Marcal Small Steps – “Paper from Paper, Not from Trees”

Marcal's Small Steps brand of tissues is made from 100% recycled paper. Photo: Courtesy Marcal

Is your preferred toilet paper thick and cuddly? Do you require layers of cushiony softness to pamper your bottom?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you’re like many U.S. consumers — me, included – who have a preference for a completely unsustainable and environmentally devastating product. I’d much rather use fluffy, soft paper than the thin, scratchy stuff found in many public restrooms. But there’s a huge problem with this predilection for spoiling ourselves.

The Ugly Truth

The individual rolls come in a paper wrapper, but multi-packs are in plastic wrap. Photo: J Wasson

Every time we use a roll of fluffy toilet paper, we are personally contributing to the death of a tree. Of course it doesn’t take a whole tree to make a roll of toilet paper. In fact, according to a New York Times article from last year, a single eucalyptus tree can produce 1,000 rolls of toilet paper. But wait a minute! We’re talking about harvesting living trees and virgin forests just for the sake of a little extra softness on our bottoms.

Living trees produce the long fibers required to make soft toilet paper. By contrast, recycled paper fibers are shorter and can’t be “fluffed” as much as virgin paper fibers. With recycled paper, we aren’t killing more trees. (You knew that, of course.) And though you may not yet realize it, recycled paper, when done right, can provide a quite comfortable experience.

After we learned that our family was flushing virgin wood down the toilet, we stopped buying the cushiony soft brands. We switched to a brand of toilet tissue that contains a percentage of recycled content (I couldn’t say what percentage, as it’s not shown on the package). The new store brand wasn’t a bad choice. It held up well, tore easily along the perforations, and provided sufficient comfort. But it still had some virgin wood content, a troubling thought to someone who values trees and seeks sustainability.

Save 1 Million Trees

So, when a representative from Marcal, the nation’s oldest manufacturer of recycled paper, contacted me to review some of their paper products, I was interested. Marcal’s Small Steps brand is made from 100% recycled content – with 30% of that coming from post-consumer waste. That sounded environmentally friendly, but I have to admit, I assumed that 100% recycled-paper tissue would not be particularly soft on the skin.

My husband opened the plastic wrap around the package of Marcal Small Steps toilet tissue and integrated the rolls into the rest of the household supply. We switched off between the two types of tissues (the virgin wood + recycled-paper tissue and the Marcal 100% recycled-paper tissue) without labeling either one. Neither of us could tell the difference. I had to check the pattern of the “quilted” design in the tissue against the lone roll we had set aside just to be sure we were really using the Marcal tissue.

What does that say? That Marcal’s Small Steps 100% recycled-paper toilet tissue is every bit as comfortable as the partly virgin paper we had been using. Now, that was a nice surprise. It’s not as soft as some of the big brands that tout their thickness and absorbency. But it does the job quite well, thank you. And Marcal is known for keeping their prices low. We’ll save money buying Small Steps toilet tissue without sacrificing trees or our family’s comfort.

If every household in the US were to replace a roll of virgin or mixed-paper toilet paper with a roll that is 100% recycled paper, we would save 1 million trees. That’s pretty amazing. Just imagine how that number would increase if even 10% of us replaced all our virgin toilet paper with recycled paper. It’s something worth contemplating as we face the crisis of global warming. Every tree we cut does double harm as we both release carbon into the atmosphere and remove a valuable carbon sink.

Paper Towels

Small Steps paper towels are strong and absorbent. Photo: J Wasson

For cleaning really icky household messes, I don’t need to have soft paper towels. But I do have my standards. I want a roll that tears easily along the perforations (not a ragged edge down the middle of a towel). And, I want my paper towels — when I use paper — to be absorbent.

Obviously, the better choice is to use cloth, when possible, to clean up household spills. But sometimes I reach for a paper towel when there’s a particularly distasteful mess that I just don’t want to clean up with a rag (think cats with sour stomachs). Oily or greasy messes also call for paper. But why use virgin content for something that you’ll just throw away?

The Marcal Small Steps paper towels are sufficiently absorbent. They don’t hold as much liquid as double-ply towels made with virgin trees. But they do just fine for the jobs I need them for. If I have a really big spill, I’m more likely to use a cloth towel or rag, anyway.

