We know that 712 million trees are currently cut down per year to make the paper we flush down the loo. Not everyone can or is willing to opt for reusable options or bidets. So what can you do to minimise the environmental impact your toilet habits have? Choose recycled or bamboo!
We want to help you decide between normal vs recycled vs bamboo toilet paper by comparing the sustainability of each of them.
Normal toilet paper
Most of us probably grew up not thinking much about the toilet paper we used, with many parents opting for the most economical option for their family. As the world works towards more sustainable practices, toilet paper made from virgin pulp is no longer the only option.
Raw material impact
When we look at the environmental impact of standard toilet paper, there are many factors to consider. We know that hectares of forests are destroyed, but how does this destruction impact the environment. Canada's boreal forests are one of the largest sources of raw materials for standard toilet paper. Logging them emits approximately 26 million metric tons of carbon a year. This equates to the same carbon emissions from 5.5 million passenger vehicles. This is just one source of trees destroyed for virgin pulp.
Regrowing these forests takes decades, and destroying them causes carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere and disturbs the carbon stored in the soil. It also removes one-way carbon is removed from the atmosphere. And because trees don't grow naturally fast enough to keep up with the demand for virgin pulp, chemical fertilisers are used to speed up the growth. Again disturbing the ecological balance.
Once you get past the destruction of forests to get the raw materials, you move on to the impact production has on the environment. With virgin pulp toilet paper using approximately 140L of water per roll produced, that's a lot of water to make something that will break down in the water.
Along with the water used to create the toilet paper, multitudes of chemicals, bleaches, and dyes are used to break down the wood. These chemicals will break down and soften the fibres to end up with that white, the fluffy, soft but strong paper you know and love.
This all comes before transporting the wood to the factory or the finished product to shelves, but this could be similar no matter the type. But the packaging that you'll buy your virgin pulp toilet paper indefinitely isn't sustainable since it's most often plastic.
Recycled toilet paper
Now, this isn't toilet paper that has been recycled; we've seen that question more than we'd like, but toilet paper made from recycled paper products. This means the paper and cardboard you throw into your recycling bin at home or work will get used to producing this toilet paper.
Raw material impact
The first big eco-tick for recycled toilet paper is that you don't need to kill any additional trees to make it. Yes, there were likely trees killed to make the paper products recycled and used as the raw materials. Still, you're preventing these paper products from going to landfills.
Paper can actually be recycled four or five times; however, the fibres break down the more cycles it goes through. Preventing the paper from going to landfills also helps minimise the carbon it emits as it breaks down.
Another benefit of not using fresh wood as the raw materials but using recycled paper products is that fewer chemicals are needed to break down and soften the raw materials. Some chemicals and bleach are used to break down the paper into a mash and then remove the colour and sanitise it before it becomes toilet paper.
There are massive reductions in water usage, carbon emissions and general air or water pollution when making toilet paper from recycled rather than virgin sources.
Some quick facts around these include:
- ⅓ of the carbon emissions compared to virgin pulp production.
- 28% to 70% less energy consumption to produce recycled rather than virgin pulp toilet paper.
- 30,000 litres of water is saved for every tonne of recycled paper used.
- 3,000 to 4,000 kWh electricity is saved by making toiler paper from recycled paper sources.
- Up to 95% fewer air pollutants.
The largest benefit of recycled paper is that it's not a raw material like virgin pulp and bamboo. You're reusing raw materials in ways that the other options don't. Like virgin pulp toilet paper, there is the impact of transporting the product. Still, there is often less transportation involved in the raw materials. The toilet paper is usually made near the plants where the paper is recycled. Also, most recycled toilet paper comes wrapped in paper rather than plastic which minimises the waste.
Bamboo toilet paper
Bamboo has become the new go-to material for eco-conscious consumers and manufacturers. Bamboo toilet paper is undoubtedly a great switch, with the environmental benefits of bamboo being touted as amazing.
Raw material impact
The largest benefit of bamboo is that the plant itself is extremely sustainable and eco-friendly. Bamboo is fast-