Sustainability the greatest risk and opportunity for tissue manufacturers

Smithers Pira explores the innovative areas of development that are pushing the tissue manufacturing market in new directions.

According to a new strategic technical study from Smithers Pira - The Future of Tissue Manufacturing to 2023 - tissue manufacturing continues to receive interest in almost all geographic sectors. Many new producers are entering the emerging markets as they look to pounce on the less developed regions with high growth rates.

As tissue operations continue to attract new investments from additional corporations, the resulting competition is creating a highly challenging business environment.

Based upon its in-depth study, Smithers Pira identifies five trends that are influencing the way tissue manufacturers operate now and will do in the coming years.

Sustainability – risk and opportunity

Sustainability is becoming the greatest risk to and opportunity for tissue manufacturers. Consumers, brands and governments are increasingly aware of the threat posed by global warming resulting in an increased focus on sustainability, especially in natural products. The opportunity is that tissue paper comes from a renewable and natural source. The risk is that consumers could come to see it as unsustainable due to poor fibre sourcing and lack of tissue product recycling.

Significant inroads have been made to define sustainable and responsible fibre sources. Of the 35 companies audited by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 2017, eight were tissue makers.

The market demands improvement in the sustainability of tissue production, this is focussing on three key factors:

  • Fibre sourcing
  • Minimising water consumption
  • Reducing energy use during production.

Sustainability measures will grow in influence on producers as they continue to compete on product cost and performance.

Fibre sourcing

Pulp fibre is the fundamental basis of all tissue products, and represents the most substantial part of tissue making sustainability as the fibre sourcing, and energy use in production can be very significant. Initiatives like that from the WWF, Rainforest Alliance certification and the Forest Stewardship Council are increasingly recognised.

Concerns remain however, and use of recycled paper pulp – though widespread in industrial tissue products – is limited by consumer attitudes.

In contrast two main forces seem are driving the search for alternative fibre sources, which will pose new technical challenges for tissue manufacturers. The first is sustainability and a replacement for recycled fibre. Non-wood fibres can assuage the concern of consuming finite forest resources, without recycling. The second issue is merely economic use of resources and potential replacement of softwood fibres in areas they are scarce.

Sustainable non-virgin wood tissue fibres

Non-wood fibre tissues are now entering consumer markets, trading on their environmental credentials for marketing. For example, Miami-based the Good Health Company introduced its Gesundheit! facial tissue in November 2017. This product is 80% pure virgin bamboo pulp that is 100% sustainable and biodegradable. Four examples:

  1. Bamboo plantations to replace cutting trees
  2. Biorefinery fibre – that is produced as a by-product of non-fossil fuel or feedstock production from renewable and carbon-neutral sources.
  3. Agricultural waste fibre – such as Straw, Stover, or Bagasse
  4. Cultivated Fibre Crops – Kenaf, Hemp, Hesperaloe

Water consumption

Tissue mills are more commonly located close to the customer. This results in some tissue machines operating in water-scarce regions making water consumption a key concern.

The US and Mexico in particular have several tissue mills located in desert areas with no surface water sources. This concern is forecast to grow and spread to other regions across 2018-2023 as sustainability continues to become a more focused concern of consumers and governments. Activities to improve water sustainability or reduce water footprint include:

  • Increased water recycling and water circuit closure. Closed water circuits in papermaking can increase the concentration of recycled fines and chemical species in solution resulting in problems from deposits
  • Better cleaning of wastewater to reduce contaminants being recycled. Wastewater treatment and discharge, including sludge-waste disposal, represent significant challenges for tissue and towel makers.

Energy savings

Energy efficiency is one of the top environmental priorities that can be realising in mills. It can simultaneously yield cost savings, and improved output. The latest generation of integrated tissue mills have an advantage in that they avoid the cost of pulp drying in their supply chain and are more likely to be built with integrated solar, hydro or other non-fossil fuel energy supplies.

Through air dried (TAD) tissues poses a particular problem for industry. TAD requires up to 3 times the energy per tonne but, the energy costs of TAD processes must be weighed against the potential reduced carbon footprint of less fibre per consumer use. TAD results in about 30% reduction in fibre use for equivalent application and can result in more uses per tonne, depending on how it is presented to the consumer.

The Future of Tissue Manufacturing to 2023 highlights production innovations that will enable tissue manufacturers to negotiate these and other challenges, and act as a springboard for commercial across 2018–2023. Download the brochure for more information.

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