This blog was co-authored by Natalie Dryja, Environment America Wild Forests Intern
The destruction of old-growth forests is the embodiment of a wastefully short-sighted mentality. We are facing a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis. We should not be destroying essential habitats and some of our most valuable natural carbon sinks. Of course, we don’t have to.
When it comes to making paper products, home products, and construction materials, alternatives to using centuries-old trees exist. Paper products can be made from recycled paper and wheat straw. Buildings can be constructed with reclaimed wood. And bamboo is being used everywhere — from paper and tools to flooring. This spring, Environment America Wild Forests Intern Natalie Dryja has been exploring the many alternatives to timber and wood pulp.
Here are some of the “fun facts” we learned about bamboo paper products from Albert and Ryan:
Bamboo can grow up to 3 feet per day and is ready for harvest in just 3 years, compared to the 50-plus years it takes many trees.
Bamboo absorbs massive amounts of carbon during this rapid growth phase making it a powerful tool for carbon sequestration.
Bamboo does not die after harvesting and can be re-harvested annually for 50 years (no deforestation or replanting).
You can make almost any personal paper product from bamboo including toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, and facial tissues.
Initially, there was not much equipment available to convert bamboo to pulp and what was available was expensive. But as more consumers are purchasing bamboo paper, companies like Caboo will be able to upgrade their equipment and technology to produce higher quality paper products.
Traditional toilet paper accounts for the equivalent of 27,000 trees being cut down per day.
Check out the full transcript of our conversations below
Note: The answers to these questions were transcribed by Natalie Dryia, some minor words may have been edited during transcription.
Photo credit: Eleonora Albasi via Unsplash
Q&A with Albert Addante founder and CEO of Caboo
Tell me a bit about your company, how long have you been running and what do you do?
We’re a sustainable paper products brand. We launched eight years ago into natural grocery distribution in North America. All of our products are made from bamboo, which is a renewable resource, grass, not a tree, and grows very quickly. So we created this brand to fill a void in the market for sustainable products and feel that consumers are now looking for alternative fiber to address the impacts of deforestation.
What kind of customers do you primarily sell to?
Individuals. We’re primarily selling into grocery, which is the consumer packaged goods segment, and also online, such as Amazon and direct to the consumer.
What made you interested in starting this?
Well, we wanted to create a product that not only is something that everyone uses but something that people feel can address environmental concerns and make a difference when it comes to deforestation, global warming, and these types of issues. And we felt this product addressed a need in the marketplace.
There’s more media coverage now about the boreal rainforest and it’s becoming more and more important for us to look at these types of products. So we appreciate that you are buying the products and definitely makes a difference; 27,000 trees daily are cut down just for the use of toilet paper. So there are a lot of really scary facts out there.
What types of challenges have you faced in starting your own company?
Like a lot of small companies to get on the radar of retailers, you have to take a lot of risks. You have to invest more into promotion and launching your products. So there is a lot of personal fight and financial risk that you have to commit to when launching a new brand, especially in retail where the slotting and the promotional requirements are very deep and very expensive for new brands. So it is a challenge to grow into a concept that everybody eventually understands. Building it to that point is the hardest part.
Educating people and making sure that you’re always investing in your marketing in the early stages is really important.
Tell me more about your product.
We have toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, facial tissues, and we also have baby wipes, cleaning wipes, and personal care wipes. And all of it is derived from bamboo — bamboo raw material.
How long does it take to make the product?
The bamboo itself is grown by farmers. We’ve visited the farms and met with farmers, for a lot of them. It’s a side business where the crops are close to their home and, they chop it, the bamboo grows very quickly.
So in a way it’s, it’s kind of a win-win situation for them so they can get rid of it and sell it as well. It grows very quickly within one to two years, bamboo stocks are cut down and sold to our pulp company, which converts the bamboo into pulp. The pulp making is very similar to tree-based pulp making. In fact, it’s quite identical.
There’s a lot that goes into water recycling and safe practices when it comes to creating this pulp, the pulp is converted into the final product. So the timeline for creating the final product is very similar to tree-based products. There is no higher carbon footprint or anything of that nature.
Do you think that this would be something that’s feasible for the industry to shift, to totally bamboo instead of tree pulp? Or do you think this is still more of a niche product and customer base?
