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Paper Products Shift to Sustainability

Consumers are gravitating toward CPG brands that prioritize environmental responsibility
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Paper Products Shift to Sustainability
More manufacturers in the paper product space, including Naturezway, are turning to bamboo to develop more sustainable and renewable products for consumers looking to make less of an impact on the environment.

Household paper products like toilet paper and paper towels can have a devastating impact on climate change, due to the amount of these products used by Americans. For example, toilet tissue was the top-selling general merchandise category in the multioutlet sales channel in 2020, according to Hamburg, Germany-based market data company Statista. For the 52 weeks ended Oct. 4, 2020, the toilet tissue category had sales totaling approximately $10.4 billion, while paper towels were approximately $6.5 billion.

From an environmental standpoint, while paper towels individually have a small carbon footprint — a single sheet of paper towel contains just 0.06 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to Chicago-based nonprofit organization Two Sides North America — collectively, they’re among the tons of paper products used by Americans that clog our landfills and contribute to deforestation and global warming. 

Luckily, rising concerns about the future of the environment are often driving what products today’s consumers purchase.

Changing Purchasing Habits 

Now more than ever, sustainability is becoming increasingly important in consumers’ purchasing decisions. Acosta’s recent “Sustainability Impact on Purchase Behavior” report shows that 59% of shoppers are making it a priority to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, and that 85% of those who buy green products will always or most likely buy them in the future. 

“Consumers are continuing to place an emphasis on sustainability when making purchasing decisions, showing that eco-friendly lifestyles are here to stay,” affirms Colin Stewart, EVP, business intelligence at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Acosta. “Retailers have an opportunity and responsibility to think through their environmental footprint and deliver value in ways that matter increasingly more to their customers.”

Paper Products Shift to Sustainability
Seventh Generation manufactures unbleached household products made from 100% recycled paper.

The report also shows that younger consumers are more actively taking steps toward being sustainable, as they are more likely to modify their buying habits. Seventy-five percent of Millennials say that sustainability is very/somewhat important when buying consumer packaged goods. 

Furthermore, 75% of Millennials are willing to pay more for an environmentally sustainable product, compared with 63% of Gen Z, 64% of Gen X and 57% of Boomers, according to a recent study from Atlanta-based GreenPrint, an environmental technology company. 

Retailers must place greater emphasis on sustainability to remain competitive and reach the growing number of consumers who support prioritizing these efforts when making purchasing decisions. Dedicating a planet-friendly section in the paper product aisle is a good start. 

No-Guilt Paper 

More manufacturers in the paper product space are turning to bamboo to develop more sustainable paper products. Bamboo, which is a grass rather than a tree, is easily renewable because it grows quickly and matures in only three years. It takes up less land, uses less water than trees and requires zero pesticides to grow. In addition, bamboo reduces soil erosion and greenhouse gases while capturing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than trees or cotton.

A relative newcomer to the U.S. market, The Cheeky Panda, based in the United Kingdom, has secured major distribution deals with such notable companies as Rite Aid and United Natural Foods Inc. for its biodegradable bamboo products, including toilet paper and paper towels. The Cheeky Panda products are carbon-balanced Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approved. FSC certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits. 

Another brand that has opted to go tree-free and use bamboo for household items is Los Angeles-based Naturezway. The company uses the renewable sustainable plant-based material for its facial tissue, paper towels, bath issue, napkins, and even in single-use plates and bowls. Naturezway products can be found at retailers such as, Albertsons Cos., Whole Foods Market, Lowes Foods and Costco. 

Seedling paper products from Grove Collaborative are also made from sustainable bamboo. The San Francisco-based company even claims that its durable paper towels can be reused for up to a week. Grove recently made headlines in December 2021, when it entered into a definitive business combination agreement with Virgin Group Acquisition Corp. II, a publicly traded special-purpose acquisition company, that will result in Grove becoming a public company. Anchored by a strong and loyal customer membership, Grove has a significant opportunity for growth and to pursue omnichannel initiatives. The company recently debuted at physical retail for the first time in Target stores nationwide, with high performance during the first year.

