Virgin forests are being clear cut for the wood pulp used to make the softest toilet paper that consumers are demanding.
Americans alone use 34,000,000 rolls of toilet paper a day and more virgin forests are being cut down to meet the consumer demand.
Deforestation is something that is happening quickly and more efficiently these days. Humans are using far more paper products today than even five years ago. Paper products are everywhere: from greeting cards to junk mail; tissue paper to wrapping paper. Most paper products are completely unnecessary and an absolute waste of paper (and therefore a waste of a perfectly good tree). When we consider all the products a tree might be killed, pulped and bleached into, one fails to show up on most people’s radar; and with company names like, “Cottenelle” and “Angel Soft”, it’s easy to see why.
The toilet paper industry brings in $200 billion annually and is one of the main exports of the US. In order to feed this industry, it needs raw materials to create the final product. The majority of this raw material (trees) are coming from Canada’s boreal forests. A report, conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the environmental group Stand.earth, shows that our propensity for tree-pulp paper products is degrading Canadian forest habitats and threatens indigenous communities. Tissue manufacturers Procter & Gamble Co., the makers of Charmin, and Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Georgia-Pacific which manufacture Angel Soft and Quilted Northern, were among the greatest perpetrators and Americans are the greatest wipers. While making up just 4% of the world’s population, they use 20% of the world’s produced toilet paper. What’s even more jaw-dropping is the fact that recycled toilet paper only makes up 2% of sales for at-home use in the US. 2%! That means, 98% of the toilet paper Americans use come from once-living trees that belonged to an important, vital living ecosystem is being smeared with human defecation and flushed down the toilet, solely for that purpose. Astonishing.
Virgin wood pulp for toilet paper comes from forests throughout North America, but Canada is facing the quickest cutting of virgin forests in the world. Some of the trees being cut in Canada are over 200 years old. It is known by the largest toilet paper producers that the American desire for the softest, plushest toilet paper can only be produced with virgin pulp. This obsessive use of virgin pulp tissue for comfort is threatening the way of life for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples (70% of Canada’s First Nation’s Peoples call these forests home), causing large environmental damage, endangering wildlife and contributing to climate change. Most of the wood pulp used comes from this area and a million acres are cut each year. Canada, whose country is being decimated for paper, isn’t even in the top 10 for users of toilet paper.
And that’s just the trees.
It also takes an absurd amount of energy in the way of electricity, fuel, and water to put a tree through the “tree-to-toilet” pipeline. Scientific America states “… Americans use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper every year, representing the pulping of some 15 million trees. This also involves 473,587,500,000 gallons of water to produce the paper and 253,000 tons of chlorine for bleaching.” Manufacturing also requires about 17.3 terawatts of electricity annually.
The toilet paper hasn’t even been packaged yet.
It’s quite intriguing to ponder the idea that the world is stepping through the doorway into an era of mass extinction demanding that the toilet paper they use be three-ply, (sorry, two-ply will no longer do), soft, plush, and white. 600 communities of people whose ancestors have lived throughout the boreal forests in Canada for longer than toilet paper has been around are losing their homes and their way of life. The National Conservancy, calls the boreal forest “the Earth’s largest terrestrial carbon sink.” Alternatives exist. There are ways to produce toilet paper, though not soft and fluffy, without cutting down the pristine wilderness that is vital for inhabiting this planet. But as James Malone, a spokesman for Georgia Pacific said, “Customers demand soft and comfortable. Recycled fiber cannot do it.”
There you have it, folks. Good ‘ol capitalistic consumer supply and demand. Millions of years of evolution being flushed down the toilet for comfort and the illusion of clean (because let’s face it, gross as this sounds, toilet paper really just smears, now doesn’t it?).
There are many alternatives to virgin wood pulp toilet paper available to consumers today. There are many brands now carrying toilet paper made from recycled toilet paper. Toilet paper is also being produced using bamboo. For those wishing to take their cleanliness to the next level, sprayers that attach to the toilet can be easily installed. Bidet toilet seats are readily accessible. Cloth wipes can be used. Some people may scoff at the idea of cloths, but honestly, what is “dirtier”: a cloth that can be washed or 253,000 tons of bleach leaching into the groundwater?
The upside of bidets means that one’s bottom side is actually cleaner. Bidets are far more hygienic than the wiping alternative. As quoted in Scientific America: “Bidet maker BioRelief reports that almost 80 percent of all infectious diseases are passed on by human contact and that only about half of us actually wash our hands after using the facilities—making hands-free bidets a safer alternative all around.” BioRelief proposes the idea that if you don’t have to use your hands at all then there is less chance of passing or coming in contact with a virus.
So with all the options available to us with just a click of a button, are we still, as consumers, knowing what we know after digesting all these facts, going to flush them down the proverbial toilet along with our plush toilet paper? It’s your choice now.