I think it’s both. Initially, the available equipment to convert these products was very limited. So the quality result wasn’t so great. However, as more and more consumers are purchasing this product, we are able to upgrade our equipment and upgrade our technology where the softness and strength can be improved, likewise improved.
So it’s a matter of time where the quality will be very similar to a super soft tree-based product.
Your product seems a little more expensive than typical products. Is that something that as supply increases the price would be made comparable with tree-made products, or is it something where the cost of bamboo, in general, is going to be more expensive?
The bamboo pulp itself is not necessarily more expensive than tree-based pulp. The issue is volume. Volumes need to increase in order for us to purchase pulp at higher volumes and create a more cost-effective product.
The second factor is promotion and marketing. You have to heavily promote your product early on. So in order to recover those costs pricing generally has to be higher.
Did you see a change in sales when the COVID pandemic started?
Yeah, we, we did. We ran out just like every other manufacturer. The key factor for us is that we’re able to get into people’s homes that normally wouldn’t have purchased us. They wouldn’t have discovered us, so we were just happy to get new buyers interested and educated in the product. And, the COVID demand definitely helped in that regard. So, as many manufacturers struggled for supply, we ran out and we were able to get more product in to continue to fill the demands.
Do you see a potential for bamboo paper products to be expanded into commercial use?
Yeah, I believe it is something that will go into commercial use. However, commercial is probably the last stop as it’s very margin-driven and volume-driven. So until we can get our margins or our volumes high and accept very narrow margins, I think that these brands will probably exist in the retail space for now and eventually phase into the commercial space in the coming years.
The commercial is price-driven. If you’re a restaurant, especially now, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is paying an extra 20 percent for bamboo toilet paper, unfortunately. So, it’s best for us to just wait a little bit longer until our costs can improve. The quality won’t be a barrier in commercials, it’s more a cost factor.
Being a college student, I feel like a lot of people in my generation are really interested in conscious spending and buying products that they feel are actually a benefit to society. So I’m hopeful that this project can give some increased business to Caboo.
Yeah, we, we do appreciate that, and we try to be as transparent as possible. We think that the new generation is not a generation that wants to be sold. They want to research, they want to understand the product. So we hope that we’re able to articulate it in a way that’s well-received, and we try to be humble and to try to be as transparent as we can. Hopefully, they’ll (want) the product, and we’ll try and improve it along the way. We’ll try to improve the cost, and we’re working on many other innovations to improve packaging and things like that. So we hope that people can stay patient as we continue to improve the product.
Q&A with Ryan Fritsch, the co-founder of CloudPaper
How long have you been running?
We started Cloud Paper in April 2019 after learning about the devastating impact the tissue and paper industry is having on our forests and our planet.
What kind of customers do you sell to?
We initially started selling to business customers like co-working spaces, restaurants, and hotels. However, in the spring of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused shutdowns through most of the U.S., we re-positioned the company to deliver our products to those who needed it most: households. Now we have thousands of households across the U.S. who have made the switch to tree-free paper. Customers appreciate our plastic-free packaging, carbon-neutral deliveries, and the convenience of home delivery on a regular basis.
What made you interested in doing this?
We wanted to start a company that had an immediate and material impact on our planet. Humankind continues to cut down an acre of forest every second around the globe, and we’ve already lost 50 percent of the forests that once existed.
Deforestation is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and yet we are still reliant on virgin wood fibers for throwaway products like toilet paper and paper towels. We knew there was a better and more sustainable way.
Tell me about your product
Our products are tree-free, made with 100 percent ultra-renewable bamboo. All packaging is made with recycled materials, is 100 percent plastic-free, and fully recyclable and compostable. We also two-times offset any carbon emissions generated by the transportation of our product.
Can you speak to the environmental impact of your product vs those made from other materials?
Our products are made with 100 percent bamboo, which is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. Bamboo can grow up to 3 feet per day and is ready for harvest in just 3 years, compared to the 50-plus years it takes for many trees. Bamboo absorbs massive amounts of carbon during this rapid growth phase, making it a powerful tool for carbon sequestration. Finally, Bamboo does not die after harvesting and can be harvested annually for 50 years (no deforestation or replanting). At a minimum, bamboo paper products produce 30 percent fewer greenhouse emissions than traditional paper products. On top of that, Cloud Paper further reduces the impact of our product by only using recycled materials in our packaging, removing all plastic from our product, and offsetting carbon emissions generated by the transportation of our product.
Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America Research & Policy Center
Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.