Tork, an Essity brand, is a leading global professional hygiene brand that aims to enable a circular and sustainable life outside the home. Making the leap to circular models is a challenge for any company, as it requires rethinking product design, reverse logistics, business model innovation, and cross-sector collaboration.
In general, the paper industry enjoys high recovery and recycling rates compared to other materials. Whether the individual product type is office, newspaper, or cardboard, there is a well-established and high-functioning recycling stream. In fact, the total amount of recycled paper is 66.2% in the United States and 72% in Europe. However, today, less than 1% of all paper hand towels are recycled.
The problem stems from the substrate and wet strength agent that is added in the hand towel manufacturing process to make their primary function (hygienically and efficiently drying hands) possible. This agent requires that hand towels go through a separate recycling process from other paper-based materials, making recycling a more expensive proposition.
In this context, the company launched Tork PaperCircle, the world’s first paper towel recycling service with the aim of recovering resources and putting paper fibers back into the product cycle. “We want to share our strategies on taking back paper hand towels to create safe and circular washrooms. Our strategy is a pragmatic approach utilizing new innovations along with incremental objectives and goals to reduce negative climate impact.,” commented the company.
The perception of hand towels as waste is critical to the change. This highly hygienic product accounts for up to 20% of all waste generated and its recycling offers the potential to reduce CO2 by 40% compared to current waste management systems such as incineration or landfill. “By recycling paper hand towels, we can reduce CO2 by 40%,” Essity said.
PaperCircle is a circular service designed to recycle paper hand towels and convert used materials into new hand towels or other tissue paper products. Is that how it works:
- Visitor dumps used paper hand towels in a separate container.
- The cleaning staff who empties the trash keep the collected paper towels in the separate Tork PaperCircle bin in the cleaning cart and at the recycling facility.
- Tork’s recycling partner collects the hand towels and takes them to the local Essity mill.
- Reclaimed hand towels are recycled and placed back in the loop as new paper hand towels or other tissue paper products.
Three elements have been key to making Tork PaperCircle work in practice: Developing the right technology to make it economically viable to recycle paper, information on how to encourage recycling, and strong collaboration with dedicated partners. “Thanks to new technological developments, there is a now a path for paper hand towels to join the paper sector’s recycling success story.”
“It is our hope that the findings from our pursuit of circular business models – both the successes and the remaining challenges – can serve as inspiration and guideposts for cross-sector partners, such as sustainability, purchasing, facility management, and waste management,” the company comments.
Sustainability is a critical business driver for Essity and its brands, including Tork. For decades, they have addressed the environmental performance of products and the consumption of resources. As a result, they have set a two-pronged goal for 2030: Reduce the environmental footprint of their solutions and create material and energy recovery programs for their production units.
“Tork PaperCircle is one such service that helps our customers create more circularity. Tork PaperCircle enables companies to reduce waste by 20% and decrease emissions of CO2 e resulting from paper hand towels by as much as 40% compared to other after use management processes,” the company concluded.