Soft, Fluffy Recycled Tissue IS Possible, Says Biotech Entrepreneur




Good news! Softer, flufflier, whiter, stronger, fully recycled tissue and toilet paper may already be possible! The sensitive American consumer no longer has to compromise. And the all-natural technology requires less energy and less harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process, too. After I posted on Greenpeace’s Tissue Buying Guide yesterday, wondering why manufacturers can’t create more squeezable recycled paper products, I got an interesting note from Mark Emalfarb. He’s the founder and CEO of a biotech company called Dyadic International. Dyadic started out in the 1980s supplying the blue jeans business with pumice for a literal stone wash. They soon upgraded to using patented enzymes that break down the cellulose in cotton, providing that broken-in feeling for top manufacturers like Lee’s, Levi’s, Wrangler, and Guess!. 

Well, the same enzymes can work in the same way to soften the cellulose in recycled paper pulp, too. “You use like a glassful in a big vat,” Emalfarb says. The enzymes break down the paper pulp slurry so it flows more easily through the machines, taking one-third to two-thirds less energy to refine. And they make it softer and whiter and even stronger at the same time. The process is cheaper and uses less bleach. “It’s not just better for the environment. Everybody’s needs are met,” he says.

So why isn’t Charmin, et al. beating down Emalfarb’s door? It’s a classic case of an incumbent industry’s resistance to change, he says. “The big problem is that the pulp and paper industry is an antiquated industry that’s done everything the same way for 200 years…We’ve worked offshore, in Mexico, China, and Indonesia and they’re actually more flexible in adapting technology. A lot of those mills are new and they’re innovative cause they have no choice.”

Dyadic will continue attempting to market its technology to forward-looking paper companies even as they explore other opportunities. Last fall, it licensed itd production system for enzymes to Codexis, a Shell Oil partner, for the production of cellulosic ethanol. 

Images via Dyadic

About the author

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her 2011 ebook The Edupunks’ Guide was funded by the Gates Foundation