“We believe we can play a leading role in improving the world's environmental footprint and in working on solutions to get value from waste according to circular economy principles.”
First featured on Bio-Based World News back in January, the Fater Group has been doing fantastic work in combatting a variety of waste that millions of parents of young children around the world worry about on a daily basis – that of nappies, or diapers as they are also known by in the US. The Italian company achieves this with the use of a multi-purpose bio-refinery that breaks down and recycles the organic content contained within used disposable nappies.
And the man who was interviewed at the beginning of the year is now the subject of the latest 5 Minutes With…, Marcello Somma, the head of R&D and business development at Fater. As readers will quickly learn, Fater’s work extends beyond just the recycling of the humble nappy, and Marcello explains to Dave Songer how – with the backing of some world-renowned brands – the company does what it does, where he sees Fater fit in the bio-economy and why Britain and The Netherlands are a constant source of inspiration for him.
Dave Songer (DS): The Fater Group has got a really interesting story – can you tell me a little bit more about what the company does?
Marcello Somma (MS): Fater is an Italian company, a joint venture between Procter & Gamble and Angelini Group. It manufactures and distributes the brand products ACE Neoblanc and Comet in 39 countries in Western European and CEEMEA (Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa) markets. In Italy, the company has been expanding the market of personal hygiene products since the late 60s and it now produces and sells brand products such as nappies, or diapers in the US, Pampers and sanitary products LINES, LINES Specialist and Tampax.
Bio-based products are the future, and it’s something we’re also investing into. To extract even more value from the secondary raw materials recovered by the used absorbent hygiene products, we’re leading Embraced, the EU-funded, BBI JU initiative that involves a 13-strong consortium of companies to demonstrate the efficiency of an integrated bio-refinery model – based on the enhancement of our cellulosic fraction – to produce biologically-based polymers and fertilisers.
DS: Head of R&D sounds like a fascinating job, what do you most enjoy about it?
MS: I enjoy the beauty of working together with a great team of professionals on cutting-edge technologies that eliminates the trade-off between functional performance and environmental impact, while also improving the lives of millions of people around the world.
DS: What has been your biggest professional challenge?
MS: I had many fabulous challenges in my career, but I believe that, so far, the latest promises to have a lasting impact. To date, used absorbent hygiene products, including diapers, feminine pads and incontinence products have ended up in landfills or burnt in incinerators. As a company that produces those products and has leadership shares, we feel the responsibility and we believe we can play a leading role in improving the world's environmental footprint of them on one hand, and in working on solutions to get value from waste according to circular economy principles.
Every year, Fater invests around 4% of its turnover on research and development for the creation of innovative and more sustainable products: over the past 20 years, the weight of baby diapers has been reduced by 45%, packaging by 68% and the weight of incontinence pads by 19%. But that was not enough.
As of 2008, we started the development of a technology that in 2018 could be reproduced at an industrial scale. That was to recycle 100% of used absorbent hygiene products, recovering high value, secondary raw materials such as cellulose, plastics and a super-absorbent polymer, which can all be used in a variety of new manufacturing processes. This innovative technology is currently protected worldwide by more than 100 patents and is the first of its kind in the world. More importantly, it delivers benefits for:
- The environment – in Italy alone, the usage of our technology would eliminate an amount of used diapers as big as two of Rome’s Coliseum, or reduce CO2 emissions by an amount equal to that produced by 100,000 cars every year;
- The citizens, whom can use the best products on the market without feeling guilty about it and all the while reducing waste collection fees;
- The municipalities, which can reduce the costs associated to waste management;
- The waste operators, which can raise revenues by gate fee but now also by selling high value secondary raw materials.
A brilliant example of circular economy, 100% made in Italy.
DS: I know from your conversation with Luke for last year’s Project Focus that you spend a lot of time in the UK; what can the UK and Italy learn from each other on the subject of bio-based products and materials?
MS: My wife is British, which means my two sons are half Italian and half British, and I adore British culture and history. Professionally speaking, I observe that the UK and Italy are in quite similar conditions when it comes to municipal solid waste management, and what that means in terms of opportunities to extract circular bio-economic value from such waste. It’s no accident that the Netherlands together with the UK are two countries where some of the most advanced bio-based product experiences originate from.
DS: Where would you like to see Fater in ten years’ time?
MS: I would like to be instrumental in Fater not only becoming the largest Italian company in the sector in which it operates. But, further than that, we also want to become the undisputed leader in circular economy, contributing to improve its environmental sustainability footprint with our ultimate objective of linking company growth with the protection of the planet.
DS: What did you most enjoy about your time at World Bio Markets, where you were a guest speaker?
MS: The organisation of the event provided ideal conditions to network with other companies operating in the bio-economy. The number and the quality of the topics and presenters triggered new ideas and synergies for me which I discussed in person with my counterparts during the event that will be further explored in the future. Also, the use of the Slidr app for displaying the questions to the presenters and the audience enhanced interactions and made it possible to select the most significant and pertinent queries. Being a presenter has been a key driver behind collecting a high number of contacts.
DS: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product and why?
MS: I’ve certainly found the nanocellulose story extremely interesting. Despite the research and the use of this innovative material it is still in an emerging phase; nanocellulose seems to have the potential to develop high performance composites for a wide range of applications.
DS: Thanks very much for your time, Marcello.
Read the last 5 minutes with… Steven De Boer, sustainability leader for polymers at Sabic.
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