Sunday, December 3, 2006

Let's stop flushing forests down the toilet WEEK

Alright, people. So far, we've been easing into this whole "saving the planet" thing. You've been asked to make some small changes and you've risen to the occasion. Many are now proud users of reusable bags, and you haven't even been laughed out of the grocery store yet! Several of you have reported refusing numerous unneeded plastic bags, remembering that we can still carry objects without the use of a handle. Hoorah! This week, something a bit more...intimate is being asked of you. But first, the facts:

Did you know that most of our toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue and paper napkins come from ancient, endangered forests inhabited by trees that are (or rather, were) 70-180 years old? That's because Kleenex, Scott, Viva, Cottonelle, Charmin, Bounty, and Puffs, among other brands, are all made from virgin trees in virgin forests--forests that, until now, have been left largely untouched by humans and our destructive ways. Imagine: 150 years of perfect sun, rain, soil and fresh air all working together to grow magnificent oxygen-producing, CO2-absorbing beauties...All so that you can savor the moment of wiping your bum with something soft and fluffy, then--quite literally!--flush it down the toilet. Somehow, I don't think that's the end result nature intended. I mean, come on: Do we really want future generations to know that we cut down the few remaining in-tact forests for the sake of some really comfy arse-wipe? I don't think so...

But let's backtrack a bit. Many of us find it difficult to envision how things were done "back in the day"--before the advent of all these fine disposable products we can't imagine living without. What were the precursors to our flushable friend? How did people survive?! Modern-day toilet paper wasn't even invented until 1857. Before that, according to Wikipedia:

"Wealthy people used wool, lace or hemp for their ablutions, while less wealthy people used their hand when defecating into rivers, or cleaned themselves with various materials such as rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone, sand, moss, water, snow, maize husks, fruit skins, or seashells, and cob of the corn depending upon the country and weather conditions or social customs.

In Ancient Rome, a sponge on a stick was commonly used, and, after usage, placed back in a bucket of saltwater. In some parts of the world, the use of newspaper, telephone directory pages, or other paper products was common. Old Farmer's Almanac was sold with a hole punched in the corner so it could be hung on a nail in an outhouse. The widely-distributed Sears catalogue was also a popular choice until it began to be printed on glossy paper (at which point, some people wrote to the company to complain)."

Now THERE'S a use for all those unwanted catalogues that have been piling up! Kidding, kidding. And don't worry: What I'm asking of you will be much less painful than wiping with seashells.

These days, by Charmin's estimates, Americans use, on average, 8.6 sheets per trip to the loo, or 57 sheets per day, which turns out to be 20,805 sheets a year...or 52 rolls annually. How convenient--1 roll a week per man, woman, and child in America. That's a lot of trees flushed down the toilet. The NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) and Greenpeace are trying to convince paper giant Kimberly Clark (which owns Kleenex, Scott, Viva, and Cottonelle brands) to start making their products out of recycled paper. Kimberly Clark's paper comes from trees in the Canadian Boreal forest, which represents 25% of the old-growth/virgin forest left in the world. NRDC cuts to the chase in their campaign slogan: "Keep forests from become toilet paper".

On Kimberly Clark and its subsidiaries, the NRDC says: "Instead of making better use of materials such as post-consumer recycled fiber and agricultural residue to meet the escalating demand for toilet paper, paper towels and other disposable tissue products, these companies buy virgin pulp from suppliers that reach deep into North American forests for timber, from northern Canada to the southeastern United States...Kimberly-Clark -- one of the largest tissue paper producers in the world, with offices, factories and mills in 37 countries -- uses more than 1.1 million cubic meters of trees from Canada's boreal forests each year to produce some 465,000 metric tons (equal to 512,575 tons) of pulp."

Go here to read more about the ecoystems being destroyed on behalf of our arse-wipe.

Fortunately, a solution exists. Numerous paper companies have adopted more sustainable practices by incorporating some percentage of recycled material into their pulp. There are many brands of toilet paper, paper towels, facial tissue, and napkins available that are now 100% recycled. Look for ones with high post-consumer recycled product.

