The Biggest Change to Toilet Paper in 120 Years Could Be a Boon to the Environment

Scott Paper is saying good-bye to cardboard tubes in its Naturals tissue line.

(Photo: 2rms/Flickr)

Aug 27, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Toilet paper commercials tend to tout how soft the tissue is or how long a roll lasts. But the biggest change to come to the hygiene product in more than 120 years has nothing to do with how luxurious the paper feels on your behind. Scott Paper, the original inventor of toilet paper’s cardboard cylinder, is ditching the ubiquitous tube.

Kimberly-Clark, the parent company of Scott Naturals, said it made the change to reduce waste and lessen the environmental impact of toilet paper. The tubeless tissue works the same way that traditional rolls work. Stick it on the spindle on a toilet paper holder in your bathroom, and you’re good to go.

That’s where the similarities end. Once the roll is used up, there’s nothing to throw away. The company claims that Americans chuck 17 billion cardboard tubes in the garbage every year, enough to fill the Empire State Building twice.

Last week, in a stunt that would surely make every craft lover proud, the company created a replica of the iconic Manhattan building out of 14,000 discarded toilet paper tubes. “That’s how many NYC throws away EVERY 15 MINUTES,” the brand wrote on its Facebook page.

Along with the tubes ending up in the nation’s landfills, the production of those cardboard pieces and other paper products results in the destruction of forests and the pollution of waterways. “The paper and pulp industry may contribute to more global and local environmental problems than any industry in the world,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Given that, it’s smart to say "so long" to the tubes, but the company also had to think strategically about how to get consumers to buy in to the shift.

“We know the vast majority of American consumers want to be greener, but they are unwilling to pay extra for it, and they are unwilling to sacrifice quality for it,” Jared Mackrory, brand manager for Scott, told the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal.

Mackrory said the company made sure the cost of the toilet paper didn’t go up. Its Neenah, Wis.–based scientists and engineers had to design the roll so that it wouldn’t just unravel when pulled. They came up with modifications to Scott’s manufacturing equipment so that it operates at higher speeds, which prevents the roll from falling apart. The manufacturing changes are offset by the money saved by taking out the cardboard tube.

“If this were easy, other brands would be doing it,” said Mackrory.

Of course, to ensure that other toilet paper brands are also able to produce less waste, it would be generous of Scott to share with the competition how it created these tubeless rolls of toilet paper. After all, Kimberly-Clark also makes Cottonelle toilet tissue and a slew of paper towel products. Meanwhile, the tubeless Scott Naturals line will be sold nationally at Walmart stores.