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checkPaper Products in Environmental Services

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Janitorial paper products are single-use, non-recyclable items. Purchasing sustainable janitorial paper products made with recycled paper content without harsh chemicals in the bleaching process keeps waste paper out of landfills, saves trees and forests, and keeps toxins out of the waste stream.

  • Project Talking Points

    • Using virgin materials directly from trees to janitorial products is an inefficient use of valuable natural resources.
    • Most janitorial paper products: bathroom and facial tissue, paper towels, and toilet seat covers, are available with recycled content made from post-consumer recycled content, secondary content, and unbleached (no chlorine) materials.
    • Packaging’s primary purpose is to protect and contain a product. It also can prevent tampering, provide information, and preserve hygienic integrity and freshness. Some packaging, however, is unnecessary.  Some packaging is designed largely to enhance a product's attractiveness or prominence on the store shelf. Packaging materials account for a large volume of the trash we generate, providing a good opportunity for reducing waste.
    • As the amount of product in a container increases, the packaging waste per serving or use usually decreases making bulk buys attractive when possible.
    • Purchasing products made with postconsumer recycled content helps support local recycling markets and closes the loop.
    • Evaluate the cost/benefit to your workplace of using air dryers or cloth towels.
  • Triple Bottom Line Benefits

    Cost savings – Recycled-content bathroom tissue, facial tissue, and paper towels in the Away-from-Home market tend to be cost-competitive with, and sometimes less expensive than, their non-recycled counterparts. Costs may be incurred when switching from folded towel dispensers to roll towel dispensers. Despite these costs, using roll towels can reduce paper waste and reduce labor costs because they do not have to be replaced as frequently as folded towels.

    Environmental benefits – Green janitorial products are made from recycled paper content and therefore keep paper out of landfills and help save rain forests and their ecosystems. Additional environmental benefits come from choosing paper products made with less or no chlorine. Bleaching (whitening) paper pulp with elemental chlorine or chlorine compounds produces chlorinated pollutants, such as dioxin, in the wastewater stream.

    Health and safety benefits (satisfaction and quality) – According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, dioxin is a toxic industrial pollutant that is persistent in the environment. It accumulates in the fat tissue of animals and humans and has been linked to adverse human health effects, including cancer and toxicity to reproductive, immunologic, and endocrine systems. Totally chlorine-free bleaching, which uses alternative bleaching agents, such as oxygen and peroxide, eliminates dioxins and other chlorinated pollutants from the wastewater stream.

    Quality and outcomes - Metrics are in development. If you have suggestions, please  contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • Purchasing Considerations

    Contract Specifications:

    • Set preferences for third-party environmental certification as a product screening entity. Green Seal certified products that meet consensus environmental standards relevant to janitorial paper product contracts include: paper towels and paper napkins (GS-09); tissue paper (GS-01). EcoLogo is another good choice.
    • Specify preference for reusable packaging such as purchasing items in bulk delivered unwrapped in reusable totes or reduced packaging options such as coreless paper towels so there is nothing to dispose of after use.
    • The Alameda County General Services Agency bid paper products in 2008 and used the following specifications (see page 7).


  • How-To

    • Minimum recycled paper content standards are expressed as a percentage of recovered fiber, including a percentage of postconsumer fiber. The EPA’s recommended recovered fiber content levels for commercial/industrial sanitary tissue products can be found here.
    • Most states have policies with varying percentages for purchasing recycled content copy paper but facilities may prefer to use recycled content janitorial products whenever possible. EPA’s content procurement guidelines (CPG) set minimum recycled content standards for paper products, trashcan liners, waste, and recycling containers. In all, it covers over 50 products. Click here for a list of products.
    • Bleached vs. unbleached? Considerations will include staff satisfaction and if the product will be used in public areas versus patient care areas. Education about the environmental benefits of recycled content products should support these initiatives. The  Chlorine Free Products Association provides valuable information about the harmful effects of chlorine and why they should be avoided.
    • Packaging – recycled and recyclable – look for no plastic outer wrap.
      • Is the product’s primary packaging made with at least 10% postconsumer recycled content and does the label state “made with recycled content”? Primary packaging is what surrounds the product, e.g., a bottle is primary packaging for a cleaner.
    • Use and performance.
      • Look for “coreless” products, meaning there is no cardboard core to dispose of when the product is consumed. Coreless paper towels and tissue are readily available and offer an opportunity to reduce waste for healthcare facilities at the point of purchase.
      • Consider dispensers that handle bulk rolls, hands-free devices vs. no hands-free, and folded linen towels with on-site laundry capacity versus rolls. Remember towel lint is waste!
  • Tools

