Uptown & The Pinch

In photos: The Uptown "tissue factory" shows a lesser-known side of consumer products

Located in the northern part of Uptown, KTG USA is not a spot one immediately considers when thinking about anchors of the north Downtown neighborhood.

Situated between a variety of businesses, from the stables for Downtown’s carriage horses to concrete manufacturers and metal recyclers, the KTG USA paper mill is squarely positioned in a purely industrial part of town.

This area, largely surrounded by undeveloped land, feels as though it is separate from the postcard sights Memphis residents are accustomed to visiting like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid. 

This industial pocket is a significant element of this neighborhood, and KTG USA, located at 400 Mahannah Avenue, is a substantial piece of this jigsaw of industry in this part of Uptown. 

James Durdan, a KTG employee for seven years, moves bales of pulp into the pulper. (Brandon Dahlberg)
KTG USA was formed after their Canadian parent company acquired the Uptown facility, located at  400 Mahannah, in 2002. Presently, it is the only KTG manufacturing facility in the United States. The plant processes and packages toilet paper for brands such as White Cloud for distribution across North America.

Darrel Brown, 28, has worked in the plant for eight years. “This is my first job,” he said, and he has no intention of leaving anytime soon. “I want to make a career out of this.” Part of Brown’s enthusiasm stems from the nature of task — in his words, “getting paid to cut stuff up.”

Brown processes product that doesn’t meet quality control standards so that it can be recycled. KTG wastes as little raw material as possible and these quality standards are exacting as the product is used in intimate proximity to the human body.

Paper particulates can be seen in a shaft of light in this portion of the facility. (Brandon Dahlberg)

A KTG employee prepares a parent roll for the next stage of manufacturing. (Brandon Dahlberg)

Brown's step in the production process is an early one. Bales of pulp and recycled material are mixed into large vats, called pulpers, and combined with water until a certain consistency is reached. The pulp is then put through a series of rollers which press out all of the water and flatten it into long, thin lengths of paper. This is then cut up and “bleached,” a process that is a trade secret and avoids the use of any toxic chemicals. The wet pulp is then dried into thin paper and spooled into what are called parent rolls.

Each parent roll holds about forty-six miles worth of paper. These parent rolls are eventually fed onto smaller, long cardboard tubes to create logs. These are essentially wide rolls of toilet paper as we know it and are eventually cut into individual rolls that can then be inspected and packaged for sale. The final product is loaded onto trucks and makes its way across the United States and to Canada.

The work is often difficult and requires concentration and caution from the employees who operate these machines. It isn’t difficult to become seriously injured during any stage of the manufacturing process. KTG takes employee safety seriously, and since 2009, has been able to significantly reduce the number of on-site injuries and safety violations. Fred Ceruti, the plant’s general manager, is fond of saying with a smile, “at the end of the day, we’re just making toilet paper.”

A woman prepares a parent roll to be lifted into a machine. (Brandon Dahlberg)
A KTG employee prepares a parent roll for the next stage of manufacturing. (Brandon Dahlberg)
Darrell Brown breaks down a parent roll for recycling. Brown has worked for KTG for eight years. (Brandon Dahlberg)

Rolls of toliet paper, freshly cut from logs travel down a conveyor system. (Brandon Dahlberg)

A man sweeps the factory floor in front of parent rolls waiting to be loaded into a machine. (Brandon Dahlberg)

Randy Wetherington, one of the production team leaders, takes a phone call during his lunch break. (Brandon Dahlberg)

Sealed parent rolls are stored until needed for manufacturing. (Brandon Dahlberg)
Machinery hums at the KTG plant. (Brandon Dahlberg)
Terrance Davis gives a thumbs up as he prepares a parent roll. Davis is new on the job, and said he is looking forward to his upcoming 30-day evaluation. (Brandon Dahlberg)

These parent rolls are waiting to be moved for the next stage in manufacturing. (Brandon Dahlberg)
A KTG employee operates machinery that packages the final paper products. (Brandon Dahlberg)

A woman prepares cardboard tubes that parent rolls will be transfered onto to form logs. (Brandon Dahlberg)

A KTG employee prepares to load logs onto a machine. (Brandon Dahlberg)
A row of employee lockers with uniform shirts. (Brandon Dahlberg)

Mike Bronk, an electrical engineer, and Joe Pearce, the ENI lead, discuss an electrical problem. Pearce has been a KTG employee for nine years. (Brandon Dahlberg)
Duane Johnson has a conversation with a co-worker about safety proceudres. Since 2009, there have been significant decreases in workplace accidents. (Brandon Dahlberg)
A forklift operator loads product on pallets onto trucks for shipping. (Brandon Dahlberg)
An employee leaves the KTG facility for the day at the end of his shift. (Brandon Dahlberg)

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Read more articles by Brandon Dahlberg.

Brandon Dahlberg is a documentary photographer based in Memphis. A lifelong resident of the city, he earned his B.A. in English and M.F.A in Creative Writing from the University of Memphis. He has worked as a photographer in various capacities throughout the city, and loves telling visual stories.