Metsa Tissue SVP, Sustainability sees sustainable future in fresh fiber products as supply of recycled material wanes; SVP explains fresh fiber's smaller carbon footprint, recycled material is better used in transport packages due to cleanliness criteria

Sample article from our Tissue & Hygiene

October 18, 2023 (press release) –

When thinking back on your most recent visit to the store, do you recall how much time you spent choosing toilet paper at the store shelf?

When thinking back on your most recent visit to the store, do you recall how much time you spent choosing toilet paper at the store shelf? If you made your choice in a few seconds, you are much like the average person, who takes five seconds to choose their paper. Each of us makes thousands of decisions and choices, both big and small, every day. Even if a profound reflection on the grounds for choosing toilet paper has not been at the top of your agenda, paying attention to your choices may make your daily life smoother as well as strengthen sustainable purchasing behaviour. Indeed, few products are as inherent a part of our daily life as toilet paper. This everyday product is one of the most likely you will meet first in the morning and last in the evening – and several times in between.

We consumers love shortcuts, things that make our daily lives easier. We are prepared to spend a lot of time making choices that involve a large financial investment. We google, compare and ask for recommendations. It is much less common to compare experiences and properties in the case of small daily purchases, especially if they concern personal products such as those used for hygiene. This is why old beliefs are so deeply ingrained and we often do not challenge the assumptions and shortcuts behind our choices even if times change. However, it’s something we should do, because sustainable choices at the toilet paper shelf can make a real difference.

One kilogram of sustainable choices monthly
The average European uses 16 kilograms of tissue paper a year, which means 1.3 kilograms of paper a month. People often consider recycling the best alternative in terms of sustainable choices. For the same reason, you often hear claims that tissue paper made from recycled fibre is a better choice for the environment than products made from fresh fibre. However, the circular economy is much more than just recycling; it especially involves efficient and smart resource use throughout the chain to ensure that more is obtained with fewer resources.

At Metsä Tissue, we produce tissue papers from both fresh and recycled fibres, but we believe the future lies in fresh fibre-based products. The most obvious reason for this is that the availability and quality of recycled raw material continue to weaken. We no longer use office paper anywhere near as much as we did before, and the volume of print newspapers, magazines and advertisements continues to decrease. As a result, the availability of recycled raw material used to produce tissue paper has been declining for quite some time. Moreover, there are better purposes than hygiene tissue papers for the decreasing volumes of material. For example, recycled material can be used more efficiently in transport packages than in hygiene packages because of the less stringent cleanliness criteria.

Hygiene products must be clean and safe to use. If recycled raw material is used to produce such products, it must first be carefully cleaned. In tissue paper production, the purification of recycled raw material requires a lot of water and energy, making recycled raw material less efficient to use than fresh fibre. Of the recycled raw material arriving at the tissue paper mill, only around 60% can be used in actual tissue paper production. Other purposes must be found for the rest of the material, which may contain plastic, ink and metals, for example. Fresh fibre raw material has an efficiency in excess of 90%, meaning that most of the raw material goes directly into the end product such as a roll of toilet paper.

Fresh fibre paper has a smaller carbon footprint
In 2021, Metsä Tissue studied the carbon footprint of products made from fresh fibre and recycled fibre at eight of its tissue paper mills in Europe. In the comparison of end products, the carbon footprint of a roll of fresh fibre tissue paper was found to be around a fifth smaller than that of a roll of paper made from recycled fibre. The main reasons for this were the shorter transport distances of fresh fibre obtained nearby, the use of water and energy in the cleaning of recycled raw material, and the treatment of waste generated in cleaning. In addition, less fibre is required for end products when using higher-quality base paper made from fresh fibre. Moreover, the number of mandatory product safety tests is 60% higher for recycled fibre products than for paper made of pure fresh fibre. This is a further indication of fresh fibre being better suited for the production of hygienic papers. Simple logic also helps draw parallels between quality and the volume of use. For example, picture yourself in a shopping mall toilet: if the hand towel dispenser contains high-quality paper, you probably need only a single sheet to dry your hands, but if the dispenser is filled with paper of a lower quality, you will probably pull out sheet after sheet to get your hands dry. In other words, fresh fibre is a high-quality, safe, clean and efficient raw material for tissue papers, and – perhaps most importantly – it can be used to make products that are not only sustainable but also pleasing to use.

Why fell trees to make toilet paper?
We toilet paper producers are often challenged to explain why trees should be felled to make toilet paper. The answer is easy: they shouldn’t – and they aren’t – if the assumption behind the question is that a thick log ends up being used for toilet paper instead of as carbon storing construction material. Pulp, the raw material for tissue papers, is produced from trees and tree parts such as thin trunks and treetops that cannot be converted into other, more valuable products. Sustainable tissue paper production using northern fresh fibre is part of an efficient bioeconomy, where raw material is used fully and efficiently, and each part of the tree is used for the most suitable and valuable purpose. This sustainable way of working is the premise in a value chain such as ours involving northern wood raw material: forests grow more than they are used, and we are committed to continuously improving our operations based on our decades-long experience and our sustainable business strategy.

This is why I choose fresh fibre-based, high-quality toilet – and kitchen – paper, which is produced nearby and sustainably. In the shop’s aisle, I am always heartened to see many others making good use of their five seconds and going home with a sustainable package of Lambi or Serla.

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Jason Irving
Jason Irving
- SVP Enterprise Solutions -

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