The first EDANA life cycle assessment (LCA) project started in June 1993, with 66 member companies participating. The single-use diaper was chosen as reference for the project since it involved the most EDANA members at the various stages of the value chain. The companies involved confirmed that what was crucial to the success of the LCA method was the ability to collect reliable data.
Other subsequent LCAs carried out by EDANA have included:
- An eco profile of polyester nonwovens for roofing membranes;
- Life cycle data for incontinence products;
- Waste management alternatives for diapers;
- A trend analysis of the environmental performance of baby diapers and incontinence products;
- A Life Cycle Assessment of superabsorbent polymer (SAP); and
- Further LCAs on both baby and industrial wipes.
EDANA has most recently conducted LCAs for both baby diapers and incontinence products, updating a previous 2005 LCA Trend Analysis. Both product categories show different developments in terms of product design with a reduced environmental impact.
For baby diapers, a larger weight decrease was observed. The type of incontinence products chosen in this second follow-up (all-in-one incontinence products) are influenced by test methods in public procurement policies and national reimbursement schemes, which make weight reduction a bigger challenge. However, for the full assortment of incontinence products on the market, a wide variety of product types, such as light incontinence products, belted products and pant products ensures that the industry can provide products best suited for the intended purpose, resulting in an efficient use of resources.
The latest EDANA LCA study on baby diaper products shows that the weight of an average baby diaper has been reduced by nearly 50%, from 65 grams in 1987 to just 33 grams in 2013. This has been achieved through many changes in product design and the reduced use of pulp and PE (polyethylene) films. Consistent with previous diaper LCA studies, the production of raw materials is the key driver behind all environmental indicators, making product weight reduction the method of choice to improve the environmental profile of products.
The product weight reduction is achieved by the reduced use of pulp, PE film and other polymeric materials such as adhesives and fastening systems. To some extent,it is counterbalanced with an increase in use of nonwovens and superabsorbents. The superabsorbents added are needed to keep or even improve the absorption capacity when pulp is taken away. Taking into account the combined effects of the various parameters, the improved environmental performance for the all-in one product between 1995 and 2013 ranged between 10 and 72%.