One of the biggest paper towel trends to emerge in the past few years is the exploration and use of alternative fibers. Paper manufacturers are looking to diversify their sources, Schneringer says.

“The recycled paper market has some volatility to it and as digital communication becomes more prevalent, there’s not as much post-consumer paper stock out there to continue to make recycled paper products,” he says. “They are coming up with different ways to make paper from reliable, sustainable sources that allow manufacturers to make a quality product at a competitive price.”

The most common types of alternative fibers being used to make paper towels include bamboo, wheat and grass. Some of these fibers make brown or off-white paper; bamboo seems to produce the whitest paper towel, Schneringer says. These alternative fibers can be broken into subsections of rapidly renewable materials and tree-free fibers. Something like bamboo, because it’s a grass and can be planted and harvested in a relatively short period of time, qualifies as both.

When certifying paper, Green Seal only considers alternative fibers that would otherwise have been waste or agricultural residue, Chipperfield says. Green Seal is considering including virgin fibers from alternative sources in its current standard, but the decision to add that is still in the discovery phase.

“We have to look at life cycle impacts — how much water it takes to grow it, if shipping is involved, the environmental and health impacts of production and use,” Chipperfield says. “Right now, we allow alternative fibers but they need to be from something that would otherwise be a waste product.”

The Minneapolis-based Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an organization that sets standards for forest management, also provides independent verification of recycled claims, under the FSC Recycle label.

“Since recycled fiber is most definitely a big trend, we believe demand for independent verification is a key component. It’s wonderful that people are requesting recycled, but without third party verification, the claims are open to question,” says Brad Kahn, communications director for the FSC.

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