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Paper company turns to wheat straw, bamboo for tissues, towels

Roxana Hegeman Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. – A company plans to roll out a new line of tissues and paper towels this month that incorporates wheat straw and bamboo, which it hopes will provide a rapidly renewable and environmentally friendly source of fiber for its products while giving farmers a new market for what remains after the grain is harvested.

Kimberly-Clark Professional, which manufactures Kleenex and Scott brand products, says its new GreenHarvest line will blend in 20 percent wheat straw, which it hopes will ease demand for the tree fiber and recycled paper it already uses. It will help conserve natural resources and address what the Roswell, Georgia-based company expects will be dwindling supplies of recycled paper.

“As we become more and more digital and perhaps that resource becomes less and less available, what is next? How are we going to continue to make paper products? And looking at these non-tree plant fiber alternatives is the next step,” said Iris Schumacher, the company’s North American sustainability leader. She said she thinks Kimberly-Clark’s incorporation of the new fiber sources into everyday essentials such as toilet paper will likely lead competitors to follow suit.

Wheat straw is already used in a few paper products, including a line of copy paper made of 80 percent straw that Staples sells.

Straw has also long been used for livestock bedding and mulch material.

Much of the straw stays in the field, especially in the drier areas of western Kansas, because it preserves moisture and prevents wind erosion. But in the wetter parts of central Kansas where much of the state’s wheat is grown, there is usually plenty of excess straw that would be available.

Kimberly-Clark began exploring the use of wheat straw back in 2011 and test marketed its prototype products in Canada, Indiana and California before deciding on a full-scale rollout this year, Schumacher said. The straw will be turned into pulp at its mill in Mobile, Alabama.

Its GreenHarvest line includes Scott multifold towels and toilet tissue using 20 percent wheat straw fiber and Kleenex roll towels and bathroom tissue using 20 percent bamboo fiber. The products will not be sold at retail stores, but will be offered directly to commercial customers such as sports venues and higher education institutions, Schumacher said. The company’s consumer side will be keeping a close eye on how well it does there, she said.

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