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The Rupp Report: The U-turn Of The Man-made Fiber Industry

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

The 48th Dornbirn Man-made Fibers Congress - the most important global congress for man-made fibers - took place Sept. 16-18, 2009, in Dornbirn, Austria. In spite of the current financial problems, more than 600 participants attended the event. The outcome of this congress was amazing, and the presented papers and developments reflected a total new approach for the synthetic and artificial fibers industry that was unthinkable some years ago. Responsibility, sustainability, environmental consciousness - that is, climate change and reduced raw material consumption - were the topics. On top of that, a new word made a great impact: flushability.

Less Would Be More

There were some 100 lectures referring to new developments in fibers: fibers for medical and hygiene textiles; fibers for composites, transportation and professional wear; as well as fibers and fabrics related to climate change. As usual, the papers were presented simultaneously in three different halls. The only negative point of the event was the number of papers. Less would most likely be more, to have time for questions and discussions. A panel-like organization could probably help.

Positive Signs From China
In addition to the traditional long-term cooperation with Brussels-based CIRFS, European Man-made Fiber Association, the organizers also deepened the cooperation with the China Chemical Fibers Association (CCFA). As a guest speaker, Prof. Zheng Zhiyi, CCFA chairman, said China's gross domestic product increased more than 7 percent compared to the same period of last year, mainly owing to increasing domestic demand. China currently uses more than 60 percent of the world's man-made fiber production capacity.

Reversed Situation
One thing is certain and was quite unbelievable to be seen: the man-made fiber industry learned the lesson. The "inner circle" of Dornbirn was known for a long time to neglect the environmental impact of mankind, not only from the fiber industry. This time in Dornbirn, the man-made fiber industry attacked the natural fiber industry in three different areas: production; finishing; and environmental impact.

Production

One strong issue was the water and chemical consumption of natural fibers, mainly cotton. It will be interesting to see how the cotton industry faces these declarations and arguments. Friedrich Weninger, the new president of the Austrian Man-made Fibers Institute and member of the Management Board of Austria-based Lenzing AG, said in his remarkable opening speech that "responsibility has to become the key issue of economic, social and environmental activities." He mentioned four points referring to production and responsibility:
•    Manage successfully.
•    Include and involve others.
•    Commit and implement.
•    Care about the environment and the future.

Finishing
For centuries, finishing was the crucial point of contamination of the environment, especially effluent water. Over the last few years, not only have the machinery manufacturers developed equipment with less chemical consumption and lower liquor ratios, but also new fibers are using up to 50-percent less energy, water and dyestuffs. Viscose producers argued in many papers that this fiber is much more environmentally friendly than any other fiber.

Environmental Impact

Weninger also said that mankind is the only species on the planet that harms the environment. Future production must take economic and social sustainability into consideration. He also mentioned that any fiber production should be environmentally friendly. Of course, coming from Lenzing, he argued that viscose production is today the most environmentally friendly way of producing fibers considering its renewable raw material - wood.

In forthcoming issues, Textile World , Textiles Panamericanos and Textile World Asia will report more details of this remarkable congress.

Flushability
Yes, the word "flushability": In modern times, wet wipes became commodities and are used almost around the globe: Most people dispose of wet wipes by flushing them down the toilet, causing the clogging of wastewater treatment plants. Modern wipes must not only have functional requirements but also have great flushability to dissolve as fast as possible between the house and wastewater treatment. This is another example of the interesting challenges of the future for the textile industry.

The next Dornbirn Man-made Fibers Congress will take place Sept. 15-17, 2010.

September 22, 2009

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