New life for used paper towels

Your thrown-away paper hand towels from the office washroom are a resource. SCA tries out a new service that collects customers’ used paper towels and recycles them locally into new tissue products.

New life for used paper towels

Many companies, not least in manufacturing industries, are adopting more resource-efficient ways by reinventing how they design, produce and sell solutions, by rethinking how products are consumed, and by redefining what is possible through recycling. Concepts such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the Circular Economy are driving businesses to innovate even more, and even faster, to stay competitive.

In 2016, SCA’s Tork brand implemented pilot projects in Germany and the Netherlands that aimed to refine a new circular loop for paper hand towels, a unique service that collects customers’ used paper towels in office washrooms and recycles them locally into new tissue products produced in SCA mills.

Customer demands driving

“From a hygiene viewpoint, paper hand towels are superior to other solutions,” says Åsa Degerman, who along with Sara Lundström works in the Waste-to-Resource Innovation Team for the Tork brand in SCA and continues: “However, they make up an estimated 10 to 25 percent of total waste in many offices. As a result, it’s not surprising that customers request sustainable solutions for hand towels as part of their larger waste-reduction goals, a fact that drives the demand for this type of service. Currently, the most frequently used disposal methods for paper hand towels are incineration, landfills and in some cases composting. There’s been no recycling whatsoever until now, in other words, so the potential for using natural resources more than once is huge.”

Positive response from customers

This new service depends on cooperation among partners. The approach is based on innovation and partnership with customers, facility-services providers and SCA tissue mills, to name but a few players along the waste-management and tissue-production value chains that need to be involved to make it work.

The response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. “They are very satisfied with the outcome, and consider it to be a hassle-free service that hasn’t increased the workload for their cleaners,” Åsa says.

During 2017, SCA will continue to work with additional customers in Germany and the Netherlands to improve this new service even further.

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