Biodegradable nappies from recycled cardboard

March 13, 2013
Senior Scientist Marjo Määttänen holding a piece of nonwoven manufactured from recycled cardboard. Credit: Antonin Halas

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a process that enables recycled paper and cardboard to be used as a raw material for nonwovens. Hygiene and home care products, such as nappies, sanitary towels and cleaning cloths, are among the many items that can be manufactured from the biodegradable nonwovens. The manufacturing costs of cardboard-based nonwovens are around 20% lower than for nonwovens produced from wood raw materials. The forest industry will be among those likely to benefit from new business opportunities opened up by nonwovens based on recycled paper and cardboard.

Nonwovens are essentially that once used will end up in a landfill site along with other community waste. In the alone, an estimated 10,000 tonnes of nappies and sanitary towels are disposed of each year. The principle raw material in nonwovens manufacture is biologically non-degradable . Up to now, market entry for bio-based nonwovens derived from wood has stalled because of prohibitive production costs.

"Now for the first time we can make use of recycled paper and as a nonwovens raw material," says Ali Harlin, Research Professor at VTT. "The new process means that bio-based nonwovens are now more competitive on price in comparison with plastic-based products. The manufacturing costs of cardboard-based nonwovens are around 20% lower than for nonwovens produced from wood . New business opportunities should open up fairly rapidly, since the technology required for manufacturing nonwovens from is already in place."

Pure cellulose is obtained from cardboard and finally turned into nonwovens. Credit: Antonin Halas

Every year Europe generates around 60 million tonnes of recycled paper, of which cardboard makes up around 40%. The demand exists for new applications and technology for exploiting recycled paper due to the EU's objective of raising the proportion of recycled paper to 70 per cent. The method developed by VTT could extend future for re-use, particularly in the case of cardboard, which is more cost-effective as a raw material than fine paper.

Cleansing the cardboard of filler material, lignin and hemicellulose is a key part of nonwovens manufacture. VTT has matched several fibre-processing methods in the preparation of dissolving pulp to assist in obtaining pure cellulose from the recycled cardboard. The dissolving pulp produced in the research project was regenerated using VTT's patented carbamate technology, which is safer and more environmentally friendly than the traditional viscose process. The nonwovens were manufactured with foam forming technology that uses little water.

Around 1.9 million tonnes of various types of nonwovens were manufactured in Europe in 2011. Strong growth in the global market for nonwovens is forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. Apart from hygiene, health and cleaning products, the nonwovens have further applications in, among others, the construction industry.

Explore further: New test finds diisobutyl phthalate in some cardboard food packaging -- recycling is the issue

Related Stories

Nonwoven, perfectly needled

November 2, 2010

Hardly any other textile is as versatile as nonwoven: it keeps babies’ bottoms dry and protects plants from the sun. In the Gulf of Mexico, special nonwovens soaked up the oil washed up on beaches like blotting paper. ...

Cotton's potential for padding nonwovens

September 9, 2011

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have conducted studies to investigate the use of virgin cotton in nonwoven materials and products. The work was led by cotton technologist Paul Sawhney and his colleagues at ...

Israeli inventor has backers for cardboard bicycle

October 17, 2012

(—Don't tell Izhar Gafni that a bicycle can't be made of cardboard. An Israeli engineer working in industrial design, he was always fascinated by the potential that comes from the interplay of technologies applied ...

Recommended for you

Detecting HIV diagnostic antibodies with DNA nanomachines

October 7, 2015

New research may revolutionize the slow, cumbersome and expensive process of detecting the antibodies that can help with the diagnosis of infectious and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and HIV. An international ...

Organic semiconductors get weird at the edge

October 6, 2015

As the push for tinier and faster electronics continues, a new finding by scientists at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Monash University could help inform the design of the next generation of cheaper, more efficient ...

New polymer creates safer fuels

October 1, 2015

Before embarking on a transcontinental journey, jet airplanes fill up with tens of thousands of gallons of fuel. In the event of a crash, such large quantities of fuel increase the severity of an explosion upon impact. Researchers ...

Researchers print inside gels to create unique shapes

September 30, 2015

(—A team of researchers at the University of Florida has taken the technique of printing objects inside of a gel a step further by using a highly shear-rate sensitive gel. In their paper published in the journal ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.