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Is the Polypropylene Non-Woven Fabric Eco-Friendly?

Ally Nelson |

We imagine that there aren’t people out there who don’t know what is polypropylene. After all, this thermoplastic polymer resin is one of the most popular plastic varieties in the world, with plenty of commercial, industrial, and even fashion applications. However, when it comes to polypropylene non-woven fabric and the escalating environmental concerns, we have to discuss the eco-friendliness of non-wovens, as they are some of the most popular eco-friendly alternatives to other materials. So, today, we will analyze non-woven fabrics, polypropylene, and their environmental advantages.

What is Polypropylene?

Polypropylene is a variety of plastic, as we already mentioned, with the addendum that it is a plastic variety that takes one of the smallest tolls on the environment. If you remember our discussion regarding polyethylene vs. polypropylene, we said that the latter was becoming more and more popular across a handful of industries due to its properties.

As a quick reminder, let’s see some of the best features of polypropylene:

  • Polypropylene fabrics are incredibly durable and resistant to wear and tear, making them a favorite in the manufacturing, industrial, and upholstery industries;
  • Besides being able to withstand repeated and prolonged use, polypropylene is also stain-resistant;
  • It features the lowest thermal conductivity of all synthetic or natural fibers, making it an excellent insulator;
  • Polypropylene fibers are resistant to sunlight and, when dyed, it is fade-resistant;
  • This fabric has increased resilience to fabric bacteria and other microorganisms – just like its synthetic fabric brethren; as you probably know already, polypropylene has increased endurance in the face of moths, mold, rot, or mildew;
  • It is hard to ignite polypropylene fabrics, although it is combustible, yet not highly flammable. In the presence of specific additives, polypropylene becomes flame-retardant.
  • As one might easily guess, polypropylene is also resistant to water.

Given these properties and many more, you can quickly figure out why polypropylene is a popular material with plenty of applications and benefits. Some of the most common uses of this material include the fashion and sports industry, military applications, the packaging industry, medical and health applications, automotive, consumer products, etc.

The question of whether polypropylene is eco-friendly or not is not new. Fortunately, science and experience proved already that this material is among the most sustainable ones we have. While the picture is not perfect yet – many polypropylene items still reach landfills instead of recycling plants – the world is making steps forward.

On the other hand, we witness today the rise of the non-woven fabric (non-woven polypropylene). The non-woven fabric also comes with plenty of benefits and applications, from the famous non-woven bags for shopping to the more sophisticated consumer products or glamorous fashion accessories. But what is non-woven polypropylene, and is the non-woven fabric eco-friendly? Let’s find out!

What is Non-Woven Polypropylene?

Non-woven fabric is a material defined as

Sheet or web structures bonded together by entangling fiber or filaments (and by perforating films) mechanically, thermally or chemically.

Non-woven polypropylene fabric is, similarly, a thermoplastic polymer – like polypropylene – but made to look non-woven. One of its major applications is non-woven bags for shopping. Nevertheless, the non-woven fabrics gain more and more popularity in the fashion industry.

With so many plastic bags ban policies sweeping the world in their attempt to reduce plastic pollution, non-woven bags (either for shopping or for fashion) are becoming the norm. But are non-woven bags as eco-friendly as advertised?

Why Are Non-Woven Bags Environmentally Sustainable?

As we all know, the true sustainability of a product or a fabric resides in its recyclability and reusability. Just like canvas shopping bags or jute bags, non-woven carriers are reusable for very long periods. Polypropylene is recyclable, and so are non-woven polypropylene tote bags for shopping or drawstring bags for sports or leisure.

After years of use, you can throw away a broken, non-woven polypropylene office bag, for instance. As long it is collected and appropriately sorted, you can rest assured it will enter the recycling process and give life to a new item.

Non-woven bags for shopping come with plenty of eco-friendly advantages that are not available to plastic bags or natural fibers, for instance:

  • You can wash them and disinfect them without worrying about their resilience; as long as you wash it in cold water, your washing machine will not take its toll on it;
  • You can spray your non-woven bags with disinfectants and anti-bacterial substances for enhanced safety, especially during these times of global health concerns;
  • Both woven and non-woven polypropylene comes from recycled materials (plastic), so it is easy to understand why non-woven shopping bags come with high levels of sustainability. They are products of recycling and make products of recycling in their turn.

Before we move on to the next reason why non-woven bags are the sustainable answer to plastic bags, we have to say that no plastic whatsoever is biodegradable or ecologically friendly.

However, as you probably know, some synthetics can take 400-500 years to break down, leaching harmful toxins into the ground and water sources.

On the other hand, polypropylene and non-woven polypropylene take only up to 30 years to degrade.

While they do release some toxins in the air or the soil, these levels are more acceptable and more manageable in comparison to other types of plastics.

Now that we covered this topic, it is time to discuss the fabrication of non-woven bags or other fashion items. It is essential to emphasize the subject, as manufacturing is a crucial criterion when deciding whether a material is sustainable or not.

What Makes Non-Woven Fabrics More Sustainable than Other Types of Plastic

In the lifecycle of non-woven fabrics, there is little consumption of energy or carbon dioxide. Moreover, in the manufacturing process of polypropylene, there is no Bisphenol A. It is a chemical that worries people and health specialists for quite some time now.

