Fiber material

Smithers publishes study on fiber vs polymer nonwovens

Diapers/diapers, wipes and feminine hygiene products are all vital parts of a global nonwovens industry worth $55.6 billion in 2022. Legislative pressure to reduce plastics to single-use now combines with consumer and brand owner demand for more sustainable nonwovens, including the market deployment of more advanced biodegradable fiber-based substrates.

Smithers’ new expert study – The Future of Fibre-Based Nonwovens vs. Polymers to 2027 – charts the evolution of this trend and the wider impact on nonwovens supply and product performance. Its data shows that in 2022, 100% of the polymers used in polymer-based nonwovens are plastic (PE, PET, PP, Others). Only 64% of fiber-based nonwovens are plastic (PP or PET fibers); rayon, lyocell, bi-component fibers and wood pulp making up the rest.

The market is evenly split: 6.53 million tonnes of fiber-based nonwovens worth $28.7 billion will be produced globally in 2022. This contrasts with a market for polymer nonwovens consuming 6.64 million tons and worth $27 billion; and a much smaller segment for fiber-polymer composite nonwovens projected at 225,200 tons worth $761.9 million.

Fiber-based nonwovens have the technological lead in 2022 to produce sustainable and increasingly completely plastic-free products. This will drive demand acceleration across multiple applications through 2027. To counter this, there is a lack of installed generation capacity, which will require investment to reverse. While equalizing the technical performance of polymeric nonwovens will be a major R&D priority to achieve a more sustainable future in an industry where most consumer formats are still designed for single use.

This will be offset by the introduction of new nonwoven processes and other iterative trends, such as the production of low-grammage substrates. Simultaneously, the market will see wider use of recycled plastics and bioplastics, such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) offering alternative routes to more sustainable nonwovens.

These factors will delay any broader transition to fiber-based nonwovens, giving both sets of materials nearly equal growth rates through 2027 – at 6.9% for fiber-based nonwovens by weight ; 6.8% for polymers.

The majority of the expansion of fiber-based nonwovens will come from drylay lines. Globally, consumption will grow faster than for spunlaid, the main polymeric nonwoven process, although the supply expansion of the airlaid and wetlaid lines will be significantly slower.

The strongest growth in completely plastic-free nonwovens will be in wipes, leveraging the technical legacy that is increasingly diversifying the range of flushable wipe substrates. In contrast, polymer-based disposable nonwovens will continue to increase sales, especially in the mainstream hygiene market, where there are currently no sustainable and competitive alternatives.

In durable nonwovens, the enthusiasm of the fashion industry will see much wider use in garment interlinings. Fiber-based coating substrates also have very positive growth prospects, as nonwovens continue to supplant more expensive and heavier textiles in many segments.

Historical, current, and future outlook for the Polymer- and Fiber-Based Nonwovens Market, along with expert analysis on when and where completely plastic-free nonwovens will be feasible, is available here. now in The Future of Fiber and Polymer-Based Nonwovens to 2027. Its authoritative market data splits the market (Value, Tonnage, and Area) by:
• Raw material (PP polymer, PET polymer, PE polymer, other polymer; PP fiber, PET fiber, rayon/Lyocell, bicomponent fiber, wood pulp, other fiber)
• Non-woven process (Spunlaid, Drylaid, Airlaid, Wetlaid, Other)
• End Use Application (Hygiene, Medical, Baby Wipes, Personal Care Wipes, Home Care Wipes, Industrial Wipes, Other Disposable Nonwovens; Air and Gas Filtration, Liquid Filtration, Garments, Linings, Footwear & Leather, Coating Substrates, Upholstery & Bedding, Flooring, Building & Roofing, Geotextiles & Civil Engineering, Automotive, Agriculture, Other Durable Nonwovens)
• Regional market (Asia, North America, South America, Europe, Rest of the World).