A comparison of the GHG emissions caused by manufacturing tissue paper from virgin pulp or recycled waste paper



The aim of this work is to compare greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from producing tissue paper from virgin pulp (VP) or recycled waste paper (RWP). In doing so, the study aims to inform decision makers at both company and national levels which are the main causes of emissions and to suggest the actions required to reduce pollution.


An attributional life cycle assessment (LCA) was performed in order to estimate and compare the GHG emissions of the two processes. LCA allows us to assess how the choice of raw material for VP and RWP processes influences total GHG emissions of tissue paper production, what are the main drivers behind these emissions and how do the direct materials; energy requirements and transportation contribute to the generation of emissions. The cradle-to-gate approach is carried out.

Results and discussion

The results show that demands for both thermal energy and electricity are higher for the RWP than for the VP if only the manufacturing stages are considered. However, a different picture emerges when the analysis looks at the entire life cycle of the production. GHG from the VP are about 30 % higher than the RWP, over the life cycle emitting 568 kg CO2 eq more per kilogram of tissue paper. GHG emissions from the wood pulping alone were 559 g CO2 eq per kilogram of tissue paper, three times higher than waste paper collection and transportation.


In terms of GHG emissions from cradle to gate, the recycled process less intensive than the virgin one for two reasons. First, as shown in the results the total GHG emissions from RWP are lower than those from VP due to relatively lower energy and material requirements. Second is the non-recyclability nature of tissue paper. Because the tissue paper is the last use of fibre, using RWP as an input would be preferable over using VP. The environmental profile of the tissue products both from RWP and VP can be improved if the following conditions are considered by the company. First, the company should consider implementing a cogeneration unit to simultaneously generate both useful heat and electricity. Second, it may consider changing the VP mix, in order to avoid the emissions associated with long distance transpiration effort. Third, there is the option of using sludge as fuel, which would reduce the total fossil fuel requirement.

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  1. 1.

    Recycling rate is defined as the ratio of the total consumption of recovered paper as a raw material by industries to the total consumption of paper and paper board.

  2. 2.

    Personal communications with the tissue-producing company (2011).


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This work is financially supported by the Department of Chemical Engineering of Universitat Rovira i Virgili by providing a PhD scholarship to carry out this project. The main data is provided by Gomá-Camps, a tissue manufacturing company in Tarragona, Spain. The authors would like to acknowledge the company for their support. The work would not have been possible without their cooperation.

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Correspondence to Eskinder Demisse Gemechu.

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Responsible editor: Barbara Nebel

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Gemechu, E.D., Butnar, I., Gomà-Camps, J. et al. A comparison of the GHG emissions caused by manufacturing tissue paper from virgin pulp or recycled waste paper. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18, 1618–1628 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-013-0597-x

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  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Recycled waste paper
  • Tissue paper
  • Virgin pulp