I was pleased to see, some of the paper towels I sampled have what Marcal calls “U-Size-It Sheets,” meaning I can tear off a small strip just as easily as I can tear a large one. This saves loads of paper over the life of a roll of towels. The roll with the small sheets tore quite easily along the perforations. One roll of the full-size sheets, however, gave me ragged edges if I wasn’t super careful. But it’s a small inconvenience, considering these paper towels don’t kill living, oxygen-producing trees.

Napkins and Tissues

Tissues in the small box won't fall apart when you blow your nose. Photo: J Wasson

There were other products included in the box I received: two boxes of facial tissues and two types of napkins. These products, like all of Marcal’s Small Steps products, are whitened without the use of chlorine bleach. There’s no dye or fragrance. In addition, they are all labeled as being “hypoallergenic” and “virtually lint free.”

Although I prefer to use cloth napkins at the table when possible, the Marcal Small Steps recycled paper dinner napkins are nice enough for guests. Like the other products, they’re both strong and absorbent.

The everyday napkins are intentionally thinner than the dinner napkins, as are other recycled everyday napkins we’ve used in the past. One difference that sets Marcal Small Steps apart is the packaging. The company thoughtfully included a drawstring closure to keep the napkins remaining in the package clean until use.

The Small Steps facial tissues are comfortable, strong, and hold together well when wet. You’re not going to blow a hole right through them when you have a cold. For occasional use, they’re plenty soft; but if you have a particularly raw nose after sniffling and sneezing with a bad cold, you might prefer to use a cloth hankie.

Serving the Community

The History section of the Marcal site briefly tells the story of the company, which started in the 1950s:

For over five decades, Marcal has been saving trees and reducing landfill by making its paper products from recycled paper.  Marcal uses paper collected from curbs in residential neighborhoods in cities and towns across America; from the small blue baskets in office buildings, unwanted junk mail, and waste from printers; all in an effort to do something good… to produce something that people need.

Marcal is an integral part of the northern New Jersey community. The company uses recyclables from more than 600 municipalities from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and New England. The company is one of the largest employers in New Jersey, employing over 900 people.

The Marcal website seems to be undergoing renovation, as there are portions of the site that say, “Coming soon.” The Community section offers consumers the opportunity to receive coupons and special offers, as well as to participate in research panels. (If selected, you’ll probably get samples to review, just as we did.)

There’s also a section for teachers. The site says,

To help teach others about the importance of recycling, we have developed four free lesson plans that teachers can use to educate and inspire their students to take an active role in living a sustainable life. These lessons help teachers and students learn how they can be partners in helping to preserve and protect the environment. We have developed four age appropriate lesson plans that can be used for elementary, middle and high school students.

Teachers can register and download the lesson plans for free from the Marcal website.

Finally, there’s a widget on the Marcal site that tells how many trees have been saved by using Marcal products instead of virgin pulp. At the time of this writing, the number is 23,169,301. Now, that’s impressive!

Small Print

DISCLOSURE: Blue Planet Green Living received a free sample of each of the Marcal Small Steps products discussed in this post.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase these products or any others through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive a small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Blue Planet Green Living’s review policy is to only review those products we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a product, we do not review it. We are not influenced by any samples and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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7 Responses to “Marcal Small Steps – “Paper from Paper, Not from Trees””

  1. Marcal Small Steps – “Paper from Paper, Not from Trees” | Eco-FamilyFun - Green Living Tips On Saving Money For The Family on April 1st, 2010 10:20 pm

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  2. rainbow on November 9th, 2010 11:57 am

    one question – you never mentioned anything about tissues being
    “biodegradable” and that is the most important issue for me.
    We also have an RV and that is all we use.
    Thanks Rainbow

    Oh, where do you get the paper you use for making your tissues? (just curious)

  3. Julia Wasson on November 10th, 2010 1:50 pm

    Hi Rainbow.

    Please contact Marcal directly to get answers to your questions. We don’t actually sell their products, we just wrote about them.

    Are you “living small” on the road in your RV? If so, maybe you’d like to write a post about how you are keeping a small footprint. Let me know:

    Thanks for stopping by,

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