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November 18, 2004
Press contact: NRDC: Allen Hershkowitz, 212-727-4466 or Elliott Negin, 202-289-2405;
Greenpeace Canada: Richard Brooks, 416-597-8408 x 3013 or 416-573-7209 (cell)
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The Consequences of North American Tissue Paper Production

Paper production and consumption worldwide have serious negative impacts. The pulp and paper industry is among the world's largest generators of toxic air and water pollutants and waste products. It is the third largest generator of global warming pollution, and those emissions are projected to increase 100 percent by 2020. This industry is the world's largest user of fresh water and among the largest users of energy. And it destroys natural forests that are essential for clean air and water, the atmosphere's chemistry, wildlife habitat, indigenous cultures, spiritual inspiration and recreation.

In North America the manufacture of tissue products has particularly dire environmental and social consequences. Intact, old-growth and other ecologically important forests are being cleared to manufacture tissue paper pulp. Many diverse natural forests, especially in the Canadian boreal, the Southeastern United States and throughout the developing world are being cleared, sometimes replaced by ecologically barren mono-culture plantations that are maintained with toxic chemicals, to produce tissue paper pulp. Thus, tissue paper products have an unacceptably high "footprint" on the planet. The world cannot afford another 100 years of business-as-usual in the paper industry. It is critical to transform global paper production into a system that helps to heal the destruction it has caused over the past century.

That's the production side. On the consumer side, we are all implicated. North Americans, who comprise only 7 percent of the world's population, consume nearly half of the world's tissue paper products. Every year, North Americans use about 50 pounds (22.4 kg) of tissue products per person.1 Canadians consume approximately 700,000 tonnes of tissue products and U.S. residents consume approximately 7.4 million tonnes. Too often they do not have the choice of buying ecologically superior tissue products made from recycled fibers or agricultural residues.

Tissue Paper Production

Instead of using trees harvested from biologically essential forest habitat, tissue paper products can be made from ecologically superior post-consumer recycled materials or agricultural waste. Examples of different types of tissue papers include toilet, facial, napkin, towels, wipes, and special sanitary papers. Tissue products are classified as "at-home" (consumer) tissue products that are purchased in retail stores for home use, or as "away-from-home" (institutional and commercial) tissue products that institutions and businesses buy in larger quantities.

Globally, Kimberly-Clark is the world's largest manufacturer of tissue products, with an output of approximately 3.716 million tonnes. The next two largest producers of tissue products are Georgia-Pacific, at 3.659 million tones, and Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA) at 2.052 million tonnes.2 In North America, the top five tissue paper producers account for about 80 percent of the market. As of 2003, Georgia-Pacific had 34.6 percent of North American market share, followed by Kimberly-Clark at 17.8 percent, Procter & Gamble at 14.4 percent, SCA at 5.4 percent, and Cascades at 5.2 percent.3

The tissue product manufacturing, use and disposal cycle flows from forests directly to retailers, to consumers, and then to landfills, incinerators or sewage treatment plants. Virtually no tissue products are recovered for recycling, which is one important reason why these end-of-the-line products should be made from recycled waste fibers. Using roads that fragment pristine habitat, the industry clearcuts forests in the Canadian boreal and elsewhere, chips the trees, and sends them to pulp mills. They then send the pulp to tissue manufacturing plants. Finally, they ship finished products to retail stores and institutional buyers. Many Canadian and U.S. tissue product companies operate globally, and ship tree fiber, pulp and tissue products internationally. The pulp industry that supplies tissue paper products, as well as other types of paper, is a major industry in North America. In 2002, North American pulp mills produced 78.2 million tonnes of paper grade wood pulp.4 The United States, the largest pulp producer in the world, produced 52.7 million tonnes in 2002.5 Canada, which ranked second, produced 25.5 million tonnes6 of pulp and exported 10.5 million tonnes, nearly half to the United States.7

More tissue paper products are produced in North America than anywhere else in the world. In 2003, the North American paper industry produced 7,139,000 tonnes of tissue paper products - approximately one-third the world's entire production.8

Making Tissue Products from Recycled Paper

Globally, tissue product manufacturers have one of the highest recycled paper use rates in the paper and paperboard industry. In recent years, more than 60 percent of their tissue products have included some amount of recycled fiber. However, the use of recycled fiber by the industry is unevenly divided among various products and companies: Most recycled fiber is used in the institutional market, which is only half the size of the consumer market.9 Moreover, much of the fiber labeled as recycled is not "post-consumer fiber," which comes from the paper products citizens put out for collection in cities and towns and would wind up in landfills and incinerators if it weren't recycled.

