Crisis-hit German toilet paper maker turns to coffee grounds

Choked by soaring energy and wood pulp costs, German toilet paper maker Hakle is turning to waste from coffee production to stay afloat and help the environment.

coffee grounds
German toilet paper maker Hakle is using coffee grounds to make loo roll. Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

Just two years ago, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the firm profited from a stampede of consumers rushing to stock up on essentials.

But with the health crisis abating, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked skyrocketing energy costs, forcing Hakle to file for insolvency recently.

Innovation could now be the key to survival.

Huge quantities of coffee grounds are produced every year by the European food industry, and Hakle has found a way to transform the waste into material to make loo roll.

The first rolls using the new process were produced at the Duesseldorf-based company’s factory last week, Hakle’s chief marketing officer Karen Jung told AFP.

“The goal is 20 to 25 percent” of coffee grounds constituting the material for making the paper, replacing wood pulp, said Jung, adding the company was working towards reaching those levels.

“That does not sound like a lot — but it means that a quarter fewer trees have to be used,” added Jung, whose company entered insolvency proceedings in September due to surging energy costs.

Hakle sees a strong economic case. The price of wood pulp — which is in high demand in China, the world’s biggest consumer — has risen rapidly since 2020. 

It is not the first time that the firm has taken an unusual approach to producing loo paper.

Two years ago, it used grass grown in the Rhineland to make toilet paper, said Jung, who runs the business with her husband.

Roller-coaster ride

The company has been on a roller-coaster ride in recent times.

After 2020, when it raked in close to 80 million euros ($80.2 million) in sales and made a profit of about 700,000 euros, it is now seeing its fortunes  reverse as costs explode.

“The cost of a roll of toilet paper depends 80 percent on pulp, energy and logistics — and all three of these factors are driven by world markets,” said Jung.

The price of gas rose up to 400 euros per megawatt hour, and up to 1,000 euros for electricity, a heavy blow for the firm’s Duesseldorf factory, which consumes about 100 gigawatt hours a year.

With costs that “increase tenfold in the short term”, that “really becomes a problem”, said Jung.

The survival of Hakle, which is nearly a century old, is now at stake.

‘Formula 1 race’

It has had several different owners over the past 40 years, including US consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark and a Luxembourg private equity firm, before Volker Jung acquired 50 percent of the shares in 2019 with a new
entrepreneurial approach that favours innovation.

The preliminary insolvency proceedings of three months have given some breathing space to the company as it seeks to fulfil a flood of orders, said Jung.

“After a short, total halt of activities (at the start of September), now we really have to put our foot on the accelerator, like in a Formula 1 race,” said Jung.

The company wants to continue investing at its site in Duesseldorf, where more than 220 workers are employed.

Hakle has already stopped using gas, replacing it with petrol, in its paper production processes. For the electricity used to transform it into rolls, the eventual aim is to cover half of its needs with solar power.

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Norway and Germany seek Nato-led cooperation for key undersea structures

Germany and Norway want to start a NATO-led alliance to protect critical underwater infrastructure, their leaders said on Wednesday, weeks after explosions hit two key gas pipelines in the fallout from the war in Ukraine.

Norway and Germany seek Nato-led cooperation for key undersea structures

 “We are in the process of asking the NATO Secretary General to set up a coordination office for the protection of underwater infrastructure,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a press conference in Berlin.

“We take the protection of our critical infrastructure very seriously and nobody should believe that attacks will remain without consequences,” he said.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the alliance would be “an informal initiative to exchange between civilian and also military actors” with NATO providing “a centre, a coordination point”.

Underwater cables and pipelines were “arteries of the modern economy” and it was necessary to create “a coordinated joint effort to ensure security for this infrastructure”, he said.

Scholz said he and Store would propose the plan to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is due in Berlin for a security conference. The Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines off the Danish island of Bornholm were targeted by two huge explosions at the end of September.

The pipelines, which connect Russia to Germany, had been at the centre of geopolitical tensions as Moscow cut gas supplies to Europe in suspected
retaliation to Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

Although they were not in operation when the leaks occurred, they both still contained gas which spewed up through the water and into the atmosphere.

Russia and Western countries, particularly the United States, have traded bitter barbs over who is responsible for the blasts.

Several European countries have since taken steps to increase security around critical infrastructure. 

The G7 interior ministers warned earlier this month at a meeting in Germany that the Nord Stream explosions had highlighted “the need to better protect our critical infrastructure”.

Norway has become Europe’s main gas supplier in the wake of the war in Ukraine, taking the place of Russia.

The Scandinavian country has a vast network of pipelines, stretching for almost 9,000 kilometres, linking it to the continent, which experts have said are at risk of sabotage.