The Next Steps for Flushable Wipes

By Smithers Apex | April 14, 2014

New report says four key trends are driving the market for flushable wipes forward.

Flushable wipes range from adult moist toilet tissue and toddler toilet care to feminine hygiene wipes, and the sector is growing all the time. The total flushable wipes market is estimated at 55,720 tons, or about $1.4 billion in sales according to The Future of Flushable Wipes to 2018, a new market report from Smithers Apex.

These sales are mainly driven by convenience, hygiene, performance, cost and customer eco-perception. But what is next for the market as a whole, and what developments will we see over coming years? According to Smithers Apex, there are four top things to look out for in the flushable wipes industry.

A change in nonwoven substrates

The choice and selection of nonwoven substrates for flushable wipes is changing. Why? Mainly due to concerns that historical problems with performance in wastewater systems will lead to unrealistic or excessively difficult governmental regulations. For example, ‘flushable by size’ products have caused problems in the U.S., the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

Equally importantly, petroleum-based non-biodegradable fibers have rapidly increased in price (as has petroleum) to the point that they are now approaching and even surpassing historically expensive biodegradable fibers like rayon and cotton. What was once a trade-off between price and biodegradability has now become much closer and much less of an issue.

Wood pulp, even near its historical high price, still costs less than 50% of the least expensive petroleum-based fiber used in wipes. While the prices of wood pulp, rayon and cotton may increase with time, most experts agree that petroleum-based fibers will definitely increase in price with time, and at rates exceeding those of non-petroleum-based fibers. This has led to a widespread rethink of the substrates used in flushable nonwovens.

Increased use of wood pulp and cotton

Following on from this, a second important trend is the increased use of wood pulp and cotton in flushable wipes. Wood pulp is, and has been, an obvious choice for cost reduction. Historically, airlaid has had an advantage in the ability to incorporate very high levels of wood pulp—commercial products at 85-90% are common—while spunlace and airlace have been limited to around 50% wood pulp. Today, 60-70% wood-containing spunlaces are commercial, and Suominen’s Hydraspun dispersible substrate hydroentangled wetlaid product used in private label moist toilet tissue contains almost 80% pulp.

Wood pulp is the most sustainable raw material used in wipes, and cotton in both airlaid and spunlace nonwovens is still moderately popular with consumers. Producers are also becoming more interested as the price differential between cotton and other fibers like Rayon and polypropylene diminishes; regenerated cotton is even more sustainable, and available at a lower cost than virgin cotton used in nonwoven wipes. It is expected that this material will become more common in the flushable wipes market in the future, as more suppliers produce it.

A move away from ‘flushable by size’ to truly dispersible wipes

Most importantly, there has been a marked move away from ‘flushable by size’ to truly dispersible wipes. In 2001, when Kimberly-Clark attempted to accelerate market growth in the adult moist toilet tissue market with the introduction of Cottonelle Rollwipes, it was the first major commercial dispersible wipe. Their major branded and private label competitors countered with flushable by size products. Rollwipes failed to generate the projected rapid sales increases desired, and within a few years, they disappeared.

Rollwipes, besides being dispersible, were sold as pre-moistened wipes on a roll. There were numerous issues with this format, from technical problems with the required dispenser to marketing issues with the presentation. When sales growth failed to meet projections, Kimberly-Clark eliminated the roll format and sold the wipe itself as a sheeted product in a tub, which was flushable by size. At this point, all major products servicing the adult moist toilet tissue market were flushable by size. Surprisingly, with only modest marketing support, the adult moist toilet tissue segment grew. Today, this segment is the largest sub-segment in the personal care wipes market segment, a high value and growing segment.

The difference between 2001 and 2013 is that adult moist toilet tissue products from Kimberly-Clark, Procter and Gamble and major private label converters today are dispersible not flushable by size. These products meet the INDA/EDANA guidelines on flushability; so this change appears to be driven primarily by concerns about regulatory action, not by consumer demand.

Thermo embossing to hydro embossing

In the past, hydro embossing has had disadvantages in processing speed and emboss quality in lightweight products, it has also required capital investment. Price (volatility and magnitude) for polypropylene fiber led to a major move by nonwovens producers away from this fiber. Procter and Gamble, using spunlace produced with Fibervisions’ trilobal polypropylene fiber, is one of the major holdouts. This then accelerated the move to hydroembossing.

Hydroembossing does not include the thermal bonds usually caused by thermal embossing (these thermal bonds are usually irreversible in wastewater systems); and is therefore ideal for flushable wipes. Now, all natural fiber products are feasible, making biodegradability and flushability an easier target.

Finally, there is a global consumer trend to sustainable products. As economic stress is relieved, the consumer can begin to buy with their conscience again. The developed regions will lead this movement including the U.S., Western Europe and Japan, but even developing markets have consumer segments that value sustainability. Flushable wipes are inherently sustainable products, with almost all residual components ending up as a useful soil amendment rather than a landfill problem.

