We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Environmentally Friendly Toilet Paper

While this is not a topic of conversation for polite company, it's an important conversation to have, and one I'm intrigued to see generates a lot of emotion in people. The issues I see people get most excited about are softness and ply. My issues are scent (surprised by that?), pilling, durability (read strength and absorbency), and recycled content.

According to the Wikipedia article on TP the biggest difference between toilet papers is whether it's virgin paper (from wood chips and scraps) or of recycled content. But paper hasn't always been the material people have used for wiping themselves after using the "toilet". Count your blessings for soft, convenient paper. This short list covers historical methods of toilet paper alternatives.

  • fabrics like wool, hemp, rags, and lace
  • water and snow
  • mineral matter, like stone, sand, or seashells
  • vegetable matter, including grass or hay, leaves, moss and ferns, seaweed, plant husks and fruit skins, wood shavings, and cores or cobs
Interestingly, cleansing with water is the preferred method over paper in much of the world.

Modern toilet paper is made of "recycled content" already, so why is recycled paper even an important issues? The "recycled" content is wood chips, not recycled paper, and it takes fewer resources (energy, water, and chemicals, for starters) to convert recycled paper into toilet paper than wood chips. Let me share some facts about what is saved by using one ton of recycled paper:

  • 6,953 gallons of water
  • 463 gallons of oil
  • 60-587 pounds (depending on the source) of air pollution
  • 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space
  • 4077 kWh (that amount of energy powers the average home for six months)
  • 17 trees
To balance that info, a cord of wood yields 1,000 pounds of toilet paper (or about 2,000 rolls).

How To Make Toilet Paper

According to GoodGuide.com the three best environmentally friendly toilet papers -- all made from 100 percent recycled paper -- are Seventh Generation, Earth Friendly Bathroom Tissue, and Green Heritage. The three worst toilet papers are Kirkland Signature Bath Tissue, Dublsoft Premium Bath Tissue, and CVS Premium Bathroom Tissue. Interestingly, not all of the 100 percent recycled-content bathroom tissues rated an environmentally friendly score. Natural Resources Defense Council takes a slightly different approach, and raises the issue of recycled content and post-consumer recycled content -- a good point to keep in mind for the serious environmental consumer.

The issues identified that negatively impact a toilet paper's rating include:

  1. toxic emissions
  2. hazardous waste targets
  3. sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions
  4. water conservation
  5. particulate matter and VOC (volatile organic compounds)
  6. health and safety

And issues that positively impact a toilet paper's rating include:

  1. recycled content
  2. post-consumer recycled content
  3. chlorine usage (less usage is better)
  4. how each roll is packaged

And then there is the packaging! Some bathroom tissue comes wrapped in plastic, others individually in paper, and some aren't wrapped at all if you buy them in bulk. And other than gimmick paper or gag rolls, TP isn't made of colored paper because the dye is harmful to the environment and can cause skin irritations. Perfumed tissue should also be avoided because of irritation issues.

One Environmentally Friendly Bath Tissue

The bottom line, if you'll excuse my pun, is that I'm balancing more than just the environmental aspects of what comprises the "best" toilet paper. I also care about the social and health issues. Goodguide.com helps me do that. For my purchase decision I'm balancing the amount of post-consumer recycled paper used, packaging, comfort, effectiveness, septic system friendliness, and price. After trying several different toilet paper brands I've settled on using Seventh Generation's 2-ply TP individually wrapped in paper.


What about Marcal's Small Steps? We've found the TP to be high quality & the plastic is recyclable in some areas (unfortunately, not ours!)
Check them out at: http://www.marcalsmallsteps.com/our-story/60-year-heritage-of-recycled-products

Mary-francis at December 15, 2010 11:57 AM

Mary-francis, thanks for the link. It's good to hear you think their product is of high quality. GoodGuide.com rates them a 6.4, though they don't show up in the line-up of toilet papers when you just ask for that list. The Seventh Generation rates higher (7.9).

It's good to have options and the one you just presented may be the right choice for some of the readers.


Kit Cassingham at December 15, 2010 1:03 PM

Is it true that Kirkland's TP has formaldehyde in it? Also do other brands?

Betty at November 9, 2015 9:43 AM

Technological glitches kept me from seeing this post until just now. I don't know if Kirkland's TP has formaldehyde. It's a great question in general. A quick search brought me to two sources to maybe help you:
http://www.ewg.org/ is a great resource for all kinds of environmental questions on products.

I saw reference to formaldehyde -- and BPA -- being in toilet papers. Sheesh! So here are things to look for:
* Unbleached: Completely natural – no bleach added. May not be a winner on softness or comfort.
* Processed Chlorine Free (PCF): Recycled paper bleached with oxygen, ozone or hydrogen peroxide. Examples of brands with PCF toilet paper: Seventh Generation, Green Forest, Planet, 365 Whole Foods, Earth First. See the NRDC’s toilet paper comparison chart.
* Totally Chlorine Free (TCF): Non-recycled paper bleached with oxygen, ozone, or hydrogen.

Good luck!

Kit Cassingham at June 3, 2016 9:59 PM
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