As an eco-conscious person, you’ve probably abandoned a lot of your lifestyle choices to promote sustainability.
You might write on both sides of a paper, print fewer documents, and recycle all of your paper waste. But did you consider the paper you’re flushing down the toilet?
Yes, the industry of toilet paper isn’t the most eco-friendly. That’s why we’ll discuss the 7 reasons why you should make the switch to recycled toilet paper. Let’s see!
PS! Before you continue: I actually recently wrote an article about the best (and cheapest) recycled toilet paper that you can buy on Amazon. I spent more than 100 USD in shipping fee to get it sent to Norway, which means I would be dead happy if someone actually read the article, haha.
Table of Contents
- How Is the Regular Toilet Paper Made?
- 1. They Save Our Precious Trees
- 2. It Uses Much Less Water
- 3. No More Bleaching
- 4. You’ll Decrease Landfill Volume
- 5. They, Too, Could Be Soft
- 6. It’s Safer for Low-Flow Toilets
- 7. You Might Be Serving Local Causes
- To Sum Up
How Is the Regular Toilet Paper Made?
You might be wondering, why all this fuss about a couple of toilet paper rolls per week? Do they really make that much of an impact? The short answer is, yes.
They affect the environment more than you probably imagine.
But to give you the long answer, we’ll have to take a brief look at the steps required for making the conventional toilet paper from virgin wood pulp.
Forests Are Sacrificed
First of all, several trees are cut down to be used as raw materials. The actual types may vary between factories according to the available resources. But in general, toilet paper is a combination of about 70% hardwood and 30% softwood.
Softwood trees, like the Douglas firs and Loblolly pines, give long and malleable fibers that contribute to the overall strength of the roll. Contrary to that, hardwood trees, like maple and oak, supply shorter fibers that are important for fluffiness and softness.
Afterward, trees are debarked to expose inner wood. The bark is beneficial for making resins and latex, but it can’t provide fibers soft enough for toilet paper.
Chemicals, Water, and Bleach
Wood chips are then passed to a giant cooker where they’re mixed with a bunch of chemicals. Cooking aims at evaporating the moisture held within the fibers.
After about 3 hours of cooking, the wood chips should become a malleable slurry called “wood pulp”. To get rid of all the cooking chemicals and any other residues, the pulp goes through a multi-stage washer system.
By now, the pulp is still colored in brown. In order to produce the conventional white-colored paper, a massive amount of bleach is applied. Surely, it’ll need to be rewashed to get rid of remaining bleach.
The pulp then passes through different machines that spread, dry, and roll it to its final shipping form.
I love when people learn something from my articles. And I hate when they miss out on important information. So to make sure you didn’t miss anything, here’s the process in short:
- A Variety of trees are cut down
- The bark is removed to be used elsewhere
- Several chemicals are applied
- Water washes the chemical residues
- A bleach is added to whiten the fibers
- Water washes the bleach residues.
If you got 5 minutes and 32 seconds to waste, I would recommend this Youtube video from Discovery Channel. It features exactly how “normal” toilet paper is made. (If not, just scroll down and read why you should start using recycled toilet paper). 🙂
Now that you know the basics, let’s get to the benefits of using recycled toilet paper.
1. They Save Our Precious Trees
So, you were asking, how harmful can a couple of toilet paper rolls be? Well, using 2 rolls/week means that 27,000 trees are cut per day. And yes, this isn’t a typo.
We actually wrote per “day”!
Worst of all, as we mentioned in the previous section, toilet paper needs a diverse collection of trees to give the desired quality. We aren’t only accelerating deforestation, we’re also wiping our natural, precious biodiversity.
Companies Tried to Compensate, but They Couldn’t
Some companies came up with a simple solution to try and please the eco-enthusiasts. They made several programs in which they plant at least one tree for every tree they cut.
It might seem like a good deal, but it’s actually not. They usually opt for monoculture plantations due to their easier maintenance.
“These monocultures often displace indigenous plant and animal life, require tremendous amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and soak up large quantities of water”, says Noelle Robbins, an environmental author.
