The importance of sustainable toilet paper
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Deforestation: toilet paper is less sustainable than it was eight years ago
Not only are major toilet paper and tissue brands using less and less recycled paper since 2011, some are using virgin wood continuously and exclusively. For example, this means that significant parts of the boreal forest of Canada are being cut down regularly to make tissue products. This leaves the old slow-growth forest bare and devastated, and also leaves species and biodiversity devastated. The boreal forest is about 29% of the world’s forest cover, only 12% is protected worldwide, and over 30% is designated for logging and development. This makes no sense when we know that it is possible to produce 100% recycled paper products of good quality.
At the beginning of 2019 the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) came out with a report on “The Issue with Tissue.” The report relayed the following harmful impacts brought about by major brands through sourcing and producing toilet paper, paper towels, and facial tissue from virgin wood in the boreal forest:
- Indigenous territories, way of life, and health are threatened and harmed
- Species/wildlife are threatened and harmed (half of boreal caribou habitat remains)
- Clear-cutting the boreal forest releases, on average, 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (12% of the emissions Canada agreed to cut each year by 2030 per the Paris Agreement)
The report also states that FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification alone cannot be a proper long-term solution, since it does not address, in a deep or thorough enough way, the needs and rights of Indigenous land and health, or the needs of species regarding habitat, biodiversity, and protection. In addition, the report includes a report card on major brands related to these ongoing dire issues and negative impacts:
Graded “F” by NRDC 2019 Report:
- Charmin Ultra TP
- Kirkland TP & tissue
- Angel Soft TP
- Quilted Northern TP
- Up & Up, Soft & Strong (TP, paper towels & tissue)
- Bounty paper towels
- Brawny paper towels
- Sparkle paper towels
- Puffs Ultra Soft tissues
Graded “D” by NRDC 2019 Report:
- 365 Everyday Value, Sustainably Soft (TP & tissue)
- Cottonelle Ultra TP
- Scott 100 TP
- Scott Comfort Plus TP
- Trader Joe’s Super Soft TP
- Viva paper towels
- Kleenex Everyday tissue
- Kirkland tissue
In June of this year, FSC Canada implemented adjustments according to these concerns, that seek to show greater respect and protection of and for Indigenous People’s rights, as well as greater protection for species, waterways, and landscapes. However, it will depend on the demand for FSC Canada upheld products by customers in the United States as to whether this standard can make a real difference.
Additional Environmental Harm: Pollution, Toxins, and Plastic
Toilet paper production hurts our resources and health as well. Sourcing and production requires heavy use of water and energy, as well as the use of toxins like bleach, formaldehyde and organochlorines. Tissue products also come with the harm of single-use plastic waste and pollution via packaging and containers.
More Sustainable Toilet Paper
Finding toilet paper, paper towels, and tissue that will cause the least harm is the goal. Choosing a company dedicated to departure from mainstream practices adopted by major brands seems the best way to go.
After some trial and error, I have settled with the choice to order from Who Gives A Crap (WGAC) when we need these kinds of paper products. WGAC is Australian-based, with branches in the UK and the US.
What is great about Who Gives A Crap?
- B corporation certified (and their overall B impact score has improved since 2016, after already being well above average)
- Eliminated plastic from their line
- Products are free from inks, dyes, and fragrance
- Completely forest friendly, being either made of bamboo (toilet paper, paper towels, tissue) or 100% recycled toilet paper
- 50% of their profits are donated to organizations (Watershed, Shofco, Wateraid, Sanergy, Lwala) that provide sanitation systems/toilets to those in need
- Most recent donation was $46,000
- Products are sold in bulk and without plastic
- Toilet paper rolls are big (400 sheets) and with 3-ply comfort
- Prices are reasonable and competitive with major brands
- Good humor
- Passion for social justice and sustainability
- Colorful wrappers that can be reused and up-cycled
- Stylish presentation
I first ordered a box of the 48 rolls of bamboo tp for $52, along with paper towels. The rolls are super soft and last. I was not disappointed.
Still, I realize that any sourcing of bamboo isn’t without concern. Bamboo is sustainable and renewable, however, it can take over as a monoculture, with the same problems of any monoculture. Also, a lot of bamboo comes from China, where environmental and labor welfare laws are lax.
For these reasons, I chose the 100% recycled toilet paper — $48 for 48 rolls for our second order. It is not as soft as the bamboo version, but it is just as long-lasting, and is still great quality. It isn’t too thin or too rough. Overall, I would say that this company is more than worthy of our patronage. The benefits are many, and the downsides are few to none.