Here's a guide for brands to try and ones to avoid. It covers facial tissue, paper towels, and napkins too. (For the sake of time, this post focuses on toilet paper, but by all means, please start replacing your paper towels, facial tissue, etc. with recycled versions. In the future we'll also explore cutting down on the usage of these disposables as well.)

I've been using Seventh Generation toilet paper for the last few weeks, and it really isn't bad. My favorite part is the back of the packet, where they provide several facts that make you feel all warm and fuzzy--(even if the TP itself doesn't)--see pic at left. Wow, check it out--1,450,000 trees could be saved just by every household replacing one virgin four-packet of TP with recycled TP. Amazing!

Ok, full disclosure: Recycled paper products are not as soft as virgin products. There, I said it. Apparently there's a legitimate reason for this, not because the companies want to punish you for buying recycled, but because it's a different kind of pulp. So far, I can report no injuries or irritations. Still, I can already hear the complaints rolling in. You like your 2-ply, 1000-count aloe-enhanced friend. I understand. And if you have a compelling argument for why the comfort of your own nether-region is a more important cause than preserving the few remaining pristine forests of our planet, then I'm all ears! Until then, enjoy your recycled arse-wipe, and relish in the thought that it's not corn on the cob. :)


amanda said...

I used the corn cob this weekend. NOT A GOOD IDEA!

Where can I find the Seventh Generation brand toilet wipes? I'm assuming Whole Foods. But is it affordable compared to my dollar store rolls of forrest killers?

Sara said...

can you really put a price on not killing a forest, amanda? just kidding...i knew i was forgetting something important like location and price. yes, whole foods/wild oats, etc. are the places to find this fine product. i've been getting my 4-pack at my local nature mart, which i've always suspected is a tad overpriced, so i don't want that to dissuade you with that number. i just called whole foods and here's the low-down (although i can't completely stand behind these numbers until i actually go check myself, bc the guy was a little confused, and the numbers he gave me for the Whole Foods brand seemed way off. stand by for verification in the next couple days). sorry i left out this important info!

7th generation:
4pack--$3.49 (unbleached)

a quick trip into my local Longs reports these prices for the "forest killers":

Scott 4pack--$4.29
Angel Soft 4pack on SALE--$2.69
Charmin 12pk--9.69
Cottonelle 12pk on SALE--$5.89

so it looks like the good guys come in right around the non-sale prices of the evil ones...if you've been buying whatever brand happens to be on sale, maybe you can brainstorm about where those few extra dollars can come from elsewhere in your budget. if you're taking your own coffee mug, you are saving at least 10 cents each time...anybody have any other idea/experience about rearranging budgets to have a little extra cash for more eco-friendly products?

amanda said...

YES! Now my own butt will help save the forrests! Today is a great day!

Sara said...

ok, so here are the verified prices from whole foods. the one i went to only had 4-packs.

365 brand--also 100% recycled
4-pack: $2.99

7th generation
4-pack: $3.49

now go out and wipe responsibly!

Marcy said...

OK, I'm reeeeally tardy on this one, and sorry for the sudden barrage of comments, but I'm all pumped up! This blog is fantastic!

If you live near a Trader Joe's, they've got cheap recycled TP and paper towels. What's also great about their paper towels is that they've cut them about half as big as most so you end up using less.

CassieV said...

Hi Sara,
My name is Cassandra, and I'm a reporter living in NY. I came across your blog because I'm doing a story about environmental hygiene, toilet paper, and, weirdly, bidets.
Wondering if you might have a few minutes to talk to me about your choice to use 7th generation? I can be reached at 203.913.3048 or at
Thank you so much for your time and hope to hear from you soon.

Laura W said...

But 7th gen is wrapped in plastic!
I switched to the single rolls wrapped in paper. The TP sheets from those are very thin and strong. So they're less likely to clog a toilet and one roll lasts a long time.