Plush Toilet Paper Means Death For Old Trees

by Owner on October 13, 2009

Bad news for anyone who enjoys the soft touch of plush toilet paper in the restroom: the softest toilet paper comes from ancient trees that are decades or even a century old. Unfortunately the recycled toilet paper alternatives aren’t great, although they’re starting to get better in response to increasing consumer demand.

Toilet and tissue paper account for only 5% of the world’s use of forests, but any percentage is too much especially when the product is so directly under our control as consumers. It’s also a particularly galling and ironic use of trees–destroying the world’s old forests to wipe our behinds–a stark reminder of how our consumption-driven society is destroying the environment.

The problem lies in how toilet paper is made. Each sheet is made from wood fibers. The older the tree the longer the wood fibers, the smoother and more pliable the paper. By contrast, toilet paper made from recycled paper products has much shorter wood fibers, leading to a rougher product.

This problem is going to be a tough nut to crack, as consumer demand for the softest paper is understandably huge.

But things are starting to change. Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Kleenex and Cottonelle toilet paper, entered into an agreement with Greenpeace to have 40% of its paper use come from recycled paper products or sustainable forests by 2011. It’s a good first step, but real change will come from us and what we demand.

What do we do? Instead of going for that super plush toilet paper, pick up recycled toilet paper alternatives from Seventh Generation or Markal, brands that Consumer Reports found to be not unpleasant. The more we demand the eco friendlier alternative, the harder companies will work to make it softer and more pliable.

As for me? Well–I enjoyed plush toilet paper as much as the next person until I read the linked article. Once I’ve used up all my current toilet paper I’ll be looking to make the switch!

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