The process of making bamboo toilet paper is remarkably like the process of making traditional toilet paper from wood chips. The only real difference is one process uses trees as the core ingredient and the other uses more sustainable bamboo. Toilet paper is normally manufactured from new or ‘virgin’ paper, using a combination of hardwood and softwood trees. Softwood trees such as Southern pines have long fibres that wrap around each other which gives the paper strength. Hardwood trees like oak have shorter fibres that make a softer paper. Toilet paper is generally a combination of approximately 70% hardwood and 30% softwood so you can see this is not really the most sustainable solution to the need for toilet paper.
The first thing manufacturers do is to break the bamboo plant down into fibres. Bamboo arrives at the mill and is chipped into a uniform size approximately 1 inch x 1/4 inch. These small pieces make it easier to pulp the bamboo. The batch of chips is then mixed with agents and catalysts in a pressure cooker called a digester. During the cooking process, much of the moisture in the pulp is evaporated and after several hours, a batch of bamboo pulp/ fibres is created.
The pulp then goes through a multistage washer system that removes most of the lignin and the cooking materials. This fluid, called black liquor, is separated from the pulp, which goes on to the next stage of production. The washed bamboo pulp then goes through a process to remove the colour and is mixed again with water to produce a paper stock which is about 99.5% water and 0.5% fibre. The paper stock is sprayed between moving mesh screens which allows much of the water to be drained, producing raw sheets of matted fibre.
This mat is then transferred to a huge, heated cylinder that presses and dries the bamboo paper. Next, the paper is creped, a process that makes it incredibly soft and gives it a slightly wrinkled look. The paper is then loaded onto converting machines that unwind, slit, and rewind it onto long thin cardboard tubing, making a paper log. The paper logs are then cut into rolls, ready to make the final bamboo toilet paper and toilet rolls. At the end of the day, whether from virgin tree pulp or bamboo pulp, the toilet paper production process is mostly the same but the environmental impact of paper from bamboo is significantly lower.