The More You Know, The More You Roll
Learning more about the recycling process empowers you to make the most informed consumer choice possible and participate in Elemental’s sustainable mission. Let us take you through our process.
How Toilet Paper is Made
Step 1: Recyclable Rubbish is collected from homes and business
There are various ways for recycling to be collected in the United States. In some communities, curbside collection of recycling is provided by the local government. In other communities, residents must subscribe to a local service to have their recyclable rubbish collected or take their recyclables to a local drop-off point. Encouragingly, 94% of the US population has some type of recycling program available to them, 73% of the US population has a curbside collection program available to them, and 53% of the US population has curbside recycling “automatically” provided at their home (source). Despite these strides in improving access to recycling, only 40% of everything that could be recycled is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills and is lost.
Another encouraging fact is approximately 45 million tons of paper are recycled in the US annually. This collected waste generates the 80% post-consumer material that makes up Elemental toilet paper products.
Step 2: Rubbish is sorted into group like paper, plastic, and metal at a recycling facility
Once collected, the waste is taken to a MRF, a Material Recovery Facility. There material can either be hand sorted or mechanically-sorted into sub-groupings.
Through hand-sorting methods, paper is generally sorted into 2 main groups before being recycled: OCC (heavier cardboard goods) and softer, more pliable grades of paper.
For an automated sorter, the process can be much more precise. These machines can electronically detect different paper densities, weights, sizes, and even color.
Step 3: Used paper is broken down into pulp at a paper mill
Once sorted, non-contaminated paper material is then broken down into pieces or “chipped” to make it ready to mix into the greater pulp vats with a combination of water and chemical softeners. Manufacturers can choose to mix this starter pulp with either “virgin” material”--that is material that comes directly from harvested trees, or pre-consumer material.
Pre-consumer material is any paper product that has been manufactured, but never went to market due to minor defects like denting, misprinting, or incorrect shaping. It behaves like virgin material because it has not made its way to homes and offices.
The remaining 20% of Elemental’s tissue paper not made from POST-CONSUMER material comes from PRE-CONSUMER material. Salvaging this material reduces would-be waste and provides a secondary material stream for paper manufacturers.
Elemental is especially proud of the math that keeps us tethered to our mission. It’s what sets us apart in an industry striving for higher sustainable standards.
80% Post-consumer + 20% Pre-consumer = 100% recycled material in tissue product
Step 4: Pulp is turned into toilet paper at our manufacturing facility
This newly minted pulp is then cleaned to remove remaining contaminants and de-inked, generally using a bleaching process. Once the pulp is dried on huge wire screens, it is molded, rolled, and cut to size. The second act of paper begins!
From start to finish, Elemental’s toilet paper is proudly made in the USA!
What happens to toilet paper after use?
So you’ve just done your business, and business was good or at least, productive. And you have just wiped with a luxuriously soft, doubly ply of Elemental’s earth-conscientious best. You sigh with the effervescent flutter of your good consumer choices. You drop the toilet paper into the bowl. You flush. You are done.
But that’s when the adventure really begins--for the toilet paper anyway. Sewers and wastewater treatment plants serve as the highways, byways, and final destination for our product. Elemental strives to appreciate the full life cycle of our paper and its impact beyond the bowl.
Step 1: Never Demean the Screen
Whatever solid makes its way down the labyrinth of sewage pipes we enjoy in modern times, meets its match at the first step of the waste water treatment plant—the metal screen. These series of screens are the most basic filters, barring anything from large branches to wayward plastics from reaching the second step of filtration.
For material like toilet paper, the disintegration process started the moment the paper hit the bowl water. The natural fibers that constitute our posh rolls, quickly fall to pieces as the ply is saturated. Any remaining particles will float through to the secondary step.
Step 2: True Grit - Secondary Settling
The sedimentary particles, like waste and thick toilet paper not made from recycled material, that made it through the first screens now have to wait. During the secondary step of waste water treatment, density is deployed. Solids which are far heavier settle at the bottom of large tanks becoming the essence of sludge. This sludge piles up. Now enter the sludge eaters. Oxygen is often added to the water and sludge tanks to create optimal conditions for many varieties of poop-starved bacteria to thrive and feast. This water or effluvium is then pushed through to the final, tertiary stage.
Step 3: Nothing Terse About Tertiary
With our product long gone being either absorbed, filtered, or gobbled whole; the tertiary step seems far away from the toilet paper we once enjoyed. Chlorine disinfects any remaining organisms that find their way to the end of the water treatment line. Ultraviolet light is radiated through the water to physically fry the DNA of any residual bacteria or virus. Thankfully, UV light at these levels is perfectly harmless to other living breathing things. And for this recycled water, the process is about to restart.
This model from the University of Michigan outlines the wastewater process.
Did You Know?
Creating Bath Tissue Made from Recycled Paper
Versus paper products produced from virgin wood pulp. Public data provided by the University of Colorado’s Environmental Center