As some of you more devoted Thistle fans may remember, my very first green change on this blog was to switch to recycled paper towels. Well, the brand that I chose at the time was Cascades, and I stand by that decision: While it’s obviously best not to use any paper whatsoever, this company is one of the greenest around (Note to my beloved American readers: If you’re all like, “What the heck is Cascades? I use Seventh Generation” — well, guess what? Seventh Gen products are made by these guys, so keep reading!).
In a nutshell: Cascades products are made from 100% recycled content (the vast majority of which consists of post-consumer waste and there are no virgin fibers whatsoever), there’s no chlorine bleaching involved, they save six-times more water and use half as much CO2 than the industry average, there are no added fragrances or colours, they’re certified by numerous environmental boards such as the EPA, PCF, Green Seal and Environmental Choice, the plastic film wrapping they use is comprised of about 50% recycled material, they treat their sludge so it can be used on farmland and offer the remaining waste material to cement companies, and their employees are not only encouraged to live a green lifestyle but strictly forbidden to drive Hummers to work. PHEW!
But perhaps best of all, this is a company that’s transparent about their practices, to the point where they’ll even open their factory doors for a bunch of jaded journalists. Yesterday afternoon, I got a tour of a Cascades mill just outside Montreal, Quebec, and saw how their recycled paper towel and toilet paper is made from start to finish. Although I couldn’t take photos of certain stages (they have some technology they’ve spent four decades perfecting and don’t necessarily want to share this with their competition), I did get to see it all with my own eyes, and it was impressive, to say the least. Here are some pics and captions:
The tour begins
See those giant rolls in the background? THAT’S TOILET PAPER!! How insane is that?! I mean, it’s not finished, 2-ply, quilted stuff or anything, but if you go up and touch these things, they feel the exact same as the stuff you wipe your butt with every day (if you use TP at all, that is).
Where all the paper material gets sorted
These are bundles of raw material — ie. paper — that have just been delivered to the factory but aren’t yet sorted, shredded, pulped, etc. The more coloured paper there is, the more time it needs in the de-inking machine (which I would’ve taken photos of, but it’s really just a series of pipes). Anyway, point being: Life would be much easier for Cascades if we all stopped printing in pinks and blues, so keep it monochrome, people!
Blocks of shredded paper
This is mostly white, and mostly shredded, as you can see. Schools and offices are the primary sources of Cascades’ used paper, but they also hit up local waste management companies for all the stuff that get tossed into recycling bins (by the way, if you throw a spiral notebook into your recycling without first separating the coils from the paper, it could very well end up here and be left for Cascades to deal with). But what’s especially neat is that the company will try to organize shipments of both raw material and finished products from the same city — this means they can send a truck full of paper towels to one place, and have a truck full of raw material come back, without any empty 18-wheelers on the road.
Rolls of paper towels before they've been cut
Is this making your eyes go all googly? Here, you can see the rolls of paper towels before they’ve been chopped. They’re about 10 feet long.
After being cut, they zip along to the packing stage
Now they’ve been cut into their proper size and are flying along various conveyor belts, where they’ll eventually be coupled up and sealed into their plastic packages. If you’re wondering where the unbleached, brown paper towels are — well, they weren’t being made at precisely this moment. Unfortunately, only 1/10 consumers prefer to use the brown variety (I’m included amongst this small percentage) because most of us have been brainwashed into believing that white somehow denotes clean.
Things move pretty fast here
The speed of manufacturing at this plant is crazy; some of the conveyor belts move as fast as 100 km/h.
They slowed the machine down for a quick photo
Here are the finished paper towels, right before they get packaged into boxes for shipping. Cascades pays very close attention when it comes to maximizing the amount of product they can squeeze into a single truck and will sometimes change the diameter of a paper towel roll by a few millimeters in order to fit more in.
Presto - recycled paper towels, ready to be shipped
And there you have it: The finished rolls of Cascades Extreme Enviro paper towels. I have a lot more to say about this company (including an interesting back-story about the founder that involves a bunch of dirty newspaper, a household blender and a semi-miffed wife), but I’m saving it for an upcoming Sense & Sustainability column, so you’ll have to look for it on April 16th in the pages of the National Post (or online, on their Footprint page, over yonder).