Bio-based napkin revolution

Swedish Duni sells napkins containing lemon peel, corn and other food industry residues to its international customers. The napkins generate lower carbon dioxide emissions than their predecessors, are fossil-free and decompose in the home compost. Behind this groundbreaking product is a bio-based solution from OrganoClick, developed with the support of BioInnovation and others.

A few years ago, Duni launched the world’s first fossil-free and fully compostable premium napkins for the restaurant industry. Now, some may wonder why that is, as napkins are of course made of paper. However, many more luxurious napkins, like the ones we often get in hotels and restaurants, contain plastic that makes them soft and durable. However, if those napkins end up in landfills or in nature, they break down into microplastics.

Linus Lemark. Photo: Duni.

It is this hidden plastic that Duni has replaced with a bio-based binder made from corn, lemon peel and other food industry waste streams. The binder was developed by OrganoClick with support from BioInnovation, and others.

– Duni is the European market leader in napkins and OrganoClick’s bio-based binder is used in the lion’s share of our best-selling Bio Dunisoft napkins, which are sold in 25 countries. By replacing the plastic, the napkin has up to 20 per cent fewer carbon emissions and breaks down in the home compost. We now replace tonnes of plastic in several hundred million napkins every year, says Linus Lemark, Business Area Manager for Dining Solutions at Duni.

Can replace plastic in more nonwoven products

The napkins are made of nonwoven, a multifaceted material in that middle ground between textiles and paper, that often contains hidden plastic. It is used for everything from coffee filters and cloth wipes to garden netting fabrics.

Plastic free binders. Photo: OrganoClick.

– Today, one of our biggest commercial successes is our binders which can replace plastic in different types of nonwoven products. We are alone in having a completely bio-based binder that allows nonwoven to be 100 per cent biodegradable, fossil-free and compostable, and also allows more products to go back into the cycle of recovery. The BioInnovation projects have been an important part of the product development, says Mårten Hellberg, CEO of OrganoClick.

The BioInnovation project that has been particularly important in developing a binder to replace plastic in nonwoven included OrganoClick, nonwoven producer Sharpcell, and Finess Hygiene. Finess Hygiene is one of Sweden’s largest producers of dry wipes. The collaboration between the stakeholders continues in order to adapt the binder to their particular product, and the next test run is scheduled for spring 2024.

Huge market potential in bio-based products

The very basis of OrganoClick’s business is an innovative green chemistry, which involves modifying the cellulose fibre so that it can perform the same function as hidden plastics and fossil chemicals in materials such as nonwoven, paper and wood. For example, this chemistry can also act as a binder in composites and protect wood and textiles from moisture and fire. Today, OrganoClick’s green chemistry can be found in everything from climate-smart funeral coffins to sound absorbers.

Mårten Hellberg. Photo: Anders G. Warne.

– When we started in 2007, environmental certifications were something that companies thought were “nice to have”. Today we know that there is a huge market potential in bio-based and circular products, and sustainability is a serious business. The first major shift happened after the Paris conference of 2015, and the interest in bio-based solutions really took off with the EU Plastics Directive. Then circularity appeared on the agenda as well, and also the way in which we bio-based companies can contribute to it. We will see more regulatory changes that will push this development, says Mårten Hellberg.

New project seeks cheaper raw material

Development projects continue to be important in strengthening OrganoClick’s competitiveness. In a newly launched BioInnovation project, they are investigating whether fungal protein can be a possible source of raw material for their binders.
– It’s a good example of the kind of high-risk project that can be carried out thanks to financial support, and it’s an important project because it involves finding simpler and cheaper raw material solutions. After all, we are competing with well-established fossil-based chemistry, so support that allows us to take risks and invest in innovation is incredibly important, says Mårten Hellberg.

Finally, back to Linus Lemark at Duni:

– We want to lead the sustainable transition in our industry and show our customers the way ahead. Regarding napkins specifically, there is a real challenge since many people do not realise that they often contain plastic. So, an important part of bringing this product to market has been having the courage to lead the way, and educating customers about the benefits. Something which is particularly pleasing is that here we have an innovation driven by two Swedish companies.

Read more about the BioInnovation project 100% biobased and biodegradable airlaid nonwoven.