Recycled toilet paper saves forests |

Recycled toilet paper saves forests

Dear Eartha,

I’ve tried several varieties of recycled content toilet paper, but have yet to find one that’s not scratchy and nonabsorbent.

— Anonymous, Breckenridge

I’d be happy to help you find toilet paper that doesn’t feel like sandpaper. Before we give recycled toilet paper the happy tush test, here’s a little background on why you should choose recycled TP in the first place.

Virgin toilet paper, tissue, napkins and paper towels come from virgin wood. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), tissue manufacturers use virgin fibers from the Canadian boreal forest, as well as sterile tree plantations across the United States. In 2012, 98 percent of toilet paper used in the U.S. came from virgin wood.

It’s the consumer demand for popular TP brands that has driven the clear-cut of half a million acres of Ontario and Alberta’s boreal forests. From pine and spruce to fir and poplar, these forests provide critical habitat to caribou, lynx, bear and wolves. Many of the large paper manufacturers have come under significant pressure in the past five years to change their unsustainable ways. For instance, Kimberly-Clark and Greenpeace have developed a partnership that has resulted in substantial improvements in sourcing environmentally-preferred fiber in their tissue and TP products.

However, not only do disposable paper manufacturers waste trees, they pollute waterways; destroy ecosystems; produce air pollutants; and have been dubbed the “third largest industrial emitter of global warming pollution.” Beyond the pulp problems, manufacturers use chlorine to keep TP white. The bleaching process is toxic to our air, water, wildlife and humans.

That’s a lot of eco no-no’s for something you use to clean your bum.

Fortunately, we do have alternatives to virgin TP, tissues and towels — recycled content and chlorine-free (TCF) or processed chlorine-free (PCF). The NRDC determined that if every U.S. household replaced one roll of virgin-fiber TP with 100 percent recycled TP, we could save a forest — about half a million trees!

Both Seventh Generation and Green Forest rank very high on the NRDC’s tissue guide. The NRDC also recommends looking for paper products labeled with a high post-consumer content. Be sure to also look for the chlorine free (TCF or PCF) symbol.

Now let’s talk about the comfort factor. I agree with you that some recycled content TPs can be downright painful! In my opinion, the Bright Green brand is equal in comfort to several of the soft virgin TPs. Not only is the brand affordable and available at our local Safeway, it boasts 100 percent recycled (with a high 80 percent post-consumer content), chlorine free and super absorbent on the package.

Finally, you may have heard that recycled paper (including office paper, tissue and toilet paper) contains BPA. Sadly, this is true. The reason is that thermal paper, used primarily for receipts, contains a powder-coating of BPA. During the recycling process, receipts are mixed in with other paper products to create the pulp for manufacturing recycled paper. Thus, trace amounts of BPA end up in most recycled-paper products. While it’s certainly disconcerting to have BPA in recycled toilet paper, Grist tells us that only 2 percent of our BPA exposure comes from paper products with most of the remaining 98 percent of exposure from food packaging. Given all the considerations of forest resources, energy and contents of the products, I still recommend recycled toilet paper over virgin TP.

Is there a better way than having to choose between virgin toilet paper and recycled toilet paper with BPA? Of course, but most Americans will scoff at the notion to not use TP. In many developed countries, bidets are used. Existing toilets can even be retrofitted to attach a bidet. Since we are culturally obsessed with TP, perhaps we will eventually find more renewable resources to fulfill our craving. One such option is bagasse, the pulp from sugarcane, but unfortunately bagasse products are not widely available in the U.S. For now, your best bet is to use non-bleached, recycled toilet paper or think about a bidet. For details on the overall sustainability of your favorite toilet paper brand or to find recycled TP products, download the Good Guide app.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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