Gallery: Egregious Packaging Hall of Fame: Why Toilet Paper Needs a Red...

 
Besides cutting down ecologically important trees, making toilet paper from a tree requires much more water than making it from already-existent paper fiber that comes from recycling. Water-polluting chlorine is used to bleach the wood pulp to make it white, leading to even more water use, and polluted water to boot. "In addition, tissue made from recycled paper produces less waste tonnage — almost equaling its weight — that would otherwise go to a landfill."

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.

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8 Comments

  1. ArtInsideYou October 27, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Good comments BoulderRon … and great website!

  2. sage October 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I agree it is about time we “rolled out” anew TP design….Hemp, the mother of multi use plants is perfect for this job! Go HEMP Go!
    Brothersage(dot)com

  3. BoulderRon October 27, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I have a geologist friend that we joke with because of a camping trip where he used a rock… (or two, not sure) Joke is at least he knew what kind of rock he used! LOL!!

    Hemp toilet paper IS on its way back. I was in a company meeting last week where our CEO presented the “first roll” of 100% tree-free hemp TP as a new addition to our Versativa line of hemp based products. It was “soft enough for me” as one of my fellow hemp enthusiast put it. Oh, and don’t worry Bevis, hemp TP is THC-free!

    Hemp is one of the best solutions in my opinion. However, the USA is the only country in the World that industrial hemp is illegal to grow! (even when under local laws, not federal, mmj can be grown.) yet it is the largest importer of hemp. (We are working on that problem and already have thousands of acres awaiting approval for a pilot farming program) Please sign the petition to Let Our Farmers Grow Our Economy here: http://bit.ly/LetFarmersGrowHempNow

    There is so many interesting facts to learn about the history of hemp and more news about hemp’s future as we work toward creating a greater demand for hemp products like hemp TP.

    Tonight 10-27-2011 there is a live conference call about the current line of healing hemp products for brain health, for stress and pain, as well as a raw food source. I have created a site that people can learn about the history, etc. as the call will come and go and so many will miss it. The call information is here: http://bit.ly/HempCall The site I mentioned about the history of hemp, Versativa, etc. can be found here: http://www.HowCanIHempYou.com

    Thanks Starre for your article, together we can design a greener future through simple choices today.

    Ron Maurer
    Boulder, CO

  4. snowvil August 31, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    We can use water jet spray. we use it in India. you save paper and you save environment from harmful chemical which are used to make paper. An honestly its not bad. infact when i came to Canada and i told my friends back in India that i use toilet paper, they were like eewww that’s disgusting. I think as per as hygiene is concerned both are equally hygienic/unhygienic. but as far as cost and environment impacts are concerned, water jet spray are way better. And im sure people will adapt to it too, its just a matter of manufacturing and advertising.

  5. SteveS August 29, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks Starre for bringing our attention to a much overlooked problem – especially here in the US. Why we are cutting down old growth trees and literally flushing them down the toilet is beyond belief. There are much better alternatives out there that are more hygienic, easier, and much more Eco-friendly although what has been lacking is the education and experience of using these alternatives.

    The simplest and most hygienic change people can make is to switch to washing with water via a bidet, bidet attachment, or electronic bidet toilet seat. These are common overseas and slowly starting to catch on here in the US. My company Brondell makes and sells various bidet seats for the American market – both electronic versions as well as non-electric models. Once you experience washing with water – you will leave the paper (and the destruction of our forests) behind.

    You can learn more about the environmental benefits of using a bidet on our website: http://www.brondell.com/benefits/planet.php

    Thanks again for a great article!

  6. Melias August 29, 2011 at 8:05 am

    It’s incredible to think so much environmental damage could happen just because we want soft tissue to wipe our backsides with! Expensive luxury! Will definitely be changing our products next shopping trip! I like the above idea of looking into redesigning those materials of old into a sustainable product for todays world. Could be on a winner there!

  7. msyin August 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Since there is an alternative we could all look into just buying that and encouraging our friends to do the same so that manufacturers who really only seem to respond when revenue drops will come up with greener options. Clearly using trees for this item might need to be shelved and research into other materials considered and tested. Hemp? Moss? Bamboo? Maybe we could revisit what was produced in the past and redevelop and improve on the original idea. Cutting down an old growth forest for TP does seem to be the height of “asinine” behavior on all our behalf. I didn’t know old growth trees were used, but this will effect my next purchase and I hope it spurns others to think about another better, sustainable way for us to be clean and dry after using the loo (toilet).

  8. ecowaters August 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    I use fig leaves. Seriously. A massive leafy tree grows next to my house. Plus, I have a composting toilet….although cheap toilet paper decomposes faster than fig leaves. I have a new toilet paper garden coming up now. We’ll soon know if the leaves on these plants work out.

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