    • EPA Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator quantifies the projected environmental benefits of purchasing and using "green" janitorial services and products.
    • EPA's recommended recovered fiber content levels for commercial/industrial sanitary tissue products are available on-line.

    If you have an ROI tool, calculator, or similar resources to share, please contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • Case Studies

    Highland Hospital in Oakland, CA

    The following case study is excerpted from the Green California website:

    Highland Hospital, a 500-bed medical center in Oakland, California, switched from multi-fold paper towels to roll towels in all non-patient restrooms. The hospital has 40 non-patient restrooms with two dispensers in each for a total of 80 dispensers.”


    Projected annual savings per roll-towel dispenser were $8.57. The dispensers have an expected life of five years which means the hospital will save $3,435 over the life of the dispensers. The simple payback period for this investment is estimated to be three years. Note that this payback estimate does not include the 75% reduction in labor costs associated with changing rolls instead of multi-fold towels. Other cost savings include:

    • Reduced paper costs, and
    • Lower solid waste disposal costs.

    Since people use less paper with roll towels, approximately 43 fewer pounds of paper would accrue per dispenser each year. The total paper towel waste reduction for 80 dispensers is estimated at 3,442 pounds per year (1.74 tons).

  • Regulations, Codes and Standards, Policies

    The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requires procuring agencies to buy recycled-content products designated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG). Commercial/industrial sanitary tissue products are USEPA-designated items. Procuring agencies include all federal agencies, and any state or local government agencies or government contractors that use appropriated federal funds to purchase the designated items. If your agency spends more than $10,000 per year on a product designated in the CPG, you are required to purchase it with the highest recycled-content level practicable. This means that the recycled-content ranges recommended in the EPA's Recovered Materials Advisory Notice (RMAN) for the item in question are met. The EPA's recommended recovered fiber content levels for commercial/industrial sanitary tissue products are available on-line.

    Executive Order 13101 and the Federal Acquisition Regulation also call for an increase in the federal government's use of recycled-content and environmentally preferable products.

    Many states and municipalities also mandate use of recycled-content and environmentally preferable products. Some states like New York and North Carolina require state agencies to purchase paper products made from 100% recycled content.

  • Cross References: LEED

    LEED 2009 for Existing Buildings:

    • Materials & Resources, Credit 1, Sustainable Purchasing - Ongoing Consumables, 1 Point



  • Cross References: GGHC

    GGHC v2.2 2008 Revision:

    • Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, Credit 1, Solid Waste Reduction in Purchasing, 1 Point
  • PIM Synergies

    Establish baseline for current energy consumption.

    Adopt a facility-wide environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) policy.

    WASTE: Ensure staff are informed about and trained to participate in sustainability efforts.

  • Education Resources

    If you have any information or resources to contribute, please contact us or participate in the discussion below.


  • More Resources

    • Practice Greenhealth’s suggested considerations for janitorial paper products.
    • EPA’s paper recycling facts and figures.
    • Green Seal is a nonprofit organization that develops life cycle-based sustainability standards for products, services, and companies and offers third-party certification for those that meet the criteria in the standard.
    • EcoLogo is a third-party certifier of green products.
    • The Chlorine Free Products Association(CFPA) is an independent not-for-profit accreditation and standard setting organization that verifies production implementing advanced technologies free of chlorine chemistries. Recycled products manufactured without chlorine chemistries are labeled processed chlorine free, or PCF. Products that are elemental chlorine free, or ECF, use a chlorine derivative.
    • California’s best practices model for janitorial paper products covering environmental and health issues and recommendations can be found here.
  • PIM Descriptors

    Supply Chain

    Level: Beginner

    Category List:

    • Building and Maintenance
    • Products

    PIM Attributes:

    • Waste Reduction

    Improvement Type:


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