Issue with Tissue: Is Toilet Paper is Bad for the Environment?

Social Justice Jun 26, 2019

How often do we think about the sustainability impacts of toilet paper?

“This is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous.” - Senior Scientist Allen Hershkowitz from the Natural Resources Defence Council

Toilet Paper is unsustainable

Photo by Michael Jasmund on Unsplash

Here's the thing. Toilet paper IS destructive. The industry has actually been dubbed the “tree-to-toilet pipeline”, due to its harmful impact on Indigenous peoples, animals, plants, and eco-systems within rain forests.

Toilet Habits

The toilet roll industry is HUGE. Like, unthinkably HUGE. In the USA alone, the industry is worth $9.4 billion. Shockingly, the recycled toilet paper market is only worth a fraction of that, at $161 million. Remarkably, every tonne of paper recycled saves saves 13 trees, 2.5 barrels of oil, 4100 kilowatts of electricity, four cubic metres of landfill and 31,380 litres of water. The implications of this mean that the recycled toilet paper industry has the ability to have positive impacts on the planet. More often than not though, toilet paper production perpetuates unsustainable deforestation.

deforestation and logging

Photo by Sharad Bhat on Unsplash

Everyday worldwide, the equivalent of 270,00 trees are flushed or dumped in landfills from the use of toilet paper.

The Impacts of Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is made through an energy and water intensive process, that involves logging and manufacturing of virgin pulp. 23% of Canada's forestry exports result from virgin pulp, which is logged from the Boreal forest. This old growth forest covers 60% of Canada's land mass, is home to some 600 indigenous communities, and is packed with countless species. In fact, 70% of the world’s plants and animal live in forests, but they are all threatened by the likes of the toilet paper industry, which totals 15% of the world's deforestation.

Forests, particularly the Boreal forest, are not just integral to the lives living within it, but also to the life of our planet as a whole, being one of the worlds best greenhouse gas absorbents. The Canadian Boreal forest removes the equivalent of the annual emissions of 24 million vehicles from the atmosphere.

And yet, in under two decades, 28 million acres of the Canadian Boreal forest have been logged. The forest is vital to the planet and yet we are literally flushing it down the toilet.

Old Growth Boreal Forest

Photo by Dan Otis on Unsplash

Sustainable Alternatives

It's not all doom and gloom, sustainable alternatives do exist. Manufacturers have the resources and means to create products with recycled and responsibly sourced content. It's up to us to vote with our money and push the industry towards sustainability. The problem, as consumers, is wading through greenwashing and finding brands that are transparent and truly sustainable.

Here are some options:

  • 100% recycled paper avoids the continuation of deforestation for virgin pulp.
    Who Gives a Crap offers bulk buying of such a product. The packaging is also plastic free which is an added bonus! (Wanna try this out? Get $10 off here.)

Who Gives A Crap 100% recycled Toilet paper

  • Go tree free and buy toilet paper made from 100% bamboo! Bamboo is a highly sustainable resource, due to being self-regenerating, fast growing, and resistant to pests. Bamboo can also grow to its maximum height in only 4 months, in comparison to the 30+ years, it takes for Boreal trees. Who Gives a Crap sells a 100% bamboo option, as do brands called Tushy and Bambooloo.

  • Use cloth. Similar to cloth diapers and reusable menstrual pads, these are essentially a number of cloth wipes that can be laundered and re-used. It's not a choice for everyone, but it's definitely an option that's gathering some advocacy.

  • Skip wiping altogether and invest in a handheld or built-in bidet.

As always, thanks for reading.
Chelsea ✌️🐌


Activist and organizer with Greenpeace Vancouver. Writes about climate and social justice, feminism, greenwashing, and fossil fuel fuckery.

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