Demand for paper towels rising due to growing hygiene awareness

The demand for paper towels is growing as more people in Japan are using them especially for hand-wiping in toilets and kitchens and for wiping tables and other surfaces with disinfectants. Domestic production of paper towels in 2020 increased by more than 10% over the previous year.

With the establishment of new lifestyles spurred by the prolonged coronavirus crisis, new products that are easy to use are being released one after another, and it is likely that sales will continue to be higher than before the outbreak.

Production volume increased 12%

Paper towels are made of thick, dry paper, and include kitchen paper products. According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, domestic production in 2020 increased 12.1% over the previous year to 237,000 tons. April saw the 17th consecutive month of production volume exceeding that of the same month of the previous year.

Notably, paper towel consumption by restaurants and other business establishments has increased markedly. One factor behind this is that the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) in May last year asked people not to use hand dryers in restrooms at offices and commercial facilities as a measure against the spread of infections. This moratorium continued for almost a year, until hand dryers were allowed to be used again in April. At home, paper towels are also more commonly used for disinfecting tables and other surfaces.

Moves to increase production

In response to the strong sales, paper makers are introducing new products to expand their market share.

From February to April, Nippon Paper Crecia Co. and Oji Nepia Co. launched a series of boxed paper towels with improved convenience. The new paper towels are thicker than existing products to make them less likely to tear when wet, and to make it easier to take out one sheet at a time.

Nippon Paper Crecia’s sales volume of more functional paper towels made of nonwoven fabric that is resistant to tearing — even when wet — increased 35% in 2020 compared with the previous year. The products have the water-absorbing ability of paper, but can be used repeatedly by squeezing it like a cloth towel.

A spokesperson for the company explained, “Since these towels can be rinsed out and used to wipe tables after wiping dishes, they are popular because they are environmentally friendly and save money by reducing waste.”

There has been a series of moves to increase production in the future.

Daio Paper Corp. has invested about ¥6 billion to increase the production capacity of its Mishima Mill in Ehime Prefecture, which will begin full-scale operations in July. Marusumi Paper Co. in the same prefecture will build a new processing facility by September.

Polarizing performance

At the same time, the demand for paper, leaflets and pamphlets used in offices has been decreasing due to the spread of teleworking and self-restraint regarding events. Domestic production of printing and information paper in 2020 fell 21.8% year on year.

The performance of paper manufacturers is polarized: Oji Holdings Corp. and Nippon Paper Industries Co. saw their final profits decline in the fiscal year ending March 2021, while Daio Paper, which has a high proportion of household paper products such as paper towels, saw its profits increase.

“Demand for paper towels will remain strong due to growing hygiene awareness,” said Toru Nozawa, chairman of the Japan Paper Association and president of Nippon Paper Industries. Although growth is slowing at the moment, the new trend of paper towel use is likely to take root as a habit even after the virus crisis is brought under control.