Tissue. No big deal, you think? North Americans use 50 lbs. per
person (22.4 kg) of tissue papers per year, up from 37 lbs. per
person (17 kg) twenty years ago. That's a lot of toilet paper and
There aren't many types of paper products that individual consumers
can directly influence. For example, the paper used for newspapers,
magazines, direct mail, bills, brochures, and packaging are decided
by publishers, printers, and major corporations. They're challenging
to influence. But everybody buys toilet paper and other tissue products,
so everybody has a say, through what they buy, in how they're made.
Your tissue choices cast your vote for or against the environment.
Reducing tissue use and choosing reusable products - sponges and
washable cloths instead of paper towels, for example - are influential
and positive environmental steps. (The water and energy used in
household washing don't come near the amounts needed to continually
make and distribute new products.) Still, even with reducing use,
virtually all North American households will buy some tissue products.
Most Heavily Advertised Tissue Products Are 100% Virgin Forest
Fiber Despite High Industry Sector Recycling Rate
It is environmentally responsible to expect tissue products to
include a high percentage of recycled fibers, especially because
most are specifically designed to be thrown away after a single
- Recycled fiber accounts for nearly 60% of fiber use in the tissue
industry (although recycled fibers are not distributed evenly
throughout the products), and
- More than 40% of tissue products, in industry experts' estimation,
do have at least some recycled content.
This is a much higher recycled content percentage than other paper
industry sectors. (In comparison, printing and writing papers use
less than 5% recycled fibers overall, and less than 10% of products
include some recycled fiber.)
However, the choices with recycled content cluster unevenly throughout
the range of tissue products and applications, with most in the
commercial market, which is half the size of the consumer market.
What about the other approximately 60% of tissue products that
are 100% virgin forest fiber, as well as the virgin fiber in tissue
products that are not 100% recycled? Greenpeace
Canada says that some of that virgin fiber is coming from ancient
forests. Dogwood Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council
say that much of the virgin forest fiber is also coming from tree
plantations in parts of the southeastern U.S. such as the Cumberland
Plateau that have replaced biologically diverse natural oak
and maple hardwood forests.
Toilet paper and one-time disposable products made from ancient
and endangered forest fiber? What are we thinking?!?
The most environmentally responsible tissue products are made from
100% recycled postconsumer content. Those with less than 100% recycled
content that then include forest fibers should use only those from
forests certified to be managed to high environmentally sustainable
criteria, such as that of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Ironically, while there are many tissue products that excel in
environmental criteria, most manufacturers refuse to identify them.
In fact, some of the most-advertised tissue products proudly proclaim
they use no recycled fiber. One of the reasons is a bizarre recycling
myth that makes no sense and yet persists. We'll talk about that
in the consumer section of this report.
Major commercial buyers will find many options to meet their environmental
specifications, but it is hard to find high environmental content
tissue products on grocery shelves. In fact, more are on the shelves
than it appears, but few are willing to promote their recycled content.
Conservatree Guide to Environmentally Sound Tissue Products
identifies those that proudly proclaim their recycled content. Increasingly,
consumers have access to some of the higher recycled content choices
through warehouse club stores and office supply superstores, as
well. Environmental researchers are tracing information on forest
fiber sources and we expect that to become available soon, too.
Introduction to the Industry
Tissue products - bath tissue (toilet paper), paper towels, napkins,
facial tissues, diapers, industrial wipes and hygiene products -
accounted for nearly 8% of U.S. paper industry production in 2002
(and almost 4.5% of Canadian). (Compare this to the printing and
writing paper sector, which makes up 27% of production.) U.S. mills
produced over 7 million tons of tissue products in 2003.
Five of the top North American producers share more than three-fourths
of the market, with mergers and acquisitions actively rearranging
the landscape over the past few years:
Top North American Tissue Producers
2003 Market Share
|Procter & Gamble
|Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget
|Source: Pulp & Paper/Paperloop,
Global Fact & Price Book 2003
Tissue is made mostly from kraft fiber that is nearly equivalent
to that used in printing and writing papers. Indeed, while many
tissue mills have their own deinking pulp mills, many also obtain
recycled fiber from the same independent deinking mills that supply
the printing and writing sector. Most recycled fiber used in tissue
comes from office paper collection programs.
Recently, suppliers of tissue production technology have developed
coreless tissue rewinders, which can produce tissue and towel rolls
without the need for a paper core, thereby reducing costs for the
manufacturer - and reducing resource use for the environment.
Recycling - Deinking Capacity
There are over 25 tissue mills in North America that have deinking
pulp mills integrated into their papermaking process, with a total
estimated deinked pulping capacity of over 4000 tons per day. Additionally,
there is deinked pulp available from several stand-alone market
pulp mills which supply 40% of U.S. tissue fiber. But despite all
this recycling, consumers are often hard-pressed to find recycled
content tissue products on their supermarket shelves. The reality,
though, is that there is far more than it seems.
Deinked pulp mills are operated by some of the largest tissue paper
producers. Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and SCA Tissue all have
deinking capacity at some of their mills in the United States. Atlantic
Packaging and Kruger have deinking capacity in Canada. Cascades
Tissue Group has deinking capacity at mills in both the U.S. and
Canada. Marcal Paper Mills (New Jersey) and Bay West Paper (owned
by Wausau-Mosinee, with a mill located in Ohio) have been leaders
in producing and marketing recycled content tissue. Smaller mills,
some of which market their own brands of recycled content tissue
or produce private-label brands, such as Atlas Paper Mills (Florida),
City Forest Corporation (Wisconsin) and Oconto Falls Tissue (Wisconsin),
also have deinking capacity.
Almost all tissue products are sold as finished converted products
(e.g. cases of rolls of toilet paper or paper towels, diapers, boxes
of facial tissues). This makes them expensive to transport but creates
local benefits. Tissue mills tend to be located near their markets,
and imports and exports are not a major market factor.
Tissue products have among the highest profit margins in North
American paper production and are relatively immune to the international
factors roiling other sectors of the paper industry. While many
paper mill jobs are being exported overseas and imported paper products
are increasingly threatening domestic production, tissue mill workers
and products are among the most secure.
The primary tissue products - paper towels, napkins, facial tissues
and bath tissue - are divided into two categories:
From Home (commercial and industrial products), makes up about
one-third of the market
Home (consumer or retail products) accounts for about two-thirds
of the market
- Each has different production profiles and distribution patterns.