Studies show that sustainability concerns influence consumer buying decisions. In 2017 there was 10.1 million tons of nonwovens produced globally. That’s 270 billion square meters totaling $43 billion worth of textile money. Of that, Michael Savarie says, only about 37 percent of it was classified as sustainable. Saverie, sustainability manager at Piana Nonwovens LLC, Cartersville, Georgia, spoke at IFAI Expo’s Advanced Textiles Conference in Nashville.
“What does sustainable mean?” asks Savarie. “It can mean anything from recycled, regenerative, OekoTex certified—all those aspects that make it what we call sustainable.”
In this current economy, manufacturers are unable to get materials they need—yet they are throwing away millions of tons of materials, so “Why are we throwing these materials away?” he asks
The reason is the so-called linear economy. Products are manufactured, used by consumers and most often thrown away. “In this linear economy, we don’t capture the value of these textiles at the end of their lives, because we have no way of actually getting those materials back,” he says.
But now manufacturers are talking about following the circular economy. That infrastructure—which requires both education and legislation—enables manufacturers to reclaim materials that can be processed and reused, significantly reducing material cost and waste. “It means we can use certain materials that can be recycled after the fact and actually bring back and use once again—if they have a recovery system in place,” he says.
More companies are beginning to do this with plastics and with woven materials. Piana Nonwovens, for example has created the first fully circular foam alternative called V-Smart that can replace the foam cushions in chairs and sofas. Typically, foam is either thrown away or ground up to be used in carpet underlays.
“Companies like Procter & Gamble are working with researchers in Michigan to reclaim diapers and reuse those as adhesives,” Savarie said. “There are some pretty crazy technologies out there that are driving the circular economy of nonwoven material and giving it another life.”