An inside look at the Cascades recycled paper towel (and toilet paper) factory

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

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

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, mostly from schools and offices

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

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

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

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

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

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).


16 Responses to An inside look at the Cascades recycled paper towel (and toilet paper) factory

  1. Laurie says:

    Interesting! I love your in depth post.


  2. I love that you wrote an expose that was full of love on toilet paper. What I can’t believe is how busy we both are that I had no idea you went to Montreal and back and I didn’t even know. Next thing you’re going to tell me is that you made two trips to Africa in the last month. See you in Ireland (I hope)!

  3. Lisa says:

    OMG, one of my first eco-changes was buying cascades BROWN paper towel too! I love their products and their toilet paper. Interesting to know that their claims are backed up with certification and that they let you into their factory. I lived in Montreal for two years and had no clue their factory was “local” 🙂
    Also interesting that 7th Gen is made by them as well. As a Canadian I’ll probably just stick to cascade products as they would be considered “local”. 🙂

    Go Brown Paper Towel!!! 🙂

  4. “While it’s obviously best not to use any paper whatsoever…”

    So, I’m trying to figure out what we would need paper towels for in the first place. We don’t use them at all in our house after discovering Skoy cloths, which 100% biodegradable and compostable, made from cotton and natural cellulose. One Skoy cloth can, supposedly, take the place of 15 rolls of paper towels.

    Other people use plain old rags.

    I do think that recycled paper towels are better than non-recycled. But zero paper towels would be what we should aim for, right?


    (Of course my original reason for skipping the paper towels of any sort was the disposable plastic packaging. Can’t get around that one either.)

  5. Jennifer says:

    I use rags for everything. There have been just a couple instances while working on my house where paper has been “safer” or more friendly for the environment… mostly when working with environmentally unfriendly things like caulk. Well… caulk is GREAT because it keeps drafts out and energy bills down, but I’m sure it’s full of chemicals and such.

    Anyway, when you apply it properly to brick, you have to use your FINGER to wipe/tool it (at least at my house- no metal or rubber tool would have worked all of those mortar joints). The caulk needs wiped off. I COULD have wiped it on a cloth, which then would NOT wash off (come see my work pants with caulk all over them) and then been useless, but I chose to use toilet paper in little bits as I think it’s better to throw paper away than cloth?

    There have been other situations where paper felt less wasteful, too. Not many… but enough to have a roll lying around to use up over a year or two.

  6. Martin says:

    We don’t keep paper towels in the house either. I would probably use them if I still had a car, although rags are a better choice for most jobs.

  7. Daisy says:

    I live in an area of the US where paper is a major industry. Many of our mills have gone to all-recycled pulp, too. The big issue is whether the recycled matter is post consumer. It looks like Cascades does it right!

  8. Jenny says:

    I heard of you somehow through the internet, when I’m netting it up. But, anyhow…here’s an idea, or maybe just something I do to be greenified. I live in an appt. and there really isn’t much I can do about the building and such, but I do recycle, even though I know for sure the other people living here DO NOT. I saw an entire couch in the trash bin the other day!! Anywho, this one goes out to the laundry doers everywhere. I wash my cloths on cold to preserve energy on heating water, and then I bring them directly back up to my room. AT this point I unfold all of them and hang them on hangers in my closet to dry. This saves probably an hour in the dryer and makes my room smell good, along with adding much needed humidity into my appt. It’s a great way to preserve even when you don’t own your own place. Hope this inspires someone!

  9. abdi ali says:

    How do I get contact information..I need to replace and buy more brown paper

  10. I think that what you posted was very logical. But, what about this? what if you were to create a killer title? I ain’t saying your content isn’t good., however suppose you added a title that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean An inside look at the Cascades recycled paper towel (and toilet paper) factory | Green as a Thistle is a little vanilla. You could look at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create news headlines to grab people to open the links. You might try adding a video or a pic or two to grab people interested about everything’ve got to say. Just my opinion, it might make your posts a little livelier.

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