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Ari Borg
Ari Borg
Global Fluff Business and Strategic Projects Director
TT: How do you envision the future of sustainability in the hygiene products industry, and what role does innovation play in it?

With a growing global population and improved living standards, there is an urgent and ever-increasing need for sustainable products worldwide and particularly in absorbent hygiene products.
Integrating sustainability and innovation is the key to driving this industry-wide transformation to align with evolving consumer trends. This drive is exemplified by our creation: Eucafluff, a renewable-source raw material with a smaller carbon footprint.

 
TT: How do you think consumers’ attitudes towards sustainable products have changed over the years, and how does this affect your strategic decisions?

Consumers now expect that their products are sustainably sourced. They hold the companies they buy from to account and are willing to change their buying habits to align with their values. This is especially evident in developed markets, but we are also seeing this trend globally.
As a company that works closely with nature, Suzano has long been committed to working with the environment rather than against it and improving our sustainability processes at every stage of our tree planting and manufacturing processes. We are pleased that we are aligned with consumers creating products like Eucafluff and others such as textiles, BlueCup, GreenBag and Loop, as well as creating wood-based fibre together with Spinnova, an innovative Finnish materials technology company. They have the potential to stimulate the development of a lower-carbon economy, which is instrumental to combat the climate crisis and reduce pressure on natural resources.

TT: Can you provide insights on how the pandemic affected the hygiene products industry and how you navigated through these changes?

Companies worldwide are increasingly looking to enhance the utilisation of raw materials, such as Eucafluff, to fulfil their sustainability objectives. This trend was already underway before the pandemic but has gained further momentum as companies concentrated more on addressing the climate and economic challenges impacting society.

TT: Could you explain how the idea of Eucafluff came about and the innovation process that led to its creation?

Around 2007, we sought alternative projects to replace print and writing products as digital platforms emerged. Given the shift from paper, we pondered the potential of producing fluff. Initially, experts believed substituting eucalyptus pulp for hardwood pulp in hygiene products was impossible – same situation happened in the 1960s, when Suzano proved to the world that paper production from eucalyptus had become possible.
While early R&D investigations appeared discouraging, we realised we could draw from our past success of how we originally introduced eucalyptus pulp in the market, blending softwood with hardwood pulp. This untried method within AHP absorbent cores presented an opportunity. We decided to incrementally increase the hardwood fluff ratio as we gained insights into its application. Starting with 10 per cent substitution of long fibre fluff with eucalyptus fibres in sanitary pads, we progressed to 30 per cent, 50 per cent, and now, in products like bed pads, pet pads, baby pants, and sanitary napkins, we can utilise 100 per cent eucalyptus fluff pulp.

TT: Why did Suzano choose eucalyptus as the primary resource for making Eucafluff?

During the 1950s, Suzano was a pioneer in adopting eucalyptus fibre for paper production technology. Overcoming industry scepticism, we demonstrated the feasibility of producing remarkably high-quality paper pulp from eucalyptus, with higher efficiency and lower costs. This innovation revolutionised the entire industry. Today, eucalyptus pulp is the predominant variety in the market, steadily gaining relevance due to the limitations of softwood fibre sources.
Prior to the development of Eucafluff, Suzano was the leading eucalyptus pulp producer in the world, so making a fluff from eucalyptus was the natural choice for us.

TT: What are the unique characteristics of eucalyptus fluff pulp that make it ideal for absorbent hygiene products?

Eucafluff-based absorbent panels offer end consumers a heightened level of comfort, discretion, and flexibility. This is because of the distinctive morphology of Suzano’s eucalyptus hardwood, which is smaller, thinner, and highly compressible. These core panels also outperform in terms of liquid retention, providing dryer skin to consumers. Also, by creating thinner absorbent cores, we help the industry to reduce packaging material consumption and logistic costs.

TT: Could you share about the land use benefits that eucalyptus fluff pulp provides compared to other types of pulp?

Eucafluff’s land use footprint is 82 per cent less when compared to American pine fluff. Suzano’s eucalyptus farms are more efficient than a pine farm from Southeastern US, with 328 cubic metres of wood being produced in a single hectare against pine’s 236 cubic metres.
It also takes seven years to grow a harvestable eucalyptus tree in Brazil versus 27 years for a pine tree in the Southeastern US. As a consequence, eucalyptus has almost four planting cycles in Brazil during one pine planting cycle.
With the high technology implemented at Suzano’s eucalyptus plantations and a greater focus on sustainability in all production and logistics stages, today, we can produce more fluff in less time, consuming fewer natural resources and reducing the environmental impact along the entire production chain.

TT: Suzano is known for its commitment to sustainability. How does Eucafluff align with this commitment?

Sustainability is at the core of each of Suzano’s business. Eucalyptus is a renewable, wood-based product which offers an alternative input to fossil-based products with an overall smaller carbon footprint.
Guided by our vision of shaping the future, Suzano has expanded its role across the value chain and society at large to promote significant changes in production and consumption habits, contributing to the establishment of the regenerative economy. These commitments guide our efforts when developing new products as well and are aligned to one of our long-term goals: offer 10 million tons of products of renewable origin to replace plastic and other petroleum-based products by 2030.
Eucafluff was developed with the purpose of providing a more efficient and sustainable solution across the value chain. We are the first link in a long supply chain, and we know that our customers are increasingly committed to taking responsibility for their product’s sustainability impacts. The Eucafluff life cycle assessment demonstrates that our product delivers favourable results in several environmental impact categories, with lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower consumption of water and fossil fuels, and requiring less land use for its production.

