How Eco-Friendly Is Tissue Paper?

Tissue paper is something we use in our everyday lives. But, unfortunately, most of us keep using it without thinking about what it does to the environment. However, the people who are interested in green living are curious about its impact.

So, is tissue paper eco-friendly? The tissue paper can be less damaging to the environment if it is made from recycled pulp and packed in a biodegradable container. On the other hand, Tissue paper made from virgin pulp has a considerable negative impact on the environment.

However, the term “eco-friendly” is rather vague and does not accurately assess the environmental impact of the tissue paper throughout its life cycle. To get a better idea, we need to analyze other factors as well.

How is tissue paper produced?

Tissue paper manufacturing consists of three stages

1. Pulping 

  • The tissue-making process starts with the logging of trees. These logs are then chopped into fine flakes
  • These flakes are soaked and pulled apart or retted.
  • Then the paper pulp is generated. This pulp can either come from wood fiber or recycled materials
  • This retted fiber is mixed with water and other chemicals
  • The manufacturer may also add additional chemicals like limestone, sodium sulfide, etc. into the mixture to add desired properties like strength, softness, or color 

2. Pressing

  • The pulp is then poured over fast-moving porous belts.
  • The pulp is evenly spread along the width of the belt
  • These belts are rotated using steam-heated drums that dry out the pulp into fiber
  • The fiber is transferred to a heated drum called the Yankee, which dries it completely 
  • The tissue is then rolled around the drum. The speed of the drum can be adjusted to change the thickness of the tissue

3. Converting 

  • In the converting stage, tissue is split up into desired size and shape
  • It is then passed through an embossing roller to imprint patterns
  • The resulting tissues are packed and sent to stores

As you can see, the tissue manufacturing process does include some chemicals that are not good for the environment. 

Environmental Impact Of Tissue Papers

2015 study published in Management and Production Engineering Review performed the life cycle analysis of tissue papers and analyzed the impact of virgin pulp and recycled paper.

The study compared the usage of materials and energy. In addition, a life cycle assessment of emissions and waste was also performed.

Here are the main findings of this study

  • The electricity had the most impact on the environment during the production of tissue papers.
  • The next biggest culprit was the use of virgin pulp.
  • The electricity and virgin pulp jointly contribute to 80% of the environmental impact.
  • Excessive electricity and virgin pulp use contributed to climate change, fossil fuel depletion, adverse health effects, and toxicity.
  • If the waste paper is utilized instead of virgin pulp, the process becomes more eco-friendly
  • Even though the impact of using waste paper is less, but it still requires considerable electricity input.
  • If the electricity comes from fossil fuels, there are further negative results
  • Virgin pulp accumulated by harvesting forest lands creates an even more burden on the environment

In conclusion, the use of virgin pulp created almost 26% more adverse environmental impact than waste paper.

Tissue Paper Ecolabels 

Eco-friendly tissue paper usually comes with an ecolabel on its packing. Reliable third-party organizations typically issue these labels (But companies can also put their own without any approval).

Different ecolabels will have different criteria; however, a few common elements are generally present.

  • The ecological damage should be reduced by using recycled fibers or non-wood fibers.
  • If virgin pulp is used, it should be obtained from sustainably managed forests.
  • Chlorine gas should not be used for bleaching.
  • No use of APEOs and Alkylphenols in de-inking
  • No Azo Substances
  • No bleeding of dyes 
  • Limited use of slimicides and antimicrobials
  • No chemical discharge into water bodies
  • Reduction in air pollutants
  • Recycle and reuse as much as possible
  • Careful handling of hazardous materials
  • Reduce water usage
  • Reduction of electricity usage. Norms recommend using less than 3000 kWh per tonne of tissue paper (That can power four houses for a month!). This includes all inputs of electricity through all phases of production.
  • The packaging should contain complete information about the environmental impact in understandable language.

The main ecolabels you can find on tissue paper in the USA are Green Seal, Ecologo, etc. Again, you can visit EPA for the complete list.

If you live in the EU, you can check the list of approved ecolabels here.

Is Tissue Paper Biodegradable

Yes, tissue paper, in general, are biodegradable—the variants which are made without using harmful chemicals and blending are most biodegradable. However, the ones blended with plastics and other chemicals might not be as biodegradable.

How long does tissue paper take to decompose?

In good conditions, tissue paper can decompose in as little as one month. But in wrong conditions, the process can take up to 3 years!

The factors which affect biodegradability include the water, temperature, microorganisms, and thickness of the tissue paper.

Can tissue paper go in compost?

Yes, you can add tissue paper to your composting pile. The extreme conditions in your pile can speed up the decomposition process. However, you should ensure that the tissue paper you are using is free from harmful chemicals or dyes.

Is Tissue Paper Toxic-Free?

Tissue paper toxicity varies by company. However, the standard manufacturing process does involve the use of many chemicals that can be classified as harmful. Whether these end up in the final product and damage the end-user is debatable.

However, several brands claim that their product is toxic-free, but I could not recommend any without adequately studying their process.

Is Tissue Paper Bad For the Environment?

You can not call tissue papers good for the environment. If you look at the entire manufacturing process, packing, and usage, you will arrive at the same conclusion.

In most instances, virgin pulp is derived from the forests, which are rarely replenished.

The loss of forests and trees is also bad for the wildlife as it results in massive habitat loss.

There are also many chemicals involved in the process which are toxic. These chemicals, despite all regulations, end up in rivers, streams, and oceans, affecting marine life.

Their decomposition is not that easy either. The additives which are added to make them stronger also make their decomposition longer.

Final Thoughts

After careful study and evaluation, I can say that most tissue papers are not eco-friendly. They create a considerable negative impact on the environment and might also cause pollution. There are ways to minimize their effects, but still, they are far from being eco-friendly. 

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