Products touting recycled paper are also gaining ground. Household and personal care product company Seventh Generation helps shoppers reduce their impact on the environment by using 100% recycled paper with a minimum of 50% post-consumer content in its paper towels and facial tissues. The Burlington, Vt.-based company additionally offers unbleached paper towels that don’t use any dyes, inks or fragrances, and are made from 100% recycled paper. By 2025, Seventh Generation is on track to have 100% of its materials and ingredients be sustainable, bio-based or recycled.

Paper Products Shift to Sustainability
The environmentally minded Field & Future by H-E-B brand of household and personal care products includes bath tissue and paper towels made with 100% recycled fibers.

Other Green Solutions

Major CPG players are also aiming to be more environmentally responsible with their products. While criticized in the past for its less than environmentally friendly sourcing methods, Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, the parent company of the Bounty paper towel brand, is now working to ensure that its sourcing practices have the greatest impact on responsible use of the world’s forest resources. P&G is investing a total of $20 million by 2025 to accelerate research into non-wood fiber alternatives and FSC-certified fast-growing fibers. The goal is to develop fibers that are consumer preferred and sustainably sourced, and that can be produced at scale. The company aspires to include greater than 50% of these environmentally preferred fibers in its products. Moreover, P&G claims that for every tree it uses, at least one is regrown. 

Not to be outdone, many food retailers are also developing their own private label products designed to be kind to the environment. For example, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos.’ Open Nature brand uses 100% recycled paper for its paper towels to help consumers live green.

More recently, in November 2021, San Antonio-based H-E-B launched the Field & Future by H-E-B brand of household and personal care products. Currently, there are more than two dozen products on shelf, including bath tissue and paper towels made with 100% recycled fibers, a portion of which is post-consumer, and baby wipes made with only five ingredients and featuring no fragrance, alcohol, chlorine or parabens. More Field & Future by H-E-B products are set to hit stores this year, including paper and plastic and personal care.

“Many of our partners, customers and communities are on a green journey, and our goal with Field & Future by H-E-B is to meet them wherever they are on that path,” notes Bonny Akers, director of H-E-B Brand Products. “With these environmentally minded products, along with our growing sustainability efforts, we want to take whatever steps we can, big and small, towards improving the well-being of our planet, our communities and ourselves.” 

  • Flushing Money Down the Drain

    The use of disposable wipes has skyrocketed over the past year, thanks to the pandemic. The convenience, efficacy and performance of disposable wipes help consumers meet their need to maintain a healthy home, and the retail shelf space dedicated to them continues to grow. 

    As the Seattle-based nonprofit Responsible Flushing Alliance points out, however, with the growing popularity of sanitization products comes some challenges as a result of improper disposal: sewer clogs and backups. The United States currently spends more than $440 million in taxpayer money repairing wastewater systems and clearing sewer clogs and backups caused by disposable wipes not designed to be flushed down the toilet.

    On Jan. 1 of this year, a new California law, AB 818, which aims to curb this trend and help promote responsible flushing habits, came into effect. Specifically, in July, the law will require all manufacturers of nonflushable wipes sold in California, including wholesalers, suppliers and retailers, to properly and prominently label a “Do Not Flush” symbol on baby wipes, hard-surface cleaning wipes and other disposable wipes, particularly those that contain plastic and are most often used for household cleaning and personal care. 

    The law also requires the industry to lead consumer education regarding the “Do Not Flush” symbol, and to inform consumers on what can and can’t be flushed down the toilet. The Responsible Flushing Alliance has already kicked off its #FlushSmart consumer education campaign with materials for consumers and stakeholder groups to improve awareness and keep homes and communities healthy through proper flushing practices, ensuring that waterways stay clear and preventing municipal pipes from clogging. 

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