This is a question consumers currently have difficulty answering. Concerning wet wipes, there has only been a duty of declaration with regards to the ingredients of the lotion until now. Details about the actual fiber materials in the wipe, as we see it in textile products, can be found on the packaging in very rare cases only. This is also the reason why in a recently conducted survey, just one in ten consumers suspected plastic in this product category, whereas the majority of wet wipes in fact contain fossil-based raw materials.

Now that the internet is full of pictures of contaminated beaches, consumers have learnt that plastic does not decompose easily. While most consumers are aware that there are fossil-based materials in plastic bags or PET bottles, the awareness of fossil-based plastic in wet wipes is very low. The “textile” character of wipes suggests a material which, in the associative chain, is connoted with textiles. As a consequence, most consumers tend to link wet wipes rather with cotton than with plastic. There is still a considerable lack of knowledge in this field.

Even when purchasing disposable products, an increasing number of consumers is putting higher emphasis on the importance of an ecologically responsible way of life. Consumers are aware of the power they wield and are demanding that brands and retailers take their wishes seriously. For many people, living in a sustainable way is not just an empty phrase but has become their paradigm. They try to act and behave in a way which does not contribute to the burden on the world. At the same time research and new technical possibilities have provided a range of products to the market which make our everyday lives much easier. In particular, practical hygiene and cleaning products, which support an active and free lifestyle are gaining in popularity. In this respect, wet wipes are named as one example among many others.

“We all enjoy convenience in our daily lives”, admits Jürgen Eizinger, Vice President Nonwovens at Lenzing AG. “Particularly in the area of single-use products, such as wipes, it is extremely important to make an informed purchase decision. A trend towards greater transparency regarding the fabric composition of wipes is becoming apparent, but there is still a long way to go until consumers can choose a sustainable alternative at just a glance.”

This call for raw material transparency in wipes will soon be answered, namely not just as a sign of goodwill on behalf of the manufacturer, but rather in the course of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive. As of 2021, the member states of the EU will have to have laid down individual measures for the responsible handling of single-use products and the reduction of single-use plastic in their national laws. One concrete point of the EU regulation is the declaration of plastic in wet wipes and an indication of how to dispose of these in a proper way.

These developments enhance interest in cellulosic alternatives to fossil-based raw materials. Anyone who can wave a certificate confirming that the wet wipe was made of a renewable raw material and is completely biodegradable to boot, has a clear advantage over potential competitors.

Pioneers such as the Dutch wipes brand ‘Sweeps®’ have started to build consumer trust by disclosing the fiber material of which the wipes are made on the packaging. By featuring the VEOCEL™ logo on their “Natural wipe to go” wipes-range, they enable consumers to make a sustainable choice simply at a glance, since VEOCEL™ fibers are derived from renewable wood sources and can fully biodegrade.

However, pioneers like Sweeps® are the exception to the rule: Until the EU member states have implemented the Single-Use Plastics Directive and plastic in wet wipes has to be declared, consumers are facing the challenge to know what their wipes are made of.

The upcoming initiative “#It’s in our hands” has the power to change this: By featuring facts, news as well as input from experts and opinion leaders, the awareness initiative will guide consumers to enjoy convenience with a clear conscience by opting for green materials and biodegradable solutions. This initiative is hosted by VEOCEL™ in partnership with brands and retailers and will be presented at the Sustainable Retail Summit 2019 in Berlin.

This post was written and contributed by:

Jürgen Eizinger
Vice President of Global Business Management Nonwovens
Lenzing AG