Rapidly Renewable Raw Materials are Changing the Paper Industry

“Some things never change,” I’ve heard more than five or ten times in my life, generally from level headed and practical minds that see consistency like they watch the sun rise. Although that may be true, I’ve always been struck with a sense of why? when I hear that simple thought roll off the tongue of a patient observer. In a way, it was that question that drove us to create Nimbus Eco.

How can such a pervasive industry and product go unchanged for so long? Sure there have been minor pivots from time to time, like 1ply, embossed, or color prints but for such a large industry (80B/annually) it seemed counterintuitive to stay stagnant. The largest and most defining course correct was the introduction of recycling and the watershed moment it created. Not only was the industry able to lessen its impact on the environment, it was able to produce toilet paper and towel for less, saving the consumer money and increasing profits for the large companies.

The one hitch of this innovation being the quality of recycled tissue, it tends to be scratchy and tough, essentially the process pulls away the softness we’ve become accustomed to. Two steps forward, one step back you might say. Then nothing, for twenty some odd years, the “green revolution” stagnated and the eco-friendly norm became low quality, low cost, recycled crap.

Back to my business partner and I bouncing ideas around, we thought, why not look into a sustainable option that had similar qualities to the trees that make up our tissue? We R&D’d for over a year, trying every iteration of sugarcane, wheat straw, bamboo, and recycled we could find, some 30 factories in all. Ultimately we landed on bamboo. It creates soft and strong tissue because the fiber length is close to a softwood tree and it can be processed in the same way a traditional tissue can. So we ran with that. One big problem though, price. In 2013 the cost of bamboo raw material was nearly 50% higher than tree based tissue which, in the tissue world, knocks you way out of the ballpark.

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People love to be green but don’t want to pay for it, don’t let anyone tell you differently!! So as we learned and grew, we continued to push for better pricing as we met new partners and brought in new products. I’m happy to say we’ve brought our pricing down by over 100% and the quality is now better than ever. In fact in internal testing our bamboo based tissue has scored up to 40% higher than some of the leading brands on the market.

We now offer a 100% bamboo product and a new “hybrid” tissue that combines bamboo and FSC certified wood, we call this blend “Stratus” and if you didn’t know any better, you would think it was that premium toilet paper you buy for special occasions (is that a thing??) haha. Oh yeah, you can buy it here! We’ve found that blended products are thicker, stronger, and break down quicker in water than anything else we’ve ever seen and I imagine we’ll continue to R&D various blends as we move forward.

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So, what does the future hold? After seeing just about every facet of the industry the last few years and understanding what it will take to really drive growth, provide the best products, and make the industry more sustainable, I believe the answer lies in two crops, bamboo and hemp. Bamboo because it’s properties are nearly identical to trees and it grows like a weed, and hemp well, because it is a weed! No really, hemp has long fibers (read: soft and strong) and is also great for the soil and can be used as a rotation crop which opens it up to be grown on farms all over the world that would otherwise lie fruitless in the off months. Hemp is also naturally anti-microbial which would be a great attribute for tissue considering its use.

We have begun to test hemp on various levels from the selection of the proper cultivars to the growing specifics and ultimately yield, cost of production, and quality.  We believe that hemp blended with bamboo could be the holy grail of sustainable tissue that the industry has been looking for and we’re excited to be leading the charge in this exciting space.

The clear hurdles we face are the big companies insistence on solely using trees for their tissue and the land and infrastructure needed to bring these sustainable crops out of the shadows and into our homes. Education will be key, cost will be key, and product quality will need to be the same if not better to facilitate the adoption of these materials. Innovation cannot proceed without the consumer demanding sustainable options but those options must meet the high standards many have for their most sensitive spots. With bamboo and hemp, we can realize a better future not only for the industry but the world. People say some things never change… I’ve never been one to prescribe to that and I hope you won’t either.