Closing the loop

Global challenges, and the UN Sustainable Development Agenda to meet them, are not limited to poverty and inequality. Efforts for social and economic progress can no longer be seen in isolation from climate and environmental factors. Increasingly, sustainability is part of both corporate and non-profit agendas. Concepts such as the circular economy are becoming catalysts for new business models, partnerships and innovations.

A general challenge for the personal hygiene sector is finding business models that allow both collection and separation of the different materials contained in a product. Moreover, there needs to be a market for what is recycled. “This is a challenge in the area of baby diapers, for example, where bacterial concerns make materials recycling difficult. At present the best solution is energy recovery from incineration, but we’re working on trying to find other solutions,” says Kersti Strandqvist, Senior Vice President Group Sustainability at Essity.

Alternative solutions are emerging, not least in Europe, where the EU Circular Economy agenda puts pressure on member states to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill or for incineration. Methods for recycling of absorbent hygiene products such as baby diapers, feminine hygiene products and incontinence products have been developed, but have only recently started to become technically viable and implemented, for example by companies in the UK and Italy.

The EU puts pressure on member states to reduce waste.”

Circular economy

Circular economy is essentially about transitioning from a linear economic model – in which things are manufactured, used and then thrown away – to a system where products and materials retain their value as much as possible. This means that products or materials that have reached the end of their life cycle should be used to create additional value in another product’s life cycle. Resource-efficiency is key and we should use as little non-renewable materials as possible and minimize waste. It also means using renewable energy and bio-based resources, as well as designing products for resource-efficiency, recovery and recycling.

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Mother with her kids and sanitary products in the bathroom (photo)