The ageing society – an example of consequences for biomass use for incontinence diapers in Europe
Conference poster, 2011
Increasing life expectancy results in an ageing society in parts of the world. The old of tomorrow are also expected to have higher comfort demands. One likely consequence is an increase in the need of such products as disposable incontinence diapers, which are today partly based on cellulose from forestry. A calculation of the potential increase for heavy incontinence care (assuming the use of disposable incontinence diapers) was made based on the demographic trends for Europe and on the yield from forestry performed under Nordic conditions. The calculation is using a parameterisation known from literature: I = i * m * u * P. It expresses the impact (I, in our case, forest area in ha) as a product of four factors that humans have the ability to change, in our case, i = ha Nordic forest area / kg material, m = kg material / service, u = service / population in Europe, and P = population in Europe. The 'service' is to keep a customer with heavy incontinence dry for a year, assuming that the same fraction of the population above 50 years as today will need heavy incontinence protection. Under these assumptions, the forest area needed for heavy incontinence care in Europe will increase with about 75% until 2050. According to the current work in the WooDi research project, aiming at producing a wood-based diaper, if the petroleum-based material in the absorbent core in the diapers were to be replaced by wood-based, this would increase the needed forest area to about 136%, assuming a 1:1 replacement ratio by weight which seems to be a low estimate. This is still a small share of the total European forest area (0.2%). However, such an increase in wood demand for only one product is not without problems, since forests to a large extent are already utilised, e.g. for timber and pulp and paper production, and since there is an expected increase in demand for bio-based fuels and materials for replacement of fossil-based products, thus competing for either the yield from the forests or for the land area. At the same time, there are rising concerns regarding biodiversity and other ecosystem services in connection to forestry.