Tissue Paper: To Recycle or Compost?
Most tissue paper on the market (including ours) is labeled as recyclable. But, what does this mean? What should you do with the tissue paper you or your customers receive in gift bags or your shipping boxes?
Should You Recycle Your Tissue Paper?
Like almost all recycling questions, the answer is “it depends” and “follow the rules set by your local recycler."
Technically, tissue paper, like all paper, is recyclable as long as it is free of contaminants such as foil and glitter. It can be repulped and turned back into another form of paper.
However, for a municipality or waste management provider to accept any category of items for recycling, the provider must have the infrastructure to sort the material and profitable markets to sell into.
Tissue paper (whether it is virgin tissue paper or 100% recycled tissue paper) is low grade material. This means it isn’t always easy for recyclers or MRFs (materials recovery facilities) to find buyers who are willing to pay for it. Additionally, it is a very thin and flimsy material. Some recyclers struggle to properly sort the material, depending on their sorting equipment and processes.
Because of these nuances, certain recyclers aren't able to accept tissue paper (even if the tissue paper is labeled as recyclable).
The good news is that tissue paper is accepted at many industrial compost facilities and (as long as it is free of foil and glitter) can be home composted. Unadorned tissue paper can be a healthy addition to a compost pile because it absorbs excess moisture generated by food waste and bioplastics.
Composting Your Tissue Paper? Beware of Common Contaminants
When your local municipality does not accept tissue paper for recycling, your next best option to keep the material out of the landfill is to compost it. However, when composting tissue paper, please ensure it has no foil, glitter, or shiny coating! This rule is true for recycling as well, but we believe it is even more critical for composting.
If your tissue has any of these contaminants, they will be sorted out of the composting line, or (more likely and much more problematically) they will end up in the final compost product which will then end up in the land where that compost is used.
This is a major environmental hazard and directly places microplastics and other synthetics into our soils. It also degrades the output produced by your local composting operation which in turn makes it difficult for them to successfully sell their product at the price they need to stay afloat.
Additionally, we generally recommend that tissue with full coverage printing is not composted. If you can recycle it, please do! If you can't, we recommend landfilling it instead.
While flood coat printed tissue paper may not carry microplastics and may even be cleared by a certifying body for composting, the (often toxic) pigments still end up in the compost and ultimately in our soils.
We strongly recommend that eCommerce brands who want to incorporate tissue into their packaging avoid flood coated or dyed tissue paper, and any tissue paper that may contain foil, toner inks, glitter, and other elements. This is to ensure your customers can recycle your tissue paper when feasible in their municipality or they can safely compost the tissue paper if needed.
How to Provide Tissue Paper End-of-Life Guidance To Your Customers
If you plan on incorporating tissue paper into your eCommerce packaging strategy, we recommend avoiding a blanket statement such as “our tissue paper is 100% recyclable” in favor of:
“Recyclable, check with your local facilities. Compost if tissue recycling is not available in your area.”
If you ship to someone In Boulder County, Colorado (the location of EcoEnclose), residents and businesses are asked to compost their tissue paper (as long as it is foil and plastic-free). If you ship just north or south of us (in Larimer County or Denver County), residents are asked to recycle their tissue paper. San Francisco residents are asked to compost their tissue paper, while New York City residents are asked to recycle it. Here is an illustrative example, showing the guidance provided by Boulder County and Larimer County side-by-side.
Remember to encourage your customers to reuse their tissue paper first! Reusing tissue paper is great for crafts, wrapping linens or other household goods, or for gifting.
Finding the Most Sustainable Tissue Paper Options
If the end of life of tissue depends on where someone lives more than the tissue itself, should sustainable consumers or brands look for anything in particular when searching for the most eco-friendly tissue paper possible?
YES! Seek out tissue paper that is:
- Made with 100% recycled content and as much post-consumer waste as possible.
- Made without foil, glitter, or other synthetic additions.
- Printed with water or soy-based inks and flexographic or offset printing technology (avoid digital toner printing).
EcoEnclose tissue paper is made with 100% recycled content (20% post-consumer waste). It is also pH neutral and processed chlorine free. Our tissue paper is also FSC Certified, sourced from Seaman Paper, which holds FSC Chain-of-Custody certification. Our eco-designed and custom tissue paper is printed with water-based ink.
End-of-Life Guidance For All eCommerce Packaging
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