Even if we settled for this solution, it still won’t be enough to meet our high market demand. Trees typically take an average of 20-30 years to fully mature, while the fastest ones need at least 10 years.
Regular Toilet Paper Transforms Forests Into Bare Lands
Many companies harvest trees with a method called “clear-cutting”. In short, this process cuts a large area of trees to leave it as bare land in the midst of a forest or at its borders. They prefer this method as it requires much less effort and time.
Doing the opposite is better for the environment since it leaves food and shelter for the animal life there.
How Is Recycled Toilet Paper Different?
Recycled toilet paper can be made from either pre-consumer or post-consumer materials.
Pre-consumer materials are those that weren’t involved in the paper industry before. This includes wood from landfills or timber cuts from wood workshops.
Post-consumer materials, as you might expect, include any used paper like books, magazines, newspapers, etc.
Although some brands are able to produce 100% recycled toilet paper, this might not be always possible.
As the paper is recycled over and over, the fibers get much weaker and shorter. Therefore, companies are forced to add a percentage of “virgin” wood at some point.
It’s not perfect and we sure wish this would be different in the future. But this is obviously better than solely using virgin wood as raw material.
To make sure the toilet paper you purchase is sustainably sourced, search for the ones certified from agencies like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Still, not all certifications are equally sustainable. Here are the FSC labels you’ll see on the market:
- FSC 100%: Wood was sourced from fully FSC-certified and 100% controlled forests.
- FSC Recycled: No virgin wood used, only pre-consumer or post-consumer materials.
- FSC Mix: This product used a mix of virgin and recycled wood.
2. It Uses Much Less Water
As we mentioned in the first section, water is a crucial constituent for making the regular toilet paper. While recycled paper also uses water, it needs a notably less amount.
A report titled, The Issue with Tissue, states, “The production of virgin wood pulp uses almost twice as much water as producing tissue from recycled materials.” In fact, for every recycled ton of paper, you’ll save around 7,000 gallons of water.
As you might already know, freshwater is getting scarcer than ever. A frightening study released by the UN says, “By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity.”
1.8 billion is a huge number!
We’re speaking about more than one-fifth of today’s population. The rest of the world wouldn’t be any better, either. “Two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions,” the UN study adds.
I’ve also written a semi-related piece of article about how the fast fashion industry destroys a lot of freshwater. You can read that article by clicking here (highly recommended! 🙂 ).
3. No More Bleaching
We can understand why fiber is bleached to produce white paper. It’s much clearer for writing and it accepts a wide range of ink colors.
But bleaching toilet paper is literally meaningless! A yellow tissue would wipe as efficiently as a white one. Furthermore, the additional bleachers make the paper rolls a lot pricier. It also needs an extra washing step to remove chemical residues.
Naturally, the environment is also affected. Using chlorine to bleach wood pulp releases many toxic substances like dioxins and furans.
When dioxins spread in our environment, they cause serious harmful consequences. They might lead to skin lesions, impaired immunity, and cancer.
Worst of all, these materials can last for a long time inside a living creature since they can be stored in fat tissues.
Although furans don’t lurk inside the body that much, they aren’t less harmful. They’re linked with birth defects, reduced fertility, and hormonal imbalance.
Believe it or not, chlorinated toilet paper holds nearly the highest amount of furans out of all cosmetic products!
Then Why Are We Doing It?
If bleaching is really this bad, why are we still doing it? Merely for the looks! Customers are more likely to purchase shiny, white toilet paper, so the companies keep producing it.
Just look at the picture below. I asked 4 of my friends which of the toilet paper they were MOST LIKELY to NOT purchase. And yep – it’s that grey thing on the left. For some reason, the human brain is programmed to only be dragged towards white toilet paper:
Sadly, recycled paper is no exception. It requires less harsh chemicals since they mostly use already-white paper, but chemicals are always bad regardless of the strength or amount.
However, as customers became aware of these issues, they encouraged brands to opt for 100% unbleached products. Seventh Generation and Pacific Blue were among the first.
4. You’ll Decrease Landfill Volume
I actually ended up writing my bachelors’ degree about waste management. And I remember being quite shocked about the massive amount of trash that ends up in landfills. Toilet paper is no exception.
