Quilted Northern, a Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products (GP) brand, is launching paper packaging for the bestselling packs of its Ultra Soft & Strong line, making it the first national toilet paper brand to offer recyclable paper packaging in major retailers.
The paper packaging, which will be available on the product’s 6 Mega packs and Amazon case packs, is expected to eliminate approximately 500,000 pounds of plastic waste each year, the company says.
“We are serious about our sustainability journey and decreasing our environmental impact,” says Amanda Gage-Cole, vice president and general manager of the Quilted Northern brand. “That’s why we are proud to be the first national toilet paper brand to launch curbside recyclable paper packaging. Our product development team has worked diligently since 2020 to develop the innovative packaging to withstand manufacturing and shipping without ripping, while meeting all requirements to make recycling easier for our shoppers.”
The legacy pack format used on Quilted Northern was LDPE plastic shrink film, which exhibits both puncture resistance and water resistance. So from a functional standpoint, any paper-based material that would replace the LDPE format would also have to sufficiently exhibit those qualities for the tissue product to make to make it through the supply chain, through retail, to consumers’ homes intact and dry.
Sure enough, the new paper format “was designed to withstand potential tears and punctures throughout the supply chain, from the manufacturing facility in Louisiana to the customers home,” says Jason Morgan, director of packaging, GP. “And while not ‘waterproof,’ the paper packaging was designed to provide adequate water resistance and protect the product during customary transport by the customer; for example, taking the product from the store to your car during a rainstorm.”
The paper packaging is produced using a 2.4 mil-thick virgin fiber that incorporates some adhesive coatings, but those coatings do not affect the recyclability profile. Perhaps most interesting to other brands and CPGs interested in this project, the new paper product runs on existing equipment—with some minor retrofits, of course. “We found that this gauge of paper provided the optimal blend of runability on our processing equipment, protection of the product throughout the supply chain, and ease of use for our customers,” Morgan says. “We formulated the paper wrap to work well with our existing packaging equipment. We did have to make some modifications to those production lines, but the existing equipment is used.”
The new-pack-format product rollout is not just a more sustainable option, it’s SKU-wide. All 6M and Amazon case packs will only be available in new recyclable paper packaging. It is available at select retailers throughout the country, in addition to via e-comm channels. Speaking of e-comm channels, how does the paper packaging perform in the rigorous, many-touch D2C environment?
“We went through extensive testing with the design and found good performance through the e-comm channel,” Morgan says. “We have also conducted audits of e-comm and retail product and found good performance from a handling and supply chain damage standpoint.”
From an aesthetic perspective, the paper is printed via flexography. Morgan says the company and its suppliers optimized the number of colors to provide excellent graphics while minimizing the amount of ink used, and no issues with printability on the paper substrate have been found. Ink minimization is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to sustainability-minded perks of the new format.
While GP has not conducted a third party-reviewed life cycle analysis (LCA) of the full suite of environmental impacts on the LDPE-to-paper switch, it should be noted that plastic films are not now widely recyclable at all, much less curbside recyclable. Contrast that with paper packaging, which is 100% recyclable, and overwhelmingly curbside recyclable in most municipalities. It stands to reason that, according to Todd Wingfield, Sustainability Director, GP, “the paper packaging increases access and ease of recycling and reduces plastic waste while still providing shoppers with the same quality and comfort expected from the brand.”
The virgin paper product is not FSC certified, but it still can claim circularity bona fides, since “two trees are planted with the Arbor Day Foundation for every tree used by our paper suppliers,” Wingfield adds.
We asked Wingfield, how are these types of sustainability chops, and the newfound recyclability profile, communicated to consumers? Afterall, they should now start recycling this Quilted Northern Packaging when they haven’t been able to previously.
“Front of pack communication focuses on ‘Recyclable Paper Packaging' to clarify for the consumer what the material is made of, and to call out the most valued benefit of paper wrap packaging to the consumer: recyclability. Back-of-pack communication clarifies that the packaging is curbside recyclable,” he says. On-pack communication does not include information from third parties, but Wingfield confirms that the packaging passed repulpability and recyclability testing per protocol by an independent third-party testing facility.
Notably, PW also reported on the SOFIDEL own-brand Nicky being tested in the U.S. last year online . But the Quilted Northern pack switch appears to be a more significant roll out of paper, since the Nicky brand is not considered a national toilet paper brand that would be distributed in the majority of retailers across the U.S. Also, the Quilted Northern brand is selling products in paper packaging to in-store retailers, not just online like Nicky. PW