TT: Can you discuss more about the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and why you consider it the best tool for assessing the environmental impacts of Eucafluff?

The LCA is the most comprehensive tool to evaluate environmental impacts throughout a product’s lifecycle. For Eucafluff, we focused on its development and production stages – from wood acquisition to fluff delivery. Excluded were manufacturing, usage, and disposal stages, as they remain constant regardless of fluff origin.
Comparing Suzano’s eucalyptus fluff pulp to pine fluff pulp from the southeastern US (85 per cent of global production), our LCA highlights Eucafluff’s significant advantages: lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduced water and fossil fuel consumption, and minimised land use.

TT: Could you elaborate on the third-party verification process conducted by KPMG during the LCA of Eucafluff?

Our LCA aimed to compare Eucafluff’s environmental impact with pine fluff produced in the SE USA. Following industry best practice, we sought an independent review to ensure analysis reliability. KPMG’s role was to verify the methodology and final analysis’s adherence to ISO standards. The Eucafluff LCA was rooted in ISO 14040 and 14044 guidelines. We utilised Suzano’s reported data for eucalyptus and fluff pulp production, alongside publicly available secondary data for pine and pine fluff pulp from the southeastern US.

TT: Your LCA study found that Eucafluff has 82 per cent lower impact than pine fluff in the land use category. What impact do you think this finding will have on the industry?

We believe it will demonstrate that planted eucalyptus is a crop that can be grown sustainably and at scale, thereby providing a solution to global demand for fluff without impacting the environment. By growing a more efficient crop in terms of land use, it also helps reduce the pressure for land needed for other important agricultural crops.
Every time we share this data with customers, the response is consistently impactful. Moreover, when we convey the significance of the 82 per cent reduction in land use as a tangible benefit in the end product supply, it is easier for the industry to understand how leveraging Eucafluff’s lowered footprint can lead to a corresponding reduction in their own end product’s environmental impact.

TT: How does the use of Eucafluff contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of end products?

Eucafluff offers a significantly lower carbon footprint in comparison to pine fluff produced in the US. This is due to a variety of factors, including the use of renewable and cleaner energy matrix. In fact, more than 85 per cent of the energy matrix used in the production process comes from renewable sources such as black liquor, a residue from pulp production. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions during the production and logistics of Eucafluff are 30 per cent lower when compared with Pinus fluff produced from pine in the Southeast of the US.
Eucafluff’s LCA findings place this new raw material as a product with high potential to help companies address one of the biggest challenges they face today: to reduce the environmental impact of their end products and be part of the solution to the climate crisis.

TT: Can you discuss the potential impact of using Eucafluff on the packaging and logistics resources of the industry?

Eucalyptus fibres have shorter lengths and thinner wall cells than long-length pine fibres. As a result, absorbent pads made with Eucafluff are more compacted, resulting in thinner end products.
Through tests performed at Optima’s laboratory, comparing packages of baby diapers with 100 per cent Eucafluff with diapers made with pine fluff, we could prove that it was entirely possible to reduce the size of the package and, consequently, to reduce the consumption of plastic material used in the packaging of the products.
Diapers using Eucafluff showed a reduction of 18 per cent (in sq metres) in the consumption of packaging material. In addition to evident sustainability benefits, the hygiene industry stands to gain from both production and logistics cost savings. It is crucial to highlight that these gains extend beyond industry cost efficiency, holding the potential to advance sustainability objectives by harmonising environmental impacts throughout the production chain.

TT: What challenges did you face in the production of Eucafluff and how were they addressed?

Opting for the transformation of an existing wood-free coated paper machine was a groundbreaking decision, especially considering the industry’s lack of knowledge in hardwood fluff pulp production at the time. The machine’s adaptability was crucial, allowing seamless transitioning between fluff pulp and coated paper production to match varying demands.
The conversion of the originally 1960s-built PM5 included transitioning the original double screen forming section to a single screen, reconfiguring the press felt circuit, altering the tip passage, and integrating a steam box, among other modifications.
Our approach was firmly rooted in the ‘learn by doing’ philosophy. Following the conversion, the industrial team continuously fine-tuned the machine and processes to elevate productivity and product quality. Over seven years since initiating eucalyptus fluff production, we have evolved into experts, mastering the technology for hardwood fluff production.

TT: Lastly, what are Suzano’s future plans for Eucafluff, and how do you see it influencing the absorbent hygiene products industry in the coming years?

Eucafluff is strategically poised to expand its presence in the adult diaper segment, capitalising on the immense potential and increasing demand for sustainable hygiene products in this demographic.
As sustainability becomes an integral consideration for consumers worldwide, there is a rising need for eco-friendly alternatives across various industries, including hygiene. Eucafluff with its exceptional sustainability profile and superior performance, is well-positioned to meet this demand. By leveraging our innovative product, we can provide sustainable solutions that cater to the growing market.

Interviewer:  Shilpi Panjabi
Published on: 08/09/2023

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of technicaltextile.net.


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