Toilet paper: The average U.S. consumer uses more than 20,805 sheets annually, contributing to a $5.7 billion industry for bathroom tissue. Unfortunately, I do use toilet paper, but I use toilet paper made from 100% recycled paper. It’s the one product that I consistently try to adjust and use less of. I did purchase a bidet that attached to my toilet, so that eases up my use of toilet paper- but I still use it.
When you think of producers of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and resource depletion, toilet paper probably doesn’t join the list of products and industries that come to mind. But the natural resources that go into toilet paper should be taken into account. According to some estimates, approximately 7 million trees are used each year to make up the U.S.’s toilet paper supply.
THE NATIONAL RESOURCE DEFENSE COUNCIL (NRDC) ESTIMATES THAT IF EVERY HOUSEHOLD REPLACED JUST ONE 500-SHEET ROLL OF VIRGIN FIBER TOILET PAPER WITH A 100 PERCENT RECYCLED FIBER ROLL, 423,900 TREES WOULD BE SAVED ANNUALLY. IMAGE COURTESY OF ALIAS 0591
Tiny Roll, Big Impact
The idea of using virgin wood for throwaway paper products seems silly, but it happens nearly 99 percent of the time. Toilet paper made of 100 percent recycled paper fiber makes up less than 2 percent of the market in the U.S.
However, toilet paper made of 100 percent recycled paper content, including high percentages of post-consumer recycled fibers, is becoming easier to find as national chain stores now carry major brands like Seventh Generation and Marcal.
It Doesn’t Stop at Toilet Paper
According to the American Forest and Paper Association, tissue-grade papers are generally categorized into three major categories:
- At-home (consumer)
- Found in the forms of toilet and facial tissue, paper towels, napkins and other sanitary items
- Away-from-home (commercial and industry)
- Decorative and specialty papers such as wrapping tissue, dry cleaning paper and crepe paper
Tissue-grade papers are typically made from virgin fiber rather than recycled fibers and are bleached with chlorine to make them look whiter and brighter. Like toilet paper, these tissue grades are widely available with recycled fiber content and chlorine-free bleach.
The Soiled Paper Dilemma
While tissue-grade paper is made from, well, paper, this particular material is actually not recyclable due to the nature of its usage. When we add grease to a paper towel, food residue to napkins and you-know-what to toilet and facial tissue, these items are typically rendered non-recyclable.
When paper products are recycled, they are mixed with water and turned into a slurry. Grease, oils and other soiling materials form at the top of the slurry and paper fibers cannot separate from the oils during the pulping process, rendering the batch useless.
“The oil causes great problems for the quality of the paper, especially the binding of the fibers,” said Terry Gellenbeck, a solid waste administrative analyst for the City of Phoenix. “It puts in contaminants, so when they do squeeze the water out, it has spots and holes.”
Other products typically found on paper products, like ink, tend to break down fast as they are usually non-petroleum based.
Greenpeace’s Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide – Greenpeace has created a guide as well as an iPhone application to help consumers find recycled and responsible paper products. The pocket guide ranks 18 popular toilet paper, paper towel, facial tissue and napkin brands on their use of recycled content, post-consumer recycled content and non-toxic chlorine compounds in the bleaching process.
- Replaced one 175-sheet box of virgin fiber facial tissues with 100 percent recycled tissues, we’d save 163,000 trees annually.
- Used 100 percent recycled paper towels rather than one 70-sheet roll of virgin fiber paper towels, we’d save 544,000 trees each year.
- Replaced one 250-count package of virgin fiber napkins with 100 percent recycled, we’d save 1 million trees annually.