Hey! Now that we’ve gotten your attention with our greenwash-y, SEO-friendly title (thanks, Google), you should know that while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly” toilet paper, here’s what to be wise on when you’re shopping so you can pick the best option for you, the planet, and the people making your stuff.
Most toilet paper is made from wood pulp, where centuries-old trees are hewn from the ground, converted into tissue pulp, shipped, then promptly flushed down the toilet. How sh*tty is that?
WHAT TO BE WISE ON:
Today, Americans use a staggering 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper every year. About 1.5 pounds of wood and 37 gallons of water are required to make just one roll of our precious TP, amounting to a total of 54.8 billion pounds of wood and 473 billion gallons of water annually just for the production of toilet paper in the US.
A FEW TAKEAWAYS:
Instead of relying on virgin pulp, look for recycled content or “tree-free” fibers like bamboo. 15 million trees is wayyyy too many trees going down our toilet drains each year. If we all switched to recycled toilet paper (i.e. toilet paper that’s made of recycled pulp…no one is asking for you to recycle your used toilet paper…), we could dramatically reduce this number AND keep tons of paper pulp out of the landfill.
Still not convinced? Deforestation has a direct impact on climate change (because trees help sequester carbon and when those trees are cut down, that carbon dioxide is released into the air and fewer trees means less can be stored), so this is also a pretty meaningful way to take climate action.
Want to see science-backed sustainability ratings on all of your fav products?
THE FACTORS TO CONSIDER:
Paper pulp is the main component in toilet paper and can come from various sources: virgin wood, post-consumer recycled content, pre-consumer recycled content, and bamboo.
Virgin Paper Pulp Toilet Paper
Virgin pulp is the most popular, but most damaging pulp component. America’s favored virgin pulp comes from the Canadian boreal, where industrial logging for America’s tissue industry currently claims one million acres of forest every year. This practice harms the lives of the Indigenous Peoples in the area and kills off local animals, including caribou. On top of these injustices, industrial logging releases carbon that had previously been stored in the forest’s soil and reduces the number of trees that can absorb earth-warming greenhouse gases. The NRDC reports that making tissue products from 100% virgin fiber generates three times more CO2e than tissue products made from other types of pulp. With these facts in mind, it’s shocking that the three biggest brands in tissue (Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, and Georgia-Pacific) rely primarily on virgin pulp. Clearly, it’s time to change the status quo.
Recycled Paper Pulp Toilet Paper
Thankfully, recycled paper pulp is an increasingly popular alternative to virgin pulp and is used by brand names like Seventh Generation and Marcal. Recycled pulp minimizes damage to forests and requires only half the water of virgin pulp products. The chemicals needed to whiten recycled paper pulp are also much less toxic than those used to whiten virgin paper pulp. There are two sources of recycled paper pulp: pre-consumer or post-consumer waste. Pre-consumer pulp comes from sources like obsolete paper stock or unused paper products, while post-consumer pulp comes from used paper that has been recycled to give it a second life. Both types of pulp are a massive improvement on virgin fiber in terms of protecting forests, but post-consumer pulp does way more to reduce overall waste. The EPA recommends choosing an option that contains at least 20-60% post-consumer recycled pulp. Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond: more post-consumer recycled pulp = less waste.
Bamboo Toilet Paper
Bamboo has become a popular pulp alternative that is now used by dozens of smaller tissue brands like Grove Collaborative, Who Gives A Crap, and Caboo. Bamboo can grow 20 times faster than trees in the boreal and its cultivation is gentler on the land than the clearing required to harvest virgin wood pulp. According to the NRDC, tissue products made from bamboo pulp release 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to tissue made from virgin pulp. If you shop for bamboo products, it’s important to look for the FSC certification to ensure sustainable sourcing and transparency in the supply chain.
As far as additives go, fewer chemicals = toilet paper that’s better for your butt and our planet.
Chlorine bleach, used to whiten most conventional toilet paper, contains harmful environmental pollutants called dioxins. These dioxins are emitted during manufacturing, poisoning waterways and animals, and sometimes making their way into our bodies through food. At high levels of exposure, dioxins can cause hormone and immune imbalances, allergies, and even cancer.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) has a robust set of forest certification standards that enable forest managers in the United States and Canada to demonstrate that they are measuring quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk, forest conservation value, forest fiber content, and forest product traceability.
Rainforest Alliance certification programs promote best practices for protecting standing forests, preventing the expansion of cropland into forests; fostering the health of trees, soils, and waterways; and protecting native forests.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification ensures products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.
COMMON QUESTIONS WE GET:
“What certifications should I look for when shopping for more sustainable toilet paper?”
When shopping for toilet paper, check for certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council (often shortened on labels to FSC), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and Rainforest Alliance. All of these certifications indicate that the brand is taking extra steps to protect forests when sourcing paper pulp for toilet paper.
“Is bamboo toilet paper more sustainable than regular toilet paper?”
Bamboo has become a popular pulp alternative for toilet paper, which is great because it releases 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to tissue made from virgin pulp. That said, toilet paper made from post-consumer recycled pulp are also a massive improvement on virgin fiber in terms of protecting forests and reducing overall waste in the supply chain.
“What’s the most eco-friendly toilet paper?”
While there’s really no such thing as “sustainable” toilet paper because most toilet paper is made from wood pulp (meaning trees are cut down, turned into tissue, and then promptly flushed down the toilet), we choose these more sustainable toilet papers to minimize our environmental impact: