The journey in becoming a wet wipe expert

Phil and Corey

Conceived in response to a global crisis, Hygiene Co. emerged to address critical gaps in domestic manufacturing and sustainability by offering plant-based wet wipes. Manufacturers’ Monthly spoke with co-founder, Phil Scardigno, who shared insights into the company’s mission and innovative approach.

The Hygiene Co., based in Woodville North, South Australia, was founded with a mission to create sustainable, plastic-free wet wipes.

The company produces biodegradable and compostable wipes to reduce plastic waste and lower carbon emissions associated with importing wet wipes.

In 2022, they started mass production of Australia’s first plastic-free wet wipes at their Adelaide facility.

The Hygiene Co. emerged during the COVID pandemic as a response to critical shortages of medical supplies, particularly wipes.

Scardigno, with a background in wet-wipe manufacturing, was servicing the local Victorian Government but encountered difficulties due to reliance on imported products.

Realising the environmental impact of single-use wipes and the need for domestic production, they decided to create Australia’s first plant-based wet wipe manufacturer.

“When we began producing wipes for aged care during COVID, we soon realised the staggering amount of single-use waste generated,” said Scardigno.

“It was alarming to see these wipes, initially intended for essential hygiene, turning into disposable plastic waste.

“Also, discovering that the majority of wipes were imported from overseas while we were manufacturing them locally was a stark realisation.”

The Hygiene Co. mission

Motivated by a passion for sustainability and domestic manufacturing, Scardigno, along with co-founder Corey White, developed their own products, established labs, and implemented automated equipment.

Their initiative underscored a commitment to both addressing the necessity for domestic manufacturing during crises and sustainable practices in manufacturing.

“I looked into how we could make a plant-based material that would break down because they can’t be cleaned with infection control,” said Scardigno.

“And secondly, I looked into making it here because I’ve always been passionate about manufacturing in Australia, and I’ve been in manufacturing for 30 years.”

Scardigno said explained that he has always been involved in the business of non-hazardous materials, maintaining a strong passion for avoiding flammable items and toxic carcinogens.

Upon discovering that 80 per cent of the weight in a pack of wet wipes is water, he realised that not only is Australia importing plastic, but also shipping containers full of water.

“It’s like importing a swimming pool full of water into Australia. We’re talking about billions of wet wipes annually, and the numbers are staggering,” he said.

“The amount of plastic landfill created by wet wipes is enormous. Most people don’t realise they’re made of polyester and polypropylene.”

In collaboration with waste authorities, the Hygiene Co. journey has been long fought.

“When we discovered the plastic content, we looked at the numbers. For example, plastic straws, which got a lot of bad press, account for about 800 tonnes a year according to government statistics,” said Scardigno.

“When we spoke to one of Australia’s major retailers about wet wipes, they laughed at our estimate of 25,000 tonnes and said the actual number is much higher.”

“Wet wipes are more than 30 times worse than straws in terms of plastic waste. Due to their soft texture, people mistakenly believe wet wipes are made of cotton, not plastic.”

Scardigno explained that, as a result, people are unknowingly contributing to plastic landfill and microplastics, which pose significant health issues.

As a manufacturer, innovation is key for him. The Hygiene Co. has since developed flushable technology and are now the first Australian company to produce a certified flushable wet wipe.

While they don’t have the capacity to service the entire market, Scardigno urges the government to address the issue of wet wipes waste.

“There’s some low hanging fruit here that instead of worrying about bread tags on loaves of bread, wipes would be just a major win,” he said.

“The UK has now banned plastic wipes. A bill was passed in Parliament a few months ago, and plastic wipes are now on the banned list. As a country surrounded by ocean, we should be taking similar action.

“Instead, we are focusing on minor issues while ignoring the larger, more pressing problems right in front of us.”

Scardigno said that if industry is to change, education and creating awareness will also become crucial.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to implementing sustainable practices, progress often lags. People like the idea of green technology and doing the right thing, but key decision-makers in both the public and private sectors only act when they’re embarrassed into doing so. This is frustrating,” he said.

“There’s a growing movement, both globally and in Australia, driven by people demanding to know what’s in their products. The issue of microplastics, which is not only an environmental concern but also a health issue, is gaining attention.”

Their materials

Despite some global fabric sourcing, Hygiene Co. prioritises local ingredients like aloe vera, eucalyptus oil, and Lemon Myrtle to support Australian farmers and communities. Image: The Hygiene Co.

Sardigno explained that the textile industry in Australia suffered significant losses in the 90s, which also catalysed Hygiene Co.’s mission to prioritise sustainability and local sourcing.

While the company’s fabrics come from global partners in Europe, Asia, and North America, all its ingredients reflect a commitment to local producers.

“We prioritise native elements like aloe vera, eucalyptus oil from Kangaroo Island, and Lemon Myrtle sourced locally from native extracts,” said Sardigno.

“Our partnerships with local suppliers ensure support for Australian farmers and communities.”

While some essential disinfecting properties require chemicals from global suppliers, Hygiene Co. ensures their minimal use for maximum effectiveness.

Sardigno expressed regret that not all their materials are sourced in Australia but explained that doing so would prove too difficult.

“It’d be nice to have the full cycle here and we’d love government to sort of instigate the textile industry back into Australia again,” he said.

“Because we’ve had lots of demands people asking, can you make nappies, can you make sanitary pads but that’s not what we’re about.”

Sardigno explained that once the Government establishes a no tolerance stance on single-use plastics, diversifying could be possible.

“Governments have a crucial role to play in fostering a sustainable manufacturing ecosystem,” he said.

