Choosing Environmentally Preferable Towel and Tissue Products for Your Facility
In today ’s marketplace, many consumers of towel and tissue products incorporate environmental considerations in their buying decisions.
This includes following mandates or policies to be green or simply wanting to create a healthier environment for their tenants, citizens, or employees. However, because of the sheer number of paper products and manufacturers now claiming to offer green products in the away-from-home market, many consumers and buyers of these products are confused by the packaging, marketing, and environmental claims. Unfortunately, not all of the products associated with being green are truly environmentally preferable. Buyers and consumers now have to be aware of “greenwashing” which, simply defined, is misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product.
How do we begin to sort through these claims and rhetoric, and discern which products are really environmentally preferable?
Consider where the products you use in your facility come from and how they are made. Are they made using the best green process?
What happens when you discard waste from your facility, and what is the impact on the environment? You want to have as little impact as possible.
Keeping these questions in mind, let’s follow the Green Paper Trail, considering all the steps these products take on their way through your facility.
Step One: Paper Fiber
Paper is made from fibers, either from trees or recycled materials. Using virgin fiber is not green, as it requires the harvesting of trees. The Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) is a leading monitor of the responsible harvesting of trees, and some products may carry FSC certification. However, the use of virgin fiber is not necessary and is actually wasteful. Towel and tissue products represent the end of the fibers’ life-cycle, as they cannot be recycled again.
The best environmental choice is 100 percent recycled products including postconsumer materials. Every ton of 100 percent recycled fiber (70 cases of roll towels) saves an estimated 4,100 kilowatthours of energy, 7,000 gallons of water, and 60 pounds of air pollutants/effluents.1
Step Two: Manufacturing
Making paper requires water and energy, as well as the use of chemicals. Chlorine and its derivatives are frequently used to bleach fiber, which is not green. This procedure is sometimes called “Elemental Chlorine Free” (ECF). The best environmental choice is towel and tissue products that are 100 percent recycled fiber, processed chlorine free (PCF). This means that the process does not allow the use of chlorine or any of its derivatives.
Don’t be confused by ECF and PCF. When choosing towels and tissue, ask the manufacturer about their bleaching and deinking processes. Only 100 percent recycled towels and tissue manufactured processed chlorine free (PCF) are truly environmentally preferable.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes recommended recovered and post-consumer waste (PCW) content in its Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for Commercial Sanitary Tissue Products. For paper towels, the EPA recommends a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer waste content, and a minimum of 20 percent PCW for bath tissue. Any product that claims to be green should meet these minimum requirements in addition to being made of 100 percent recovered materials. Do not hesitate to ask manufacturers to verify, in writing, the levels of post-consumer wastepaper in their towel and tissue products.
Step Three: Use in Your Facility
Towel and tissue products are used for optimal personal hygiene. The best environmental choice for your facility is a no-waste paper system. Controlled-use dispensing helps save maintenance time and costs and discourages wasted paper. Less efficient paper systems such as folded towels tend to promote waste during ordinary use. Controlled-use dispensing gives the user the needed amount of product, discouraging excessive use or pilferage. Towels and tissue are stored inside the dispenser, helping to reduce the risk of cross contamination, since the only thing users touch is their personal towel.
Combining controlled-use dispensing with products certified by Green Seal™ (www.greenseal.org) is the most environmentally preferable solution for your facility. Green Seal is an independent, nonprofit organization that evaluates the environmental properties of a wide range of products, including towel and tissue products. Other third-party certifications exist, but Green Seal is acknowledged within the industry as having the most stringent and comprehensive standards: auditing everything from mill and converting facility procedures to the environmental properties of packaging and the use of chemicals.
Step Four: After Use
The goal is reducing waste and practicing good environmental stewardship. Controlleduse dispensing systems that generate less waste help your facility meet this goal.
Packaging is also a consideration. Green Seal mandates that bath tissue contain a minimum of 40 square feet of product per roll, and for facial tissue, at least 70 square feet of product per inner box. This helps eliminate excess packaging for these items, saving waste.
Environmentally preferable packaging is more than just source reduction. Therefore, determining a product’s green status should not be based solely on this attribute. Ask about paper fiber and manufacturing processes in addition to packaging materials and generated waste to conclude whether a product is green.
After use, the best environmental choice is closing the loop by recycling corrugated containers and other post-consumer materials.
Leading the Way
Ensure your current products are proper for your facility. One product or item may not satisfy all of your washroom needs. You want to make the best impression, so provide employees or patrons a clean and cohesive image when entering your washrooms. Savvy users may ask about the environmental properties of products used in your facility. Knowledge of the Green Paper Trail and its steps will help you answer those questions and lead your staff and customers along the best environmental path.
1 Green Seal’s Choose Green Report – Bathroom Tissue and Paper Towels, March 2004. One ton equivalent is based upon an average roll towel case weight of 28.5 lbs