Are All “Brown” Napkins Made From Recycled Material?
The short answer is no.
The longer answer is: mostly, but not necessarily. Manufacturing varies.
The Brown Napkin’s Beginning
All paper pulp begins its life as brown (“kraft”). Kraft pulp is the standard starting point for all paper products. From there, it can go straight to manufacturing, creating the many kraft products we know and love: napkins, brown paper bags, cardboard, etc.
More likely though, manufacturers bleach virgin pulp (the stuff direct from trees) white. Most consumers view white as more sanitary, and more generic. Additionally, the fibers in virgin pulp are stronger than the fibers in recycled material, so bleaching the new pulp white permits greater manufacturing flexibility (resulting in a greater variety of higher-quality products) than does keeping the pulp kraft.
The Brown Recycled Napkin
Surprisingly, most napkins contain some degree of recycled material. Even white napkins.
Recycled pulp is less expensive than virgin pulp, but the more “recycled” a product is, the harder it is to bleach all the way to white, and the weaker the individual paper fibers. Manufacturers balance these two variables: the cleanliness and strength of virgin pulp with the cost-effectiveness of recycled pulp.
“Recycled material” refers to both primary and post-consumer secondary material. “Primary material” consists of manufacturing scraps left over from previous products, such as the ends of pulp rolls or unused, pre-cut napkins. “Post-consumer secondary material”” refers to materials reclaimed from previous products (i.e. cardboard boxes, phonebooks, egg cartons, etc.). Secondary material has typically been dyed before (like the yellow pages in a phonebook) so it requires more bleaching to reach white. It is easier, and more cost-effective, to leave post-secondary material its natural brown color.
Colored Paper Napkins
From white, we dye tissue any color. White tissue undergoes a series of dye baths throughout the month. Each dye bath progressively darkens the tissue. As such, lighter colors (such as ivory, pink, yellow, and gray) are available earlier in the month and darker colors (green, navy blue, and black) are available later in the month.*
From a cost perspective, it is easier to take “virgin” pulp (which is also kraft/brown) and bleach it to white, while leaving the recycled material its natural brown color, but both virgin pulp and recycled pulp can be dyed to colored napkins
*Orders are accepted all month long due to storage of dyed tissue. Timeline for colored tissue more significant for larger orders.
In summary, not all brown napkins are recycled. All pulp begins as “kraft.” Some goes straight to manufacturing, becoming kraft products (thus containing little recycled material). The rest is bleached. From there, we get either white tissue or a series of progressively darkening tissue dye lots. Brown “kraft” napkins usually contain significantly more recycled materials, but it is neither guaranteed nor mandatory.