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Industry Introduction Away-From-Home (Commercial) Tissue Overview
At-Home (Consumer) Tissue Overview Commercial - Source Reduction and Purchaser Specifications
Tissue Issues

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 paper towels!

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 use. Overall:

  1. Recycled fiber accounts for nearly 60% of fiber use in the tissue industry (although recycled fibers are not distributed evenly throughout the products), and

  2. 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. The 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

Market Share
Procter & Gamble
Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA)
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:

  1. Away From Home (commercial and industrial products), makes up about one-third of the market

  2. At Home (consumer or retail products) accounts for about two-thirds of the market
Each has different production profiles and distribution patterns.
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