Spunlace nonwovens are critical for producing disinfecting wipes, which are a major tool in fighting Covid-19. According to a new report from Smithers, The Future of Spunlace Nonwovens to 2028
, in addition to disinfecting wipes, the global pandemic drove up demand for medical products like antibacterial wipes, other healthcare wipes, and medical garments that use spunlace. Other products like moist toilet tissue and even baby wipes were also in high demand. Conversely, only a few products like food service wipes and some industrial wipes, were negatively impacted by Covid-19.
Spunlace is ideally suited to producing high strength plastics-free fabrics as consumers and manufacturers seek more sustainable options.
Both spunlace production and most spunlace converting were designated as essential industries by most governments and remained operating throughout 2020-21, so most producers and converters operated at full capacity in 2020-21. Now as Covid-19 is on the decline worldwide, spunlace nonwovens growth is still projected to be higher than any other nonwovens type in volume and value for 2018-28. Spunlace has a projected growth rate for 2023-28 of 8.6% (tonnes), 7.8% (square metres) and 10.1% (value in dollars). This is significantly higher than the averages for all nonwovens which are projected at 6.9% (tonnes), 7.8% (square metres) and 7.1% (value in dollars).
Recent demand adjustments
In 2022, significant corrections in demand were taking place for some spunlace products, like disinfecting wipes. Overproduction in 2020-21 coupled with significant volumes produced but delayed in transport resulted in large inventories, which decreased demand in 2022-23.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and resultant material cost, inflation and global economic issues further hurt spunlace demand in some regions and markets. Demand for spunlace, which had grown by 10.5% from 2019-2020 only grew by 3.5% from 2022-23. Although, projections for spunlace demand remain very positive with average year to year growth rates around 8% through 2028.
The largest end use for spunlace nonwovens by far is wipes; this has not changed in over a decade and is projected to remain through 2028. In 2023, wipes account for 64.8% of all spunlace consumption in tonnes, followed by coating substrates (8.2%), other disposables (6.1%), hygiene (5.4%), and medical (5.0%). All other end uses account for 10.5% in 2023.
The role of plastics reduction
The global drive to reduce and ultimately eliminate plastics in wipes favours spunlace and several new variants that have been designed to produce plastics-free spunlace nonwovens for wipes. These are certain to keep spunlace as the major nonwoven product used in wipes through 2028.