Eco-friendly toilet paper
I thought I’d ‘greened’ my entire bathroom (it’s the easiest place in the house to start making zero waste swaps), until I was targeted by a bunch of paper-wrapped toilet paper on social media that is, and I realised there was one thing missing. And so, the research began. Off the back of that research, here’s what I learned about the options available for eco-friendly toilet paper and its alternatives.
What’s wrong with ‘normal’ toilet paper?
I hadn’t really considered how our consciousness towards paper use hasn’t extended beyond how much paper we print and opting for emails over letters. Our tissue and toilet paper use doesn’t really form part of that conversation, yet the process of manufacturing toilet paper is incredibly intensive.
It’s likely that most of the toilet paper you see in the supermarket has the FSC stamp (qualifying that certain environmental and social standards are met) but not all of it does. Even with the FSC stamp of approval the process typically demands trees that take decades to mature being cut down (resulting in the destruction of important and diverse forest landscapes) before being processed into a pulp through an extreme heating process, mixing the wood chips with a concoction of chemicals. This is before it is sent to be bleached, because heaven forbid if we wiped ourselves with paper coloured anything other than crisp white.
Of course, unless you’re in a health food shop or some such, you’ll be hard pressed to find toilet paper that doesn’t come packaged in plastic too. Both the energy that is used in making this plastic wrap, as well as the waste once we’ve ripped it off the rolls, means that purchasing toilet paper wrapped in plastic is a big contributor to our single use plastic problem.
There’s more I could say here. Like the amount of water that’s used in the production of toilet roll; the monocropping of trees grown for toilet paper and the impact that this has on soil degradation and the biodiversity of our landscapes; the use of perfumes in sensitive areas but, essentially, if you want to reduce your plastic usage, minimise your contribution to deforestation and limit your use of chemicals, it seems that ‘normal’ toilet paper is not for you.
Eco-friendly toilet paper
First things first - opt for recycled toilet paper if this and ‘normal’ toilet paper are the only options presented to you. Recycled toilet paper, so say Ethical Consumer, has used anywhere between 28-70% less energy than that used to create new rolls. Otherwise, consider eco-friendly toilet paper that has taken on some of the principles below:
Look for toilet paper is either wrapped in paper that can be recycled over plastic - some options include a plant based cellophane that can be commercially composted too. Of course the best option though is to use a company that is happy to post their paper ‘naked’ - just in a cardboard box - which is the option photographed above by company Green Cane.
Companies like Green Cane manufacture their toilet paper using sugarcane and bamboo. The reason for this is that these plants are super fast growing. To get to a point where the plants can be harvested to create toilet paper only takes a year (bamboo can grow over a metre in a day), contrasted with the traditional method using virgin trees that have taken 20-30 years to grow. Bamboo is also said to absorb C02 at higher rates than many trees and doesn’t have to be replanted after harvesting.
The environmental impact of toilet paper made from bamboo or sugarcane is much lower than traditional methods. The time it takes for trees to grow to a point that they can be cut down means that ecosystems have had time to develop, and so the impact of deforestation when the time comes is much more profound than the annual harvesting of bamboo and sugarcane. There is also significant soil damage as a result of the deforestation and erosion that takes place.
less/zero bleaching and perfumes
One of the problems of ‘normal’ toilet paper is that the bleach used in its production contains chlorine, of which one of the byproducts is dioxin - a toxic chemical that belongs to a group of chemicals that the World Health Organisation (WHO) call ‘the dirty dozen.’ While our exposure to this in the use of toilet paper would be minimal, I’d rather avoid a product that uses chlorine based bleach, and therefore mitigate dioxin pollution and its negative impact on our environmental and personal health. With this in mind, choose toilet paper that is unbleached. As for perfumes, there is lot documented on how perfumes can negatively alter that natural flora of your vagina and we are advised to use unscented soap or only water to clean ourselves. With this in mind, I’d avoid using perfumed toilet paper and opt for unbleached, unscented always.
Going further than simply eco-friendly toilet paper
Of course, there are alternative options to eco-friendly toiler paper if you want to minimise your waste even further. These include:
Reusable toilet paper
Stick with me. In the same way we’ve adopted (or re-adopted) reusable pantyliners and pads, cloth nappies and make up remover wipes there are reusable options for toilet paper. Just take a look on Etsy. The premise is simple, use these when you need to and put in a waste bin by your toilet, ready to chuck in the washing machine when its full. Of course, lots of people are put off by this with fears of the smell and the additional washing but I imagine its much like the other swaps you make, becoming habitual and the new norm quickly. I’m going to bite the bullet and test it when I’m not in a shared house.
Lots of Zero Wasters on the internet argue that the bidet is the best option in terms of waste reduction. Of course, toilet paper in itself is a bit of a luxury, with many many people around the world simply using their hands and water. The Guardian wrote an article on the bidet’s come back at the beginning of last year, stating that switching to bidets could save 15 million trees, which is quite something. There seems to be some contention on the hygiene of a bidet however (though the Guardian article stated that they are better for personal hygiene over toilet paper) and, for me, it’s just not a contender.
What do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts.
What you can see in the pictures above is toilet paper made by a company called Green Cane, who I mentioned above. I came across them with some research, and after being marketed to by the pretty popular ‘who gives a crap’ that you’ve likely seen online. Both companies seem to work on similarish premises, adopting eco-friendly toilet paper principles like those described. For me, I ended up going with Green Cane because they were more competitive on pricing and had an option to arrive unpackaged or ‘naked,’ compared to who gives a craps individually wrapped rolls and higher price. I’ve got to say, so far, so good. They’ve done the job!
What I would say however is that my house were able to afford the box of 48 naked rolls and I’m aware that while buying in bulk can save money in the long run, to purchase in this way and at a higher upfront cost is a privilege that not everyone can afford. I’d love to see naked options offered in smaller quantities and available offline to help address this.