Photo Caption: Güdco’s Ruan Coetzee and staff at one of the creches where they have supplied new lavatories and continue to supply toilet paper for the children on an ongoing basis.

For nearly forty years forestry giant Sappi Southern Africa has produced paper from sugarcane, but it’s taking a young and determined Cape Town entrepreneur to bring a by-product of the country’s embattled sugar industry into the era of “feel-good, do-good” consumption.

Across the planet the climate change and pollution crisis is top of mind as scientists and activists rightly call on politicians and world leaders to do more to mitigate the rising global temperatures and to end the production of single use plastics to curb the wave of pollution in our river and oceans.

While it is true that both sugarcane and timber plantations are mono-crops that bring into question the sustainability of their production, in a balanced argument both create employment and socio-economic stability in some of South Africa’s most remote rural regions.

Other paper and pulp products made from the sugarcane fibre and the gum from timber are not only bio-degradable but carbon neutral as well.

And it is this fact that has led to the production and marketing of Güdsheet Toilet Paper, which Güdco’s Ruan Coetzee describes as South Africa’s only “feel-good, do-good” product of its kind.

“Güdsheet is made using 60% sugarcane fibre and 40% FSC-approved wood pulp to ensure sustainable afforestation. This hybrid blend of sustainable fibres produces a very soft paper which is a lot softer than most recycled paper products, and it’s strong too! Not to mention that it’s 100% biodegradable and produced from certified sustainable raw materials. Sugarcane fibres quickly dissolve back into the earth, so it’s safe for all disposal systems,” Coetzee said.

Each roll is individually hand-wrapped with love, in eco-friendly paper to promote hygiene, before being packed in recycled boxes.

Virgin fibres

And because sugarcane is made up of virgin fibres, they don’t require heavy bleaching of inks and dyes as in recycled paper products. “In fact, it doesn’t require any chlorine, acids, inks or dyes. It is bleached using an elemental chlorine-free (ECF) process that’s good for your bum and the environment,” he said.

Sappi Forests KZN spokesman Zelda Schwalbach said the group’s Stanger paper and pulp mill on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast was bought way back in 1979 from Reed International and the CG Smith Sugar Group. The facility produced mainly high-end paper from sugarcane bagasse and gum extracted from commercially produced timber; one of only a few mills in the world that uses bagasse (sugar cane waste) as its primary source of pulp.

Most of the bagasse is supplied from the nearby Gledhow sugar mill.

“The Stanger mill used to produce only fine papers for publishing purposes, but our operations have changed over time, which means it now produces only tissue paper and the Typek paper that you will find in offices across the country. Our customer base of tissue converters deal in various end-use markets in both the retail sector and industrial sector, with the majority being in toilet tissue, but also producing the likes of serviettes and wipes. It really is one of the best kept secrets and it is important that when the general public buys paper or tissue products, that they question where it is manufactured and how,” Schwalbach said.

“From a communications perspective, it remains one of our biggest challenges: to slay some of the myths around wood fibre. There are many misperceptions relating to forestry – the most popular one being that we should ‘save the trees’ and use less paper. The fact is our forests are being developed according to strict sustainability standards in accordance with international certification and of course, the trees are absorbing tons of carbon from the atmosphere,” she said.

Taking toilet paper to the next level

And while that all sounds environmentally good and sound, Coetzee and his Cape Town team have taken their “environment and bum friendly” toilet paper product to the next level.

“Unfortunately our product is still more expensive that the usual toilet paper bought in retail stores. Moving away from plastic is not cheap, let’s be honest, but we are working towards an economy of scale that will eventually tip in the planet’s favour. We really do believe it is very important to market and produce great products that serve both people and the environment. Güdsheet also helps provide toilets and toilet paper to underprivileged schools and crèches in need. And many might argue that this doesn’t seem a very glamorous contribution to society, but having access to toilet paper and a proper toilet provides dignity, health and an improved quality of life,” he said.

Each roll is individually hand-wrapped with love, in eco-friendly paper to promote hygiene, before being packed in recycled boxes.

“I believe it is time to start giving a sheet about toilet tissue. Güdsheet is here to help prevent the planet from getting wiped out. Being made from sustainable resources, this eco-friendly toilet paper has a much lower carbon footprint than conventional toilet paper. Each roll is individually hand-wrapped with love, in eco-friendly paper to promote hygiene, and packed in recycled boxes to replace plastic.” 

November 19 was World Toilet Day.

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