After much delay, poop week (oh, who are we kidding…poop month!) is back with the great toilet paper debate.
Years ago, when “going green” was just entering the American consciousness, products whose marketing was aimed at the environmentally conscious did, in fact, tend to be more expensive than “conventional” products. (Yes, I realize Great-Aunt Ida stocked pages torn out of the Sears catalog in her outhouse. Yay for her. I’m talking about after one-use paper products became indispensable in American households and manufacturers started cashing in on the accompanying guilt.) Though 20 years or more of improvements in manufacturing efficiency and technological advancements have passed, the perception that “green” products are necessarily more expensive persists even when it comes to toilet paper.
The most eco-friendly solution would be to do away with one-use toilet paper products completely by using a bidet, but since the majority of American homes don’t have bidets and likely won’t in the future, we won’t even go there. It would also be more eco-friendly to use 1-ply toilet paper, as long as you could avoid using twice as much, rather than 2-ply but since anecdotes seem to indicate an American preference for 2-ply, we’ll concentrate on that.
The first issue to consider is the source of the paper. Let’s say we got all our toilet paper pulp from old-growth forests. Different sources have Americans’ average rolls used per year at anywhere from 23 to 73. One blogger actually tracked how many rolls he used in a year and came up with 49. Since that’s about halfway between the other numbers, it seems reasonable to go with that. So 49 rolls per person per year, multiplied by about 312 million people (the U.S. population in 2011) equals 15,288,000,000 rolls used in America per year. Seeing as how one tree can produce about 1,000 rolls of toilet paper, that’s over 15 million trees we potentially use per year. That’s a lot of resources for something you use once and then flush. And that’s also a lot of trees that wouldn’t have to be used, or that could be used for other purposes, if 100 percent recycled toilet paper were more than just 2 percent of the T.P. market. Even tree farms specifically planted for harvesting tend to displace native flora and fauna and, unless they’re farmed sustainably and responsibly, use a massive amount of fertilizers and pesticides. Not an ideal solution.
Another issue to consider is the processing of the paper. It takes much more water to process virgin tree pulp than it does for recycled pulp. Also, most “conventional” toilet papers are bleached with chlorine. This process produces dioxins. Dioxins are very persistent in the environment. That means they stick around for a long time. They also accumulate in the bodies of animals (like us) and cause problems in the nervous, reproductive and endocrine systems. They are also carcinogens. Nasty stuff.
So do we have to pay more to protect our health and the environment? No! The Organic Adventurer went on a price-comparison spree. I compared Walmart’s Great Value Brand, popular name brand Quilted Northern, White Cloud Green Earth (sold at Walmart), Whole Foods’ store brand, and 7th Generation.
Great Value and Quilted Northern are “conventional” papers and are 2.19 cents and 2.31 cents per square foot respectively. The Green Earth packaging states the product is 100 percent recycled, but gives no information on the bleaching method used. It’s 1.43 cents per square foot. The Whole Foods store brand is 100 percent recycled, not bleached with chlorine, and costs 1.14 cents per square foot. Finally, 7th Generation isn’t processed with chlorine, but claims only a “minimum 50 percent recycled content” on the packaging. It costs 3 cents per square foot. The winner on price is definitely the Whole Foods store brand.
I must admit that when I made the switch to recycled toilet paper, I assumed Whole Foods would be more expensive. I therefore opted for Marcal Small Steps, which is also 100 percent recycled and produced without chlorine. Around here, it was sold only at Food Lion, which closed all of their stores in this area at the beginning of the year. Marcal claimed that their products would be sold at Walmart from then on, but they have yet to appear. Just as well, since I avoid Walmart at all costs (unless I’m doing research). So I don’t remember what I used to pay for Marcal, but by piecing together the information from several websites, I believe it is about 1.74 cents per square foot. That makes it second place in my book when balancing price and environmental/health impact. And it can be ordered from Marcal’s website, which might make it a viable option for those with no access to a Whole Foods.
So there you go—the more environmentally sound choice of toilet papers is actually cheaper than the conventional version, as it should be! Still, don’t be afraid to save even more money and resources by only using as much as you need. What about you? What do you use and why? Would you like to hear more about bidets? How much toilet paper is enough? Are you a square-per-visit or a baseball-mitt user? Everybody has an opinion about toilet paper; what’s yours?