Essity Tork PaperCircle®

Turning waste into resource


Is it possible to create a profitable and valuable service around recycling of used bathroom paper towels? What consequences would it have on the existing service system? When and in what way would the stakeholders be affected by the changed behaviour?


Through observations and interviews with end users and co-creation with different stakeholders we identified opportunities, issues and limitation within the existing service. Working with pilot tests, early prototypes, research and visual methods we came to a sustainable end service.


Tork PaperCircle® offer the world’s first recycling service for paper towels, which generates a higher recycling rate than other conventional waste disposal systems. The design project resulted in an award winning concept, the first of its kind.

Introducing Essity

Essity is a global hygiene and health company with headquarters in Stockholm. The company manufactures soft tissue, menstrual products, baby diapers, incontinence care products, compression therapy, orthopedics and wound care. Essity was part of SCA until 2017.

The Virgin fiber

Zenit Design was asked to map and develop the recycle solution of paper towels. Paper towels are made of the best quality of virgin fiber, a material that is expensive and becomes increasingly difficult to get. The virgin fiber is often used in hygiene products and packaging due to its sterile quality. It’s no news that the world are fighting for a more sustainable way of living and working constantly on decreasing waste. A good solution to this particular environmental issue is to recycle the used paper towels - and turn waste into resource. But how do we make it happen?

And ... Action!

It was important for Essity and us have an active dialogue throughout the whole process. When working closely together, we shared experiences and knowledge in our respective areas which lead to an effective identification of problems.

Through workshops and field interviews with users and client members we identified that user behavior and routines played an important part in this project. These physical meetings laid a good foundation to the project and by results of the different sessions with users, clear milestones appeared.


Key findings

In order to understand the paper towel journey and how to make it sustainable co-creation workshops was arranged together with the end users of the service, such as cleaners, facility managers and end users. Through interviews and observations with end users we learned that the service needed to be easy to understand, time efficient, adapted to current routines. A wide language variation within the user group was identified and addressed in the instructional material about the service and pilot test carried out within the development process.

Through recycling we can decrease our carbon dioxide footprint and the participating establishments will generate ca 20 % less waste. Tork PaperCircle makes us a recycling pioneer amongst german businesses.

Award winning result

From a productive and very social process came a well functioning recycle service, the first of its kind. The paper towel journey is now circular. The end result of this project is presented more closely and with different aspects here.

Not only did we help Essity to close the circuit, but we also contributed to Essity's win at the innovation award and the visitors choice award at Interclean in Amsterdam, May 2018, with the motivation:

''The jury was highly impressed with this ambitious launch by Essity. This is the first recycling service of its kind in our sector and aims to encourage facilities managers to take a more circular approach to running their washrooms. By involving local partners who specialize in paper recycling they are making the service practical and workable with minimal environmental impact. And they have invested in encouraging washroom users to buy into the idea of placing their towels in the correct bin and being part of the project with research into behavioral change.

Tork PaperCircle® is turning the hand drying business on its head by offering the world’s first paper hand towel recycling service, helping businesses go circular, cutting the carbon footprint of paper hand towels by 40 % and paving the way for future change in standards on what can be recycled and included as accepted paper grades''

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