It is hard for consumers to find forest-friendly tissue products on their grocery store shelves. It would make a big difference for the environment if they could. If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of 70-sheet virgin-fiber paper towels with 100 percent recycled towels, for example, they would save 544,000 trees-thousands of acres of forest land.10 If every U.S. household replaced just one box of 100-sheet virgin fiber facial tissues with 100 percent recycled ones, they would save 103,000 trees.11

Fortunately, forest-friendly alternatives to virgin fiber tissue products do exist. These products, which contain post-consumer recycled fibers, are of comparable quality and price to virgin fiber products and are now available in many groceries, supermarkets, health food and corner stores. As consumer demand for forest friendly tissue products grows, so will their supply and availability.

The Companies Leading the Way

Not only does the tissue products industry have the technical capacity to produce products from post-consumer recycled fibers, some companies are doing the right thing and are quite successful at it. The Montreal-based Cascades, for example, is the second largest tissue product manufacturer in Canada. Cascades meets 96 percent of its pulp requirements with recycled fiber. It has recently committed to meet the remaining 4 percent with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) eco-certified pulp by 2007. Seventh Generation, based in Vermont, sells its 100 percent recycled consumer tissue products throughout North America, as does Atlantic Packaging, which is based in Toronto. (Learn more information about the Forest Stewardship Council.)

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Greenpeace Canada are urging other North American tissue paper product manufacturers to follow the lead of these three companies. These organizations are calling on companies to:

Stay out of endangered forests: Decide to stop using wood fiber from endangered forests in such regions as the Canadian boreal, U.S. Southeastern forests, and roadless areas in U.S. National Forests. Decide to stop buying pulp or wood fiber from operations that use environmentally unsustainable forestry practices, such as the conversion of natural forests to plantations, the clearcutting of large swaths of the forest, and the application of large amounts of herbicides. Ensure that any virgin wood fiber used is Forest Stewardship Council eco-certified.

Maximize post-consumer recycled and agricultural residue fiber content: Decide to stop producing tissue products that are manufactured solely out of virgin wood fibers. Maximize post-consumer recycled content and/or fiber from agricultural residues in all tissue products. Also, minimize fiber requirements by redesigning products and increasing production efficiency.

Clean up the production process: Commit to produce tissue products with technologies that are chlorine-free or that result in non-detectable discharges of dioxins and adsorbable organic halides. Decide to stop using pulping caustic that is produced with mercury, a pollutant that can severely harm humans and wildlife when released into the environment.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and e-activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Greenpeace Canada is an independently funded organization that works to protect the environment. It challenges government and industry to halt harmful practices by negotiating solutions, conducting scientific research, introducing clean alternatives, carrying out peaceful acts of civil disobedience and educating and engaging the public. Greenpeace operates in over 40 countries around the world. More information is available at Greenpeace Canada's Web site and at kleercut.net.

Related NRDC Press Materials
Conservationists Launch Consumer Campaign Against Maker of Kleenex and Scott Tissue Products, NRDC Press Release
Kimberly-Clark: A Major Destroyer of Ancient Forests, NRDC Backgrounder

Related NRDC Pages
Paper Industry Laying Waste to North American Forests
How to Shop for Household Paper Products
Good Wood: How Forest Certification Helps the Environment


1. Pulp & Paper/Paperloop, "Global Fact & Price Book 2003," page 218.

2. Paperloop, June 7, 2004. www.paperloop.com "K-C takes global tissue crown from G-P in new RISI report."

3. Pulp & Paper/Paperloop, "Global Fact & Price Book 2003," cited in Conservatree http://www.conservatree.org/paper/PaperTypes/tissueoverview.shtml

4. Market Pulp Association, "Overview of the Industry, 2003-2004," http://www.pppc.org/en/2_0/2_1.html

5. Ibid

6. Ibid

7. Ibid

8. Pulp & Paper/Paperloop, "Global Fact & Price Book 2003," page 218.

9. From Conservatree, http://www.conservatree.org/paper/PaperTypes/tissueoverview.shtml

10. Quote from Jeffrey Hollender in OnEarth, http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/04win/sevgen1.asp.

11. http://www.seventhgeneration.com/page.asp?id=1260


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