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Bayer MaterialScience Water-based Polyurethane Ups Sustainability and Worker Safety

Bayer MaterialScience, a leading manufacturer of high-tech polymer materials, recently launched its new water-based polyurethane (PU) for the manufacture of PU leather, called INSQIN, which is working to improve worker safety and sustainability.

INSQIN provides the footwear and apparel industries with a more sustainable and safer method of coating fabrics. It allows for all types of coated fabric processes to be carried out without using a solvent. And because the water-based method doesn’t require harsh solvents to coat the fabrics, the working environment is safer for employees too.

Nick Smith, Bayer MaterialScience’s global head of textile coating explained, “The apparel and footwear industry is at a major turning point with respect to sustainability. Many of the biggest brand owners in the world are working to find better ways to make and distribute their product in order to ensure that in the future the industry has a positive effect on those working in it, providing safe and worthwhile employment, and that the activities of the industry do not harm the environment.”

About seven billion pairs of shoes, two billion bags and one billion garments are produced with PU leather and other PU coated fabrics annually.

The INSQIN PU reduces environmental harm to local ecosystems by eliminating the pollution risks of the previous process, including water pollution, air pollution and hazardous solid waste. INSQIN also requires 95 percent less water and 50 percent less energy than the previous solvent-based method.

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“Up until now, the PU leather manufacturing process has relied on the use of the solvent N, N-dimethylformamide (DMF), whose intrinsic toxicity combined with considerable workplace exposure has created a risk for worker safety that is bringing concern to many brand owners and other industry observers,” Smith said.

Bayer ensures the quality of the material is not at all affected without a solvent present. The INSQIN PU is specially formulated to retain the innate traits of PU leather including soft feel, high durability and voluminous, porous structure. INSQIN can be used on all types of fabrics that are commonly used in PU leather application including, wovens, non-wovens (including microfiber types) or knitwear.

Using its R&D setup and testing facilites, Bayer is able to work directly with brand owners to develop new kinds of materials that offer specific hands and characteristics they are looking to offer their customers. The company then uses its technology to create these new materials.

Bayer is also developing a quality assurance system called the INSQIN Partner Manufacturer Program, in which manufacturers will be audited to determine consistency and high standards in the application of waterborne PU technology. Brands will be able to source newly developed materials from an INSQIN partner list and have better transparency throughout the supply chain.

“We expect that the INSQIN Partner Manufacturer program will help to create a momentum that will inspire more manufacturers to develop their operations towards the manufacture of these more sustainable materials, and thus move the industry as a whole forward,” Smith said.

Bayer is dedicated to sustainability not just through INSQIN but also through its own production technology. The company has developed technologies to manufacture material that uses 60 percent less energy, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.