“Just as we witnessed rapid changes during the COVID-19 crisis, governmental action can drive significant shifts towards sustainability.

“Microplastic pollution is a looming threat, akin to asbestos or tobacco, and addressing it requires proactive measures.”

Manufacturing capability

The company is committed to inspiring the development of the next generation of sustainable products in the industry. Image: The Hygiene Co.

Hygiene Co. has invested significantly in its facilities in Adelaide, South Australia.

The site includes an advanced laboratory for testing and a fully automated facility for producing soft packs, with equipment sourced from Europe to ensure competitive manufacturing in Australia.

The company also operates canister lines for canister wipes and produces bulk rolls for use in shopping trolleys and gyms, catering to a broad market.

“Currently, our soft pack line has the capability to produce 10 to 15 million packs per year,” said Sardigno.

“Our canister line can handle around 5 to 6 million canisters, and we also produce bulk rolls.”

A key aspect of Hygiene Co.’s operations is the development of unique solutions and ingredients.

The company has its own lab and mixing area where it creates solutions, incorporating ingredients such as Lemon Myrtle, Davidson Plum, and hybrid aloe vera.

Leveraging the founder’s background in industrial mixing, Hygiene Co. is taking this expertise to new heights, eyeing opportunities for exporting these specialised concentrates.

The company’s long-term vision includes exporting high-quality concentrates from Australia.

“So yeah, we’re taking that to another level now. We see this as an opportunity for export as well,” said Sardigno.

“We plan to export the concentrates out of Australia because we believe Australia has some really special ingredients that we can offer to the world.”

This approach could maximise Australia’s unique ingredient offerings without the inefficiencies of exporting water-heavy products.

“And that’s the direction we’d like to go, rather than manufacturing everything here and exporting it worldwide,” said Sardigno.

“Instead, we should leverage the capabilities of other countries, especially considering the significant amount of water we export from Australia.”

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, Hygiene Co. learned the value of being able to produce essential items domestically, aligning with the notion of Australia as a smart country with advanced technology.

The company aims to inspire the development of the next generation of sustainable products, fostering innovation and sustainability in the manufacturing sector.

“We can’t ignore the need to produce and supply everyday items here in Australia. We also want to inspire the next range of sustainable products in this space and see where it can go,” said Sardigno

The Hygiene Co. has heavily invested in its manufacturing capabilities, establishing advanced facilities in Adelaide, South Australia.
Image: The Hygiene Co.

Future developments

The Hygiene Co. plans to increase capacity by changing the types of products they make, which will reduce changeover times.

They have built a facility designed for expansion, allowing for the addition of second or third production lines, which will enhance efficiency.

“We can bring in a second or third line, essentially mirroring the existing one. This amplifies efficiencies even further,” said Sardigno.

Once they reach 60-70 per cent capacity, they will consider investing in additional lines.

The company is committed to increasing output and views Australia as an excellent place for manufacturing, despite it being often overlooked.

Sardigno said that the Hygiene Co. is eager to increase their output and explained that South Australia is prime location for manufacturing.

“We’re eager to increase our output here, no doubt about it,” he said.

“Adelaide is often overlooked as a manufacturing hub, but it has a rich history in the industry. It has consistently been one of the leaders in Australia, spanning from automotive to other equipment manufacturing.”

The company currently has a team of 28-29 full-time members, including one interstate staff member, and is continuing to grow.

The team is passionate about their values as an Australian-made manufacturer, which motivates them to compete against industry giants.

“We’ve always found motivation in competing against industry giants, leveraging our strengths to overcome challenges,” said Sardigno.

The Hygiene Co. is considering expanding its operations by potentially establishing another plant on the eastern seaboard of Australia.

This decision is driven by business growth opportunities, logistical considerations, and sustainability goals.

But, as Sardigno explained, there are a collection of challenges that come with expanding operations.

Their current focus remains on refining their automated production processes and developing expertise within their existing team, the prospect of expanding interstate remains on the table as part of their long-term growth strategy.

“Experts who’ve been in business before have suggested that we should explore the possibility of establishing another plant on the eastern seaboard,” said Sardigno.

“As a business, we’re assessing all available options for growth. Currently, we have a soft pack line that produces these products, which has been operational for 18 months.”

“It took time to refine because we’ve implemented automated equipment, which requires training and expertise within our team.”

Sardigno recognised the potential benefits of having an additional plant to reduce freight costs and carbon emissions associated with transporting products across the country.

Setting up an interstate facility would also help optimise their supply chain and enhance service efficiency.

“We’re considering the interstate opportunity for growth, logistics optimisation, and sustainability,” he said.

“If relocating some of our operations to the east could result in cost-effective and environmentally friendly measures, particularly if it reduces freight and carbon emissions, it’s definitely a path we’re interested in pursuing.”

Apart from the potential for expansion, Hygiene Co. also hopes to become the trusted wet wipe specialist in Australia.

Sardigno explained that the company has an opportunity to fulfill that role in the future.

“We’ve identified a unique gap in the market: there are no dedicated wet wipe specialist brands globally,” he said.

“While competitors typically offer wipes as complementary products to their main offerings, such as nappy manufacturers including wipes with their diapers or feminine hygiene brands offering wipes alongside sanitary pads, none focus solely on wet wipes expertise.”

Recognising this opportunity, the company is currently focusing on R&D and has undergone significant development to commercialise these ideas.

“We aim to provide a brand that instils trust within the market,” said Sardigno.

“Whether it’s a wet wipe for cleaning or personal care, customers should feel confident in our products.

“We’re experts in fabrics and ingredients, and we’re dedicated to delivering quality solutions that meet our customers’ needs.”