Metsä Tissue, one of the largest tissue paper producers in Europe, has calculated the carbon footprint of toilet paper in its eight European mills. The company, in cooperation with AFRY, has also explored the differences in the footprints of toilet papers made from fresh and recycled fibers.
The results of the products analyzed by the company indicate that a roll of toilet paper made of fresh fiber has a carbon footprint that is approximately one fifth smaller than a roll made of recycled fiber.
Fresh fiber-based tissue papers and their production close to the markets are key elements of the company’s strategy and the use of fresh fibers in Metsä Tissue’s production will continue to increase. Currently, fresh fibers represent around half of the raw material of the company, which produces in five countries and has eight tissue paper factories.
“Our carbon footprint analysis was inspired partly by the fact that products made of recycled fiber are often considered a better alternative for the environment, and partly by the increasing challenges in availability and quality of recycled raw material. The biggest differences in the carbon footprints arise from the amount of energy and water needed to purify recycled fiber. To be suitable for hygiene use and food contact, recycled fiber requires effective purification, while fresh fiber is naturally suitable for hygiene use,” says Johanna Kesti, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications and Sustainability, at Metsä Tissue.
The research conducted by the company and AFRY offers positive news to consumers and producers of tissue paper. The average carbon footprint of the tissue papers produced at Metsä Tissue mills was 1.4 t CO2 e per ton of paper. The average European consumes around 12.8 kg of toilet paper per year, which is equivalent to approximately 17.92 kg of CO2. In turn, this corresponds to only around 0.27% of the total annual carbon footprint of each European.
These results demonstrate that when using premium fresh fiber-based products for hygiene purposes, the carbon footprint is smaller than when using products made from recycled fiber. Due to its decreasing availability, recycled fiber will be used in the future in solutions that have lower hygiene and quality requirements than tissue papers, where material yield is higher and where the fibers stay longer in circulation. These include for example transport cardboard packaging.
“Fresh fiber is the hygiene material of the future. By using fresh-fiber products, consumers get sustainably produced tissues with high quality. The production of fresh-fiber paper consumes less energy and water at the tissue mill, and more than 90 per cent of the raw material can be utilized. The use of recycled fiber is less efficient, as only around 60 per cent of the raw material ends up in hygienic tissues and the rest is waste that needs to be processed. In other words, a responsible tissue consumer does not need to compromise on pleasant quality, product safety or sustainability,” Kesti adds.
For this study, the EU’s product environmental footprint category rules (PEFCR) were used in the carbon footprint study to calculate the global warming potential (GWP) of base paper production. Product calculations were performed by AFRY in accordance with the ISO 14067:2018 standard and based on the data supplied by Metsä Tissue’s mills.