Toilet Paper is Not Zero Waste

 

10.24.2016

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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 Forest

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:

  1. At-home (consumer)
    1. Found in the forms of toilet and facial tissue, paper towels, napkins and other sanitary items
  2. Away-from-home (commercial and industry)
  3. Specialty
    1. 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.

Helpful Guides

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.

Some Facts

  • 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.

My Cat Is Not Zero Waste

09.21.2016

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Trying to create zero trash for my cat is almost impossible. I’ve tried, but due to some medical conditions, it’s virtually impossible. I have a male cat and he was neutered when he was younger. Unfortunately, male cats who are neutered, are more prone to urinary tract infections and therefore, require special diet food that has a low sodium content. Also, in order for him to not develop another urinary tract infection, he needed fresh water constantly. We bought him a small drinking fountain which he helped himself to. These two requirements produced empty tin cans of cat UTI management food as well as charcoal filters.

As he aged, he developed Diabetes and requires insulin shots twice a day. This required insulin medication as well as insulin needles. He’s a large cat, but he’s always been a large cat so weight gain was his genetic default. Lucky for us, he’s always been an indoor and outdoor cat, so he always used the backyard as his giant toilet. But with him being an indoor and outdoor cat, he required flea medication. I’ve been asked “Why don’t you just make him an indoor cat? It would cut back on the flea medication trash that you produce.” But forcing an animal to stay inside when we clearly have outdoor roaming space for him seemed unnatural to me. I wanted him to roam free and go play outside when we weren’t home. So the diabetes and flea medication produced tin cans of glucose management food, insulin needles, insulin medication and the flea applicators.

Over the years, he also got into a few fights with other cats or raccoons that roamed the neighborhood. For those special occasions, he required medication and sometimes even surgery which produced trash as well. I usually return the pill bottles and jars to the veterinarian so they can dispose of it. I’m lucky that I live in an area that allows free medical waste dumping, and even if I didn’t, I know my veterinarian will collect the medical waste from his patients for a small fee.

As for toys, he never loved to play with a lot of toys. In fact, he really only likes his catnip pillow, shoelaces and metal chain necklaces . I had a catnip plant that I grew for him awhile back and once in awhile, I would dry the catnip leaves and compost the old catnip. I would then refill his pillow with new dry catnip. Unfortunately he liked it so much that he would lay on it and eventually crushed the life out of it. That too went into the compost bin. I’m lucky that he’s easily entertained. He also never wanted his own bed, he always just adopted any place in the house to sleep.

Facts:

  1. Urinary Tract Infection Medical History = Prescription Diet c/d canned food & Filtered water with charcoal filters
  2. Diabetes II Medical History= Glucose Management m/d canned food, insulin needles, insulin medication
  3. Indoor & Outdoor cat = Advantage Flea Medication BUT no litter box
  4. Entertainment = Catnip pillow, but I refill the catnip pillow with fresh catnip. He just likes to play with shoelaces and metal chain necklaces.

So the recyclable items that I do produce are the tin cans of UTI food and diabetic food. His insulin medication, insulin needles and other medications are also recycleable, but considered medical waste recycling. The charcoal filters and advantage flea medication are the items that do end up in the landfill. I actually have a separate jar of trash that comes from owning a cat. He also no longer uses the water fountain that used the charcoal filters, he requests fresh water from the faucet when he’s thirsty with a drawn out meow.

Trying to own a pet and not produce trash from them is quite difficult. I know this much, to take on a pet is a great amount of responsibility and it is not a simple responsibility to ignore. I am not a veterinarian and I do not know what nutrients he needs and the sufficient amount of each nutrient and vitamin, therefore I do not attempt to make cat food on my own. He has very few toys, only wants his catnip pillow, which I will stuff with fresh catnip and compost the old catnip.

I started this journey almost five years ago, so I’ve compiled a nice amount of Advantage Flea Medication applicators for cats as well as charcoal filters. He stopped using the water fountain about three years ago, so he hasn’t produced anymore trash from that. He probably won’t last through the end of this year, but it’s amazing to see how much owning a pet can add to your trash collection. Once you lay it all out and calculate the amount of trash that’s produced, it’s an eye opening realization of what you’re contributing to the landfill.