It only takes a few seconds of a conversation with Mohawk Paper’s vice president of research & development Gavin Gaynor to understand his excitement around the legacy company’s Renewal line.
The initial idea for Renewal began in 2017 following a partnership with business card company Moo to develop a carton paper made from 100% repurposed cotton pulp sourced from T-shirt scraps. Since its inception, Gaynor, 55, has overseen Renewal’s development into a viable line of sleek, modern paper products made from repurposed hemp, cotton, and straw. The New York state-based company began in the 1930s after a family purchase of a small mill and now represents a range of specialty paper products from envelopes to cardstock. (A fourth generation family member now leads the company.)
“It’s an incredible portfolio of products and shows our overall sustainability commitment focusing on fiber, water and energy,” says Mohawk Chief Revenue Officer Melissa Stevens, who works in tandem with Gaynor on the program.
While the Renewal line is still relatively small, the development work being done within points to significant progress and rethinking in how waste can be transformed into new, commerce-ready products.
Commercially, Mohawk Renewal’s products are available in 18 different styles of paper (between cotton and hemp) and two envelope sizes. In more consumer-friendly quantities, Renewal paper is available at specialty shops around the country and in various consumer packaged goods applications. The company recently announced that due to the lack of availability with a scalable supplier, it’s winding down production of the straw-based paper.
“Straw was one that really captured our attention,” Stevens says. “Farmers don’t know what to do with straw by-products. We have to discontinue it because the supply chain didn’t work, and that speaks to the fragility of bringing these alternative fibers to market.”
She says that Mohawk will continue exploring the potential with straw in the hopes of bringing back the product sometime in the future.
Retails offer Mohawk’s Renewal products for between roughly 20 cents up to US$4.30 per sheet, depending on the type, source material, and quantity. Mohawk did not immediately have a full consumer price sheet available.
As with the vast majority of papermaking, the process starts with finding good pulp.
It just so happens that hemp makes for an excellent pulp, and the process to turn the raw plant into paper-ready pulp requires much less resources overall than wood. Mohawk worked with PureHemp Technology in Colorado to refine a way to make paper using 30% hemp fiber, taking advantage of hemp’s extremely fast maturation rate of around 90 days.
Both Stevens and Gaynor see immense potential within the cannabis industry for packaging and labeling. The broader impact, however, might be within cotton textile waste. Around 85% of all textiles in the US are thrown out, with a good chunk of that being cotton.
Cotton pulp has centuries-old roots in papermaking, and the immense amount of waste presents a special opportunity to give new life to material that would otherwise head to the landfill or be incinerated.
Fabric scraps arrive in 1,000-bound bales at Mohawk’s processing partner in Ohio. The plant sorts through everything to ensure the textiles are 100% cotton. Then the cotton scraps turn into pulp, which then is turned into paper.
WHAT’S THE GOOD?
Beyond all of the potential waste reduction and repurposing, the broader impact of the Renewal portfolio might be in the way it could reshape the paper business as a whole.
“We think Renewal will fit in a lot of different areas,” Stevens says.
Modernizing the paper business by reinventing supply chains and the physical sourcing of the pulp material stands to help significantly reduce the industry’s overall environmental impact.
Gaynor explains that the initial success of Renewal is also allowing Mohawk to explore further partnerships in areas like hospitality (recycling linens and towels) to build a future closed-loop system in textile that would give another dimension to the growing concept of circularity.
Mohawk says it has already produced over 100 tons of Renewal paper, which is just the beginning.
Both Stevens and Gaynor note that another growth point within the portfolio is in packaging. In April 2021, Renewal received FDA approval for “indirect food packaging and labeling,” which lays the foundation for CPG and related companies to use the paper for a vast range of consumer-facing applications. Stevens notes that a “west coast cosmetics company” is Mowak’s largest user of hemp paper, using it as their main packaging supply.
“It’s really interesting to see the (uses) in the packaging space,” Stevens says.
“We’re giving people the knowledge of what is possible,” Gaynor says. “Now that we know we can do these things with Renewal, the question becomes—what’s next?”
Credit: www.marketwatch.com /