As awareness of our impact on the planet grows and we realize the need to reverse, limit or discontinue negative environmental practices of the past, the movement to go green is stronger than ever.

None may know better about going green — which encompasses not only using recycled materials but also reducing waste and chemicals in the manufacturing and disposal processes — than suppliers of paper products for public washrooms. 

“Green has become quite a buzzword throughout the away-from-home market as suppliers try to meet customer demand for green products,” says Dan Silk, vice president of environmental sustainability for Georgia-Pacific Corp., Atlanta.

Georgia-Pacific has been a player in the green game for some time, notes Silk. In 1930, the company introduced the Cormatic product line, the first portion-control, hands-free paper towel dispensers, which set the stage for a whole green line: numerous electronic, touch-free dispensers, the Compact coreless bathroom tissue and dispensers that reduce waste, and Envision — the first U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-compliant, 100 percent recycled line of paper products, released in 1996, for example.

While green paper products may be in high demand today, it wasn’t always the case, said Markham Ray, director of marketing for Kruger Products, Mississauga, Ontario.

“At one time, green or recycled fiber and paper products had a negative connotation in terms of quality and consumption,” he says. “Green products were very low cost but very low quality.” 

Over time, however, the public’s perception — and technology — has changed. 

Two-Tiered Approach
Advancements in technologies and manufacturing have led companies like Kruger and others to develop dependable paper products that don’t require an abundance of use, but do include a large amount of recycled fiber.

Currently, Kruger offers products with a recycled fiber content of 80 percent. Recycled fiber used in public washroom products comes from assorted office waste, such as office paper and magazines.

W. Lyle McGlothlin, director of marketing for Cascades, Kingsey Falls, Quebec, says that more than 95 percent of Cascades products use 100 percent recycled fiber. To ensure quality and consistency of the post-consumer wastepaper the company operates its own wastepaper recovery company.

In the future, Cascades’ products, will use more post-consumer waste, use less energy, take less shipping and storage space, improve drying or cleansing efficiency and reduce waste even further, according to McGlothlin.

“Efficiency is important to reducing environmental impact. Wasteful products waste resources and dollars,” he says.

Indeed, manufacturers say that while recycled fiber is an important way of greening paper products, producing less waste is equally important.

McGlothlin acknowledges that some of the higher-quality green products will cost more, but he points out clear long-term benefits.

“Recycled paper cost is determined by the efficiency of the recycling process and the availability of post-consumer waste paper,” he explains. “Better quality environmental paper products will cost the user slightly more — about 7 percent to 10 percent — than virgin paper. The additional cost is very likely to be offset by better performance and less waste. The bottom line is that users don’t have to pay much to gain huge improvements in the environmental performance of the products they buy.”

Kimberly-Clark Professional, Roswell, Ga., does produce a recycled fiber line — including such as a 100 percent recycled fiber product that is manufactured without any chlorine — but the company’s focus remains on waste reduction, Richard Thorne, director of the washroom business for North America explains.

“We believe that the best long-term strategy is one based on source-reduction by providing high-quality, better performing products that lead to less waste,” he says. “We believe that products that reduce the amount of waste are better, greener and more environmentally friendly.”

One simple product, introduced in 2001, is the Kleenex Cottonelle and Scott coreless bathroom tissue rolls. Both lead to less product waste as well as an increased amount of tissue on the roll. The packaging for the toilet tissue rolls was also eliminated.

“Just removing the wraps around the rolls and the cardboard core on a small roll saves just over 54 percent worth of packaging,” says Thorne. “On a jumbo roll, you’ll save 37 percent of the packaging waste.”

Just by switching from a cored bathroom tissue roll to a coreless one saves one ton of waste per 1,000 cases of tissue, he adds.

One product from Kimberly-Clark that limits waste on the front end is the company’s new electronic, coreless, touch-free bathroom tissue dispenser, which was released in July.

Thorne says the dispenser’s benefits include a 20 percent reduction in the amount of tissue used due to controlled dispensing, a 45 percent decrease in packaging waste, programmable sheet lengths and a battery that lasts more than one year.

Green Standard
A third party such as Green Seal or Ecologo should also certify a company’s green efforts, Ray says. Currently, Kruger Products offers more than 60 Ecologo-certified products, including towels, tissues, napkins and others. 

Mosinee, Wis.-based Wausau Paper offers a complete commercial line of Ecosoft and Ecosoft Green Seal certified products, says Mark Stanland, vice president of marketing. The company began offering the 100 percent recycled fiber Ecosoft line in 1991 and obtained the Green Seal certification in 2003.

“Many facilities try to incorporate environmental considerations in their buying decisions,” says Stanland. “Having a certification allows purchasers to know what a paper product includes or does not include.”

Another benefit of certification is the performance standards it requires.

“Green towels and tissue perform equally as well as other towels and tissue products,” Stanland says. Standards developed by Green Seal address product performance as part of the certification criteria to ensure products meet industry practice and function properly.”

While the two certifications differ in certain criteria they are similar in nature and function. Both certifications work to reduce the amount of paper and chemical waste produced from the manufacturing through the disposal process.

Demand Is Evident
“It may sound a bit suspect for a manufacturer to say ‘use less,’ but Georgia-Pacific’s history in the away-from-home market has been focused on many products that use recycled fiber and minimize product use for both a customer and environmental benefit,” Silk says.

The allure of green paper products is ever-growing. Green product users were originally government facilities and schools or universities, due to the low cost factor. Now, however, the green paper product market includes businesses of all types across all industries.

“Times have changed,” McGlothlin says. “Buyers are now required to consider the environmental performance because their customers, management and their employees demand that businesses use more environmentally responsible products. A wide range of buyers now consider environmental performance along with physical performance and price.”

He says that the environment factors into the buying decision in well over half of the company’s sales negotiations.

In the end, Thorne says the sweeping trend toward products that contain more recycled fiber and washroom devices that reduce waste on both the front and back end is one we will continue to see and benefit from.

“The term green has now become mainstream,” Thorne concludes. “There really isn’t anyone who isn’t interested in propositions that have strong environmental benefits.”

Steven Potter is a writer based in Milwaukee.