Tell us about your company and what inspired you to start it?
PlantPaper is a tree-free, toxin-free toilet paper company. Unknown to most, toilet paper often contains bleach, formaldehyde and a host of other known carcinogens – none of which are required to appear on packaging labels. The fluffier and whiter the toilet paper, the more chemicals are used in its production. We’ve chosen to eliminate all unnecessary glues, adhesives, additives, dyes, and bleach of any kind :) At the same time, we wanted to make a cleaner, more sustainable toilet paper that didn’t sacrifice on quality or comfort. Something I’d actually want to use. Nothing like that existed on the market (this was in 2017), and we saw that as a great opportunity.
How specifically does it relate to sustainable design, production and/or consumption?
PlantPaper relates to all three!
Our packaging and supply chain are 100% plastic-free. Toilet paper obviously needs some sort of water-resistant wrapping and should be tamper-proof (for retail) for hygiene reasons.
This poses several challenges when it comes to sustainable design. When we started PlantPaper, even the recycled TP brands were all still wrapping their rolls in plastic. We spent a while developing our chipboard 8-pack which has a convenient handle, and is sealed with origami-like folds so it’s tamper-proof.
Our fulfillment centre doesn’t use any plastic tape and, perhaps most significantly, we have eliminated all plastic wrapping inside our containers from our manufacturer. (The norm is to wrap all cardboard cases in a ton of plastic in case there’s water leakage inside a container; we were appalled by the plastic used in a business-as-usual case and chose to go in another direction.)
Lastly, we’ve chosen to eliminate all forms of bleach, unnecessary binders, additives, glues and formaldehyde in the recipe (formaldehyde and other known carcinogens are used in conventional TP!). This means less toxins entering our waterways and ecosystems and less toxins touching our bodies and entering our bloodstreams.
Then of course there’s our decision to go tree-free in the first place. Trees used in conventional toilet paper sold in America come from a mix of Canadian boreal forest and plantation grown eucalyptus, much of it grown where rainforests once stood. It’s a terrible, wasteful use of our natural resources. Bamboo, on the other hand, is nearly an ideal raw material for making household paper goods, due to how quickly and densely it grows without the need for any inputs, and how much of its carbon remains intact even after harvesting.
What community or customer behaviors are you hoping to create or reinforce?
I love this question! When it comes to toilet paper, people are usually quite specific about their preferences and stick to what they’re used to – ultra thick, super white toilet paper. For us, softness and performance were priority in our R+D. We strongly believe that sustainability should not be and does not have to be a tradeoff – it can in fact be a trade up! This is something we are trying to show people by providing customers with a performance-driven, luxurious sustainable TP option.
That being said, our TP isn’t cashmere-soft–and we didn’t want it to be. We found that some of the brands that felt fluffiest in the hand were actually less effective in doing the job they’re supposed to do–keeping us clean. They also often pilled and tore during use. We wanted to find the perfect blend of grippiness and silkiness–hence our signature, two-sided embossing pattern. A better TP also means one that doesn’t expose you to bleach and other toxins. Just as most people now perceive that brown eggs and brown bread are typically (though not always) superior options to bright white ones, we’re working on changing norms and attitudes around white TP. We often hear customers say “I never want white tissue touching my body ever again!’ Then we know we’ve succeeded.
What is one of the most helpful or enlightening lessons you’ve learned along the way?
I think a lot of my learning has been around figuring out the balance between being part of a small but ambitious start-up and being a new mother. I was pregnant with our first baby when the pandemic started in March 2020. I was hit hard with Covid just before any quarantine and at the same time, TP was the product of the moment and things were really hectic. I worked while I got increasingly sick and barely took any time off. The same thing happened when I gave birth. I barely took time away from the business though nursing and all the post-labor healing was a huge challenge.
Two years later and pregnant with our second, I’ve learned a few things about balance: I take weekends off, only on occasion do I work after dinnertime, I took work off entirely when I had covid for the second time earlier this year (in part out of necessity as the whole family was sick!) and I plan to take real time off when we have our second in September. This is only doable with the right help: seeking and asking for help – whether that be child care or help with the business – is crucial and being ok with not finishing your to-do list everyday are important things I’ve learned! Most things can wait until tomorrow (now inhale, exhale).
What’s the biggest problem you’re currently trying to solve?
Using trees and chemicals to make TP. We currently use FSC-certified bamboo (technically a grass) but are working on domestic manufacturing using other renewable and sustainable materials. The infrastructure is not yet there so it’s a bit of an uphill climb, but we’ll get there!
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