For more information about The Future of Flushable Wipes to 2018, please contact Cherrie Pickard, +44 (0)1372 802186, cpickard@smithers.com, or Heather Adams, +1 207 781 9632, hadams@smithers.com. Also visit www.smithersapex.com.
blog comments powered by Disqus
  • Free and Clear

    Free and Clear

    Melissa Meisel, Associate Editor||October 17, 2016
    OY-L aims for zero-chemical skin care.

  • Coming Clean on a Host of Issues

    October 17, 2016
    Cleaning Products Conference is set for Nov. 9-11, 2016 in Washington DC.

  • Let the Magic Begin!

    Let the Magic Begin!

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||October 10, 2016
    IFSCC Congress gets underway at Walt Disney World this month.

  • Skin Care of One’s Own

    Skin Care of One’s Own

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||October 3, 2016
    Nu Skin’s ageLOC Me—which melds the worlds of smart-phone technology, efficacious ingredients and personalization

  • Proof Positive

    Proof Positive

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||October 3, 2016
    Testing service providers enable companies to back up their claims and stay in compliance with regulations.

  • Change Is in the Air

    Change Is in the Air

    Doreen Wang, BrandZ ||October 3, 2016
    Technology is changing the personal care market

  • Contract Manufacturing / Private Label Directory

    Contract Manufacturing / Private Label Directory

    October 1, 2016
    Our directory is your source to find a manufacturer to get your product to market.

  • Back to School

    Back to School

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||September 1, 2016
    It may be September, but class was in session this summer during the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s Executive Educ

  • What

    What's In Your Formula?

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||September 1, 2016
    A look at the ingredients beauty brands are using to fuel their formulations and capture consumers’ attention.

  • A Sweet-Smelling Sanctuary

    A Sweet-Smelling Sanctuary

    Melissa Meisel, Associate Editor||September 1, 2016
    Home fragrance is enhanced by aromatic developments in delivery and components.

  • How Green Is Your Surfactant?

    How Green Is Your Surfactant?

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director ||September 1, 2016
    Suppliers offer a range of solutions to help household and personal care product formulators develop formulas

  • New Surfactants

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director ||September 1, 2016
    Here’s a list of new ingredients introduced by surfactant suppliers

  • The International Top 30 Household and Personal Products Companies

  • Special Effects

    Special Effects

    Melissa Meisel, Associate Editor||August 1, 2016
    Fall 2016 color cosmetics reflect light and offer a focus on elements like pigment, slip and wear.

  • Works of Art

    Works of Art

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||August 1, 2016
    These suppliers know that the container can be just as important as the juice to entice luxury shoppers.

  • Silent Partners

    Silent Partners

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||August 1, 2016
    From research & development to logistics to confidentiality, savvy distributors help finished formulators achieve their goals

  • Sustainability is Omnipresent

    Sustainability is Omnipresent

    Christine Esposito , Associate Editor||July 1, 2016
    Industry stakeholders convene in New York City for Organic Monitor’s annual event

  • Perceived Perfection

    Perceived Perfection

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||July 1, 2016
    From primers to pressed powders, facial cosmetics help create the illusion of a flawless complexion.

  • Preserve & Serve

    Preserve & Serve

    Melissa Meisel , Associate Editor||July 1, 2016
    Suppliers with innovative preservatives provide staying power for formulations.

  • Quaternized Guar Is a Natural Solution

    Quaternized Guar Is a Natural Solution

    Tom Schoenberg, Schoenberg Consulting||July 1, 2016
    The polymer has applications in a range of skin and hair care formulas that does not build up on hair with repeated use

  • The Top 50

    The Top 50

    June 30, 2016
    A look at the biggest US companies in the global household and personal products industry.

  • Take Notice

    Take Notice

    Melissa Meisel , Associate Editor||June 1, 2016
    Packaging trends revolve around trendy artwork, eco-conscious materials—and portability is a plus too!

  • Virtual Reality

    Virtual Reality

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||June 1, 2016
    An update on nature-identical ingredients for cosmetics and personal care products.

  • Shiseido Advances in the US

    Shiseido Advances in the US

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||June 1, 2016
    New facility in Windsor, NJ demonstrates its dedication to the US and other markets outside Japan.

  • Get Smart About Your Big Data

    Get Smart About Your Big Data

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||June 1, 2016
    Experts at the IRI Growth Summit explain how to make personal connections with customers.

  • For the Love of Lipids

    For the Love of Lipids

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||June 1, 2016
    AOCS and SCC to deliver a program geared to cosmetic chemists of the important role that fats and oils play in a healthy skin

  • April in Paris

    April in Paris

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||June 1, 2016
    In-Cosmetics sets attendance record in its return to the City of Light.

  • Salon Selectives

    Salon Selectives

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||June 1, 2016
    The inside story about what stylists think about the state of the industry and the state of your products and ingredients.