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Disposable Moist Towel Maker Aims for Zero Waste. Enough?

| Friday July 16th, 2010 | 2 Comments

wetnaps-moist-towelette-photoWhile disposable single use wet napkins are emblematic of our throwaway culture, a recent Environmental Leader article revealed a big step in the right direction: Nice-Pak, the maker of Wet-Naps, is converting all but 10 tons of its waste into biofuel pellets, rather than landfilling them.

While impressive sounding, a few questions arise: The article says Nice-Pak is converting 1200-1500 tons of waste every year, then shortly after says, “It is currently producing 125 tons of pellets every day, and is aiming for 300 tons daily.” The math doesn’t add up. Which is it? Looking at Nice-Pak’s own press release that the Environmental Leader piece is based on, it doesn’t get clearer.

And while getting its factory to near zero waste status and diverting what they claim is 50,000 cubic feet of landfill annually is to be commended, what sort of emissions will the incineration of the biofuel pellets create? Is this a case of shifting the impact to a less obvious one? I’m all for this effort having a substantial impact, as Nice-Pak says it “…replaces approximately 1.0 million pounds of coal per year,” but nothing further is said about a corresponding reduction in emissions.

As with other impressive sounding waste to alternate use stories, the link that is generally not made is, who is buying these biofuel pellets? Are all of them being bought? And if not, where are they going? Much like the gold mine attempting to reopen in my former home of Grass Valley, California, (which claims it can make ceramic tiles from its waste,) what is most important is that which is left unsaid: these new products would have to dominate an unrealistically huge percentage of the market in order to eliminate all the waste.

That said, Nice-Pak is going further, with a range of sustainability initiatives and goals in place. Though still short on specifics, it’s good to see it is taking a full spectrum view of how their its business is run, and it will be interesting to see the actual realized changes over the years.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media.


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  • http://twitter.com/NickAPalmer Nick Palmer

    This materials recycling/reuse does not in any way reduce the primary usage of materials and energy when the “ingredients” of the moist wipes were sourced, extracted and manufactured. This is a greener way of dealing with the consequences of selling a less than sustainable product

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  • Cliff Beckwith

    I’m no corporate defender, but it looks like the EnviromentalLeader article simply misinterpreted the original Green Bay Press Gazette article. EL links to GBPG, but gets its facts wrong in the retelling.

    Nice-Pak “expects to reduce landfill contributions” by 12-1500 tons/yr, not “converts”, as the EL article states.

    Also, the 150 tons/day and hopeful 300 tons/day numbers refer to Greenwood Fuels ( the company that manufactures the pellets), not Nice-Pak. Nice-Pak is one of 30 companies that supply waste to Greenwood for conversion. (To respond to the implied mathematical confusion, it looks like Nice-Pak waste comprises 5-6% of a Greenwood biofuel pellet).

    Hopefully, the EL slips are simple editorial errors, and not indicators that Environmental Leader is a deceptive mouthpiece for ‘business as usual’. In any case, in order to be a respected voice at the table, one must be careful not to parrot ‘facts’ without checking sources. If the math “doesn’t add up”, it calls for deeper digging before implying that Nice-Pak is engaging in deception.