While most of us aren't willing to give up the toilet paper, the best option is definitely recycled versions. You can find current listings here from the NRDC and Greenpeace also has a great list with more brands on it. For those of us who might not have access to large supermarkets with 20 different varieties of TP, note that all of Marcal's paper products are made from recycled materials and are pretty easy to find in smaller stores. Avoid Cottonelle, Charmin and Scott, which are made with a healthy portion of old-growth forest wood pulp.
One Japanese company thinks that next-gen dunny paper could be made by recycling office paper - right in the office; they've developed a large, 1,300 pound machine that retails for $95,000 and promises to turn 1,800 sheets of discarded paper into two rolls of TP in about an hour. It seems like overkill, when you can just choose recycled on your next trip to the store anyway, but maybe one day we'll come to the place where a community paper recycler will take our boxes, paper and magazines, and shoot out TP - no trees needed. There's got to be a better solution to the current wasteful system.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
TP’s Sustainable History
In the past, (and commonly today, in developing nations) people used their hands and water after they did their 1′s and 2′s – and in fact some still regard TP as less clean than a good post-loo wash (hence, bidets). But people have used all kinds of methods to keep clean: ancient Romans used a sponge on a stick that was kept in salt water near the privy, and Inuits used moss in the warmer seasons and snow when it blanketed the ground. Brits used discarded sheep’s wool and native Hawaiians used coconut shells. Most famously, in the United States, the Sears & Roebuck catalog and corn cobs took the place of the TP we now use.
The first purposeful manufacture of toilet paper was in China. According to Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 1, Paper and Printing by Joseph Needham, “During the early 14th century (Yuan Dynasty) it was recorded that in modern-day Zhejiang province alone there was an annual manufacturing of toilet paper amounting in ten million packages of 1,000 to 10,000 sheets of toilet paper each.”
The first toilet paper in the US was made from off-white hemp paper and began selling much later in human history – not until 1857: “Geyetty’s Medicated Paper—a perfectly pure article for the toilet and for the prevention of piles” was a Victorian-era upper class staple. Later, as costs went down and a process was developed for processing tissue (following on the heels of more efficient manufacture of newsprint – insert journalism joke here), toilet paper became available to everyone at an affordable price.