With its lower density, polypropylene also requires less resin (up to 1/3 less) than other plastics to create any application. In this way, the production of polypropylene and its non-woven subsequent varieties reduce the quantity of non-renewable resources necessary in the manufacturing process.

Another reason why the non-woven fabric is more sustainable than other plastic varieties is the waste-management part of its lifecycle. Since it is reusable, recyclable, and less toxic than other materials, polypropylene and non-woven fabric lower the burden of waste management.

As an intermediary conclusion, non-woven tote bag and other items (we will discuss in the next moments) are not perfect from an ecological standpoint. Their fabrication process includes the use of both renewable and non-renewable resources. In terms of waste management, the world needs to be more conscious about recycling, even the everyday non-woven worn-out grocery shopping bag, etc. However, there is a reason why the non-woven fabric is among the most popular alternative materials out there when it comes to eco-friendly fashion.

Non-Woven Fabric Sustainable Applications

You probably know by now that one of the most widespread applications of non-woven polypropylene is shopping bags, fashion tote bags, and purses, sports backpacks, etc.

However, before we move on to explain why and how you should wear more non-woven clothes and accessories, we have to draw attention to a crucial element. According to experts and statistics, polypropylene non-woven fabric is going to gain a massive portion of the market across multiple industries.

According to a study published by the Global Markets Insight,

the Polypropylene Nonwoven Fabrics Market size was valued at $27 billion in 2019 and is projected to surpass $55 billion by 2026. The growth of polypropylene (PP) non-woven fabrics market is driven by the rapidly rising demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as ventilators triggered by the unprecedented spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world. These products provide a number of benefits to consumers, including bacteria inhibition, adsorption, filtration, and warmth. These benefits, along with its waterproof nature, are likely to impel the polypropylene non-woven fabrics market share to more than USD 10 billion by the end of 2026.

 In case you wondered, non-woven polypropylene was and still is one of the key-materials to manufacture face masks, protective gear for doctors, for instance, and other types of equipment and accessories used not only in medicine but also in agriculture.

The personal care industry is both the driver and the beneficiary of the non-woven fabrics’ rise to popularity as of late. As experts note,

High product demand from the personal care and hygiene industry for the manufacturing of sanitary products for babies, women, and adults is projected to propel industry growth. Rising consumer awareness about personal hygiene has resulted in an increased demand for sanitary napkins, diapers, incontinence products, and dry and wet wipes, thereby driving the market. Increasing demand for protective clothing is also expected to have a positive impact on market development. These products offer high standards of protection, barrier qualities, and prevent penetration of dust particles and microorganisms.

The ethical fashion industry was, nevertheless, always a step ahead in using and promoting non-woven bags and other recycled materials. So, here are some of the most critical fashion items using non-woven fabric and riding the sustainable fashion trends!

Non-Woven Bags

When it comes to bags, non-woven polypropylene is the fabric du jour for a myriad of designs. Some of the most popular items in use or on sale these days include:

Non-woven bags and recycled bags are coming in a diversity of colors, printing and personalization opportunities, and plenty of versatility when it comes to wearing them on a variety of occasions. The same thing is available for clothes and accessories as well!

Clothes and Garments

The non-woven fabric found its rightful place in the fashion industry, becoming the preferred material for:

  • Sportswear;
  • Cold weather/thermal specialty clothes and equipment;
  • Military wear;
  • Sunglasses;
  • Jewelry, and accessories, etc.

Non-woven polypropylene is a lightweight fabric with excellent chemical and physical properties, resilience to abrasion, moisture, and heavy wearing and tearing. Thus, there is no wonder why you will find polypropylene fabrics as part of carpets and rugs, the top layer of diapers, and many other items.

Polyester is now more present than non-woven polypropylene in sports garments, however. It is because the non-woven fabric does not wash thoroughly in hot water and retains odors. But other than that, from medical protective overalls to some of the most fashionable pieces of eco-friendly jewelry, non-woven polypropylene is here to stay.

Bottom Line

We hope we answered the pressing question of whether polypropylene is eco-friendly. Yes, it is more sustainable than other oil byproducts and plastic varieties. In short, here are the reasons why polypropylene and non-woven fabric are less environmentally burdening:

  • Consume less energy and resources to produce;
  • You can get recycled bags made from polypropylene that already went through a recycling process;
  • It is highly durable and resilient to a handful of chemical, mechanical, physical, and even biological factors, making it one of the most reusable fabrics to consider for your eco-friendly lifestyle;
  • In both the production and the disposal steps of its lifecycle, non-woven polypropylene generates fewer waste products;
  • Non-woven fabrics can be ten times more biodegradable than other plastic types;
  • If recycled or disposed of correctly, non-woven products release a significantly lower amount of toxins during burning;
  • Their resilience to bacteria and microorganisms, together with their low production costs, make non-woven fabrics either reusable or affordably disposable in the medical and healthcare field.

Non-woven polypropylene is eco-friendly and widely accessible across many industries. You can enjoy its benefits as a safe, durable, and reliable fabric for your PPE or fashion items. From adopting reusable shopping bags to wearing comfortable apparel, high-end backpacks, fashion office purses, and fabulous jewelry, you can enjoy this fabric’s long lifespan without worrying about the environment.

If you already use non-woven bags or backpacks, reusable grocery bagsclothes, and even shoes or accessories, tell us what you think about these items and the fabric in general! Do you enjoy the non-woven fabric’s properties and ease of use? Share your experiences with this material in the comment section below!