It only takes a few seconds of conversation with Mohawk Paper’s vice president of research and development, Gavin Gaynor, to understand his enthusiasm for the former company’s Renewal line.
The initial idea for Renewal began in 2017 following a partnership with business card company Moo to develop card stock made from 100% recycled cotton pulp from t-shirt scraps. Since its inception, Gaynor, 55, has overseen the development of Renewal into a viable range 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 purchased a small factory and today represents a line of specialty paper products from envelopes to card stock. (A fourth-generation family member now runs the business.)
“This is an incredible product portfolio and shows our overall commitment to sustainability focused on fiber, water and energy,” says Melissa Stevens, Chief Revenue Officer of Mohawk, who works in collaboration with Gaynor on the program.
Although the Renewal range is still relatively small, ongoing development work is indicating significant progress and rethinking how waste can be turned into new, commercial-ready products.
Commercially, Mohawk Renewal products are available in 18 different paper styles (between cotton and hemp) and two envelope sizes. In more consumer-friendly quantities, Renewal paper is available at specialty stores across the country and in various consumer packaged goods applications. The company recently announced that due to the lack of availability of a scalable supplier, it was stopping production of straw-based paper.
“The straw really captured our attention,” Stevens says. “Farmers don’t know what to do with straw by-products. We have to stop it because the supply chain was not working, and that speaks to the fragility of bringing these alternative fibers to market. »
She says Mohawk will continue to explore the potential of straw in hopes of bringing the product back in the future.
Retailers offer Mohawk’s Renewal products for between approximately 20 cents and US$4.30 per sheet, depending on type, source material and quantity. Mohawk did not immediately have a complete list of consumer prices.
As with the vast majority of papermaking, the process begins with finding a good pulp.
Hemp happens to be a great paper pulp, and the process of turning the raw plant into paper pulp requires far fewer 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.
Stevens and Gaynor both see immense potential in the cannabis industry for packaging and labeling. The wider impact, however, could be in cotton textile waste. About 85% of all textiles in the United States are thrown away, much of it cotton.
Cotton pulp has centuries-old roots in papermaking, and the immense amount of waste provides a special opportunity to breathe new life into materials that would otherwise head to landfill or be incinerated.
Fabric scrap arrives in 1,000 bound bales at Mohawk’s processing partner in Ohio. The factory sorts everything to ensure that the textiles are 100% cotton. Then the cotton scraps turn into pulp, which is then turned into paper.
WHAT IS THE GOOD?
Beyond any potential reduction in waste and reuse, the broader impact of the Renewal portfolio could be in how it could reshape the paper business as a whole.
“We think Renewal will fit into a lot of different areas,” Stevens says.
Modernizing the paper industry by reinventing supply chains and the physical supply of paper pulp is expected to significantly reduce the overall environmental impact of the industry.
Gaynor explains that the initial success of Renewal also allows Mohawk to explore other partnerships in areas such as hospitality (sheet and towel recycling) to build a future closed-loop system in textiles 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.
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,” laying the groundwork for CPG and related companies to use the paper for a wide range of applications intended to consumers. Stevens notes that a “West Coast cosmetics company” is Mowak’s biggest user of hemp paper, using it as their primary packaging supply.
“It’s really interesting to see the (uses) in the packaging space,” Stevens says.
“We give people the knowledge of what’s possible,” says Gaynor. “Now that we know we can do these things with Renewal, the question becomes, what’s next?”