Humans consume an average of 300 million tons of paper each year. This high demand results in a huge pile of waste at landfills. In fact, paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste.
According to The World Counts, “With all the paper we waste each year, we can build a 12-foot high wall of paper from New York to California!”
While we can cut down on plastic usage, we can’t really do the same for paper. We need it for our daily life and businesses to normally operate. A good thing I recently did was to swap my old notebook with an eco-friendly notebook.
And guess what? I wrote a blog post about that as well! 🙂 (ok, enough self-promotion for my own blog posts now…)
Plus, if not recycled, paper waste would be incinerated to save space. Needless to say, our planet can’t withstand more greenhouse gases.
5. They, Too, Could Be Soft
Before I bought some recycled toilet paper myself, I had read a lot of reviews online. About 80 % of the negative reviews were related to the paper not being “soft enough”. That is, in my opinion, not true. They must have bought the cheapest stuff out there.
Many people are deterred from 100% recycled toilet paper because of their inherent roughness. And it’s actually true, some products feel harder than sandpaper! But certainly, not all of them do.
Companies like Marcel and Seventh Generation were positively reviewed by many customers regarding this matter. They incorporate some special formulas to their process in order to mask the harshness of recycled fiber.
Don’t get your hopes up, though. It won’t feel as fluffy as regular toilet paper. This has got to do with the inevitable deterioration of paper fiber upon repeated recycling. They become shorter and thinner, so it becomes virtually impossible to achieve the same softness.
On the other hand, virgin wood fiber can be exactly obtained with the required length and softness.
Some people prefer to lightly dampen the tissue before use in order to make it softer. We like this idea since it’s actually more sanitary than using dry toilet paper.
6. It’s Safer for Low-Flow Toilets
We know the struggle. You can’t peacefully do your business on an RV without worrying about clogging the bathroom with toilet paper. Low-flow toilets don’t supply enough water per flush to get rid of heavy-fibered paper.
That’s where recycled toilet paper comes in handy. Their weaker fibers make it easier to flush them down with the least amount of water and thorough the narrowest pipes.
Moreover, this fact also means faster disintegration inside the water. So even if you were unlucky enough to clog your bathroom, just leave it for a bit and it’ll resolve on its own.
7. You Might Be Serving Local Causes
We kept the best for last. We wish every company was responsible enough to support the problems of local societies. This is one of the shortest ways with which we can achieve true development.
The toilet paper industry has an extremely high demand. Buying from companies that dedicate a percentage of their profits to charities is guaranteed to make a difference.
In this section, we’ll take a look at two of our favorite companies to discover what difference they’re making.
Who Gives A Crap
Don’t let their name fool you. They might’ve chosen a creative, playful name, but they’re as serious as anyone else.
Who Gives A Crap produces a bunch of eco-friendly toilet paper beside the 100% recycled rolls, such as forest-friendly and bamboo toilet paper.
They dedicate a generous 50% of their profits to funding their charity partners.
Together, they build toilets and improve the overall sanitation in a lot of developing countries. According to their website, they already donated 2.6 million Australian dollars since their launch.
They chose this unique name to express their interest in improving the health of the next seven generations and beyond. Based on that concept, they try their best to support issues concerned about climate change, renewable energy, and sustainable resources.
Together with Sierra Club, they’re reaching out to local companies in order to encourage them to abandon fossil fuel for renewable energy at the nearest date possible.
Please note that you can purchase both products by searching for “recycled toilet paper” on Amazon.com. 🙂
To Sum Up
Less deforestation, saving water, decreasing waste, avoiding chemicals, experiencing softness, enjoying RVs, and serving local communities. These were the 7 reasons why you should make the switch to recycled toilet paper.
If you’re still skeptical, why don’t you give it a try? They’re a bit more expensive than the regular rolls, but their sustainability is absolutely worth it.
Speaking of sustainability, a lot of people in the US have been thinking about following the bidet trend. They’re faster, more hygienic, and 100% eco-friendly. 😉
Lastly, don’t let this article stop at you. Spread the word and share it with your friends and family so we can save our planet faster.