The economy continues to take hits at custodial operations as price increases wreak havoc on budgets. Consumables, like everything else, have not been spared. Along with soap, chemicals and even energy, paper is costing departments more than it did in years past.

As a way to offset the growing cost of paper, custodial managers are carefully examining weight. And when it comes to paper weight, some facility executives believe that thin is in. But distributors stress that managers should proceed with caution when assessing paper quality.

Image is one reason an organization chooses a certain paper quality. A thin product may "be perceived as cheap and reflects poorly on the facility when visitors come to an office building," explains Ronnie Kent, owner and president of Associated Paper in Conyers, Ga.  

On the other hand, Sid Sowers, vice president of Huber Inc. out of Wichita, Kan., says that in a primary or high school educational setting, "you don't need quite as high quality."  The question he says every facility manager needs to ask is: "What are we willing to pay for the waste, because that's what it becomes?"

Teresa Farmer, sustainability consultant with Kelsan Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn., agrees but adds that thinner paper towels might also lead to higher labor costs.

"Using a thinner product based on price might end up costing money if you are paying a custodian to constantly service the restroom," she says. "Low-quality paper is not always the smarter option if the user ends up needing more of the product than they would have with a better quality paper."

Sowers comments that on average, "18 inches gets you enough paper to dry your hands adequately." But, facilities that feature thin paper can see patrons double this to properly dry hands.

Facility executives need to understand that width and absorbency do play into the amount of paper used. Theoretically more absorbency will translate to less product being used.

This higher quality paper also plays into the perception of a facility and labor costs, but might not affect product purchasing as much as some may think. Whether a facility executive chooses high- or low-quality paper to purchase, distributors agree that managers will typically end up spending about the same in the long run on paper.

"Facility executives need to compare overall product cost to usage and determine from there if a more absorbent product is more cost effective," suggests Tim Maddy, director of operations for Twin Ports Paper and Supply Co. in Duluth, Minn.  

Click here to read about factors to consider when purchasing paper products. Also, be cautious of cheater rolls when shopping for paper products.

Jennifer Bradley is a freelance writer based in East Troy, Wis.