We’re back again with more naked facts, summarising and sharing the results of our recent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
In our first post we covered what an LCA is, why they are important, and the steps we have taken to ensure that ours is the most detailed and transparent in the tissue industry.
Now it’s time to dive into the raw stuff of the LCA itself. And we mean “raw stuff” literally, because we’re covering our materials and how they get to our factory.
The first part of our LCA covers “upstream” emissions, the production of the raw materials we use to make Naked Sprout, and how these materials get to our factory. We can sort these into four categories: Raw bamboo and cardboard, soaps and glue, biofuel, and packaging.
Raw Bamboo and Cardboard
We make two kinds of tissue at Naked Sprout; bamboo, and recycled.
Our bamboo arrives at our factory in the form of unbleached pulp, so if we want to be thorough (and we do) we need to consider how it’s grown, harvested, and pulped, before we even think about transport.
The production and pulping of our bamboo is carried out by FSC-certified forestry projects, so we are confident they are meeting the best internationally recognised standards of sustainable agriculture. Sadly there are as yet no agreed upon numbers for the CO2e emissions that bamboo generates specifically, and these forestry projects have not yet put the numbers together, so we have had to use a generic stand-in, in the form of the factor for “soft wood paper pulp.”
We talked through some of the issues with factors in our post last week. We’re not delighted to have to use these generic calculations rather than our own figures, but we are determined to be transparent when we do. The true number for bamboo paper pulp should be lower than the factor we have used, because bamboo does not need nearly as much energy to maintain and harvest as traditional timber sources. But these are the numbers we have for now, so they are the numbers we are using.
After growing, harvesting, and pulping comes transport. For all the curious cats who ask us about the carbon cost of shipping bamboo, this is where we find that number!
The distance from the forest to factory is travelled by road and sea. For every kilogram of bamboo toilet roll we produce, this journey generates 0.1 kg of CO2e, just under 23% percent of our total upstream emissions. It’s not nothing, but it’s kept relatively low by the fact that we use mostly sea freight along very established trade routes, and that, unlike the brands who manufacture in China, we are shipping raw pulp which takes up much less space than finished rolls.
Okay, so that’s the bamboo pulp at the factory. Now to fetch the material for our recycled rolls!
Cardboard and kraft paper come from recycling centres and kerbside collections in the area around our factory in Spain. As we mentioned last time, we will be reducing the climate cost of this transport over the next year by securing a regular supply of waste cardboard through local supermarkets. This will allow us to collect larger amounts of cardboard in a single load, meaning less journeys to get the material we need.
All this lovely card and paper is pulped at our factory, so we’ll get to the process for that in the next post, and we are done with our raw material collection!
Soaps and Glue
Now on to the glues, soaps, and de-lumpers (technical term) that we add to our pulp to turn it into smooth sheets of tissue.
With bleach, dyes, or fragrances, there aren’t any harsh chemical additives to Naked Sprout but we do use a couple of mineral compounds and chemical agents to break down and clean our pulp. These “converting agents” meet the EU’s REACH certification to ensure they are non-toxic and essentially neutral in their environmental impact. We also use a very environmentally friendly adhesive derived from tree sap to bind our plys together.
The CO2e cost of creating these cleaning and binding agents, and transporting them to our factory, has been added to the total. For a box of 24 bamboo rolls they make up 24% of our upstream emissions.
With our pulp all smooth and clean and our glue pine-fresh and ready to go we can crack on with making toilet rolls, right?
Not quite yet! We have one more category in our pile of raw materials, because our factory has converted parts of its operations to run using biofuel. If you’re interested to know what this biofuel is, we already lifted the lid in a previous post. Spoiler alert: it’s sheep poo and twigs.
We’ll come back to our biofuel and how we use it in a bit more detail when we talk about manufacturing, but for now, we just need to know the CO2e cost of transporting it. Bringing these fuels to our factory by road from the farms and forests where they are gathered adds another little chunk of emissions, about 3% of our upstream total.
Okay, now we have gathered everything we need to make our rolls. But unless we want all of our customers to come to our factory and pick them up by hand (which would be terrible for our emissions), we need to get them packaged.
When it comes to eco rolls we’re happy to be the plain Janes at the party; no colourful layers of virgin paper wrapping, no advertising inserts, no plastic in sight. Naked Sprout rolls come in brown cardboard boxes printed with soy ink. About 15% of our total upstream emissions comes from manufacturing these boxes and getting them to the factory.
So far, so boring, but there’s an extra packaging element that is usually kept backstage, and we want to give it its moment to shine.
Picture a load of 24 roll boxes, neatly stacked up on a pallet at our factory, ready to be loaded onto a lorry and brought to the UK for delivery. There are eight boxes of 24 rolls on a single layer, and the stack is ten layers high. How do we stop these mammoth towers of toilet roll from wobbling and falling over?
For nearly all consumer goods, including other toilet rolls, the answer is basically cling film. Polyethylene film is a plastic wrapping that the vast majority of manufacturers use to ensure their products are kept safely in place during transport. Anyone who works in logistics will be familiar with this film - it’s a huge category of disposable plastic that has, for years, been considered part of the inevitable environmental costs of doing business.
But as you may have gathered, we are sticklers for detail here at Naked Sprout. Our factory works with a company located less than 7 miles from their production site, who make a stretch wrap called “Packagreen”. This wonderful film is made from 80% post-consumer recycled material and, unlike polyethylene, it’s biodegradable.
This wrapping is not something most people will ever see, but it’s technically packaging, and it’s absolutely our responsibility. So we have included the emissions involved in manufacturing Packagreen and getting it to our factory, about 1% of our total upstream emissions.
Adding it Up
So that’s what it takes to produce and transport the material we use to make Naked Sprout. Our “upstream” emissions account for 73.6% of our total climate footprint. When it comes to the final climate cost of Naked Sprout, there’s not a whole lot left.
But there’s much more to talk about.
We constantly say that our processes are innovative, unusual, and uniquely sustainable. Here’s the evidence - none of our competitors can count the majority of their emissions, let alone almost three quarters of them, in this “upstream” category.
Why is this? It’s not because our raw materials are more polluting than the norm, far from it. We’ve highlighted the pains we take to make every part of our raw materials more sustainable than the standard norm, even the norm for other eco rolls.
So what makes us different? How have we told most of the story of our emissions before we’ve made a single sheet of toilet paper, while other brands still have the bulk of theirs to come?
In our next post we look into how it all comes together, as we take all this pulp, glue, fuel, and packaging, and make your finished boxes of Naked Sprout.
This means we get to talk about our factory, and the pioneering processes that allow us to meet the most ambitious sustainability targets in the world.
Can’t wait to see these raw materials in their final form?