingeo
  • Kimberly-Clark products made from Ingeo
  • Fitesa biopolymer bicomponent
  • Expansion and methane development
  • Total Corbion PLA
  • Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs)
  • Danimer Scientific
  • Brewed Protein
  • EU Single-Use Plastics Directive poses a potential obstacle


  • Polypropylene recycling
  • PureCycle Technologies (PCT)
  • Braskem and Encina Development Group
  • Borealis and Tomra
  • LyondellBasell and Suez
  • Embraced recycling project
  • FaterSMART Contarina plant


List of figures
Figure 1 : Typical configuration and components of a modern baby diaper
Figure 2: Embraced diaper recycling bin in Amsterdam

Executive Summary

The market for biopolymers could easily double between 2020 and 2024 as the absorbent hygiene products (AHPs) industry seeks to avoid legislation, according to this 23-page report in Issue 119 of Technical Textile Markets.  

AHPs are big business. They include baby diapers, feminine care (femcare) products such as sanitary pads and panty liners, and products for coping with adult incontinence (AI). The market for AHPs at retail was valued at US$90 billion in 2019, and sales were boosted significantly in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic.                                      

However, AHPs are manufactured largely from spunmelt nonwovens produced from polymers derived from petroleum, and their manufacturing and use have an unfavourable environmental footprint. On average, 1.5 billion diapers are disposed of every day and most of the waste is either incinerated or sent to landfill.

A number of recycling initiatives have been established. In particular, several companies have set up plants for recycling polypropylene--which is widely used in the manufacture of spunmelt nonwovens for AHPs--while FaterSMART in Italy has helped to set up AHP waste recycling chains and has established the world’s first plant for recycling AHPs.

But recycling AHPs is extremely difficult because of the complexities of AHPs in terms of material construction, the applications they are used for, and the state they are in when they are disposed of.

As the problem of AHP post-consumer waste becomes bigger, the AHP industry is facing restrictions and legislation such as the Single-Use Plastics Directive in the EU, and similar legislation is pending approval in the USA and being drafted in Canada.

Manufacturers of AHPs are seeking to escape the impact of legislation by looking at the use of biopolymers--including drop-in solutions developed for bio-based polyester and bio-based polyamide, bio-based polypropylene produced from agricultural waste, polylactic acid (PLA) made from second generation and third generation feedstocks, and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) made by the bacterial fermentation of renewable biomass.

However, the availability of biopolymers is limited. In 2020 production was only 2.1 million tons, which is minimal relative to the availability of polymers as a whole. Consequently, companies which manufacture nonwovens for use in AHPs will have to compete with producers of plastic packaging for whatever capacity becomes available. At present, supplying fibres for nonwovens is seen as a secondary consideration by polymer recycling companies and biopolymers manufacturers.

Nevertheless, as the virgin plastic used in packaging is progressively replaced with bio-based or recycled alternatives, the opportunities for replacing existing polymers in nonwovens will increase.

Companies Mentioned

  • Borealis 
  • Braskem  
  • Danimer Scientific
  • Encina Development Group
  • FaterSMART Contarina plant
  • Fitesa 
  • Kimberly-Clark
  • LyondellBasell 
  • NatureWorks Ingeo
  • PureCycle Technologies (PCT)
  • SABIC Trucircle
  • Tomra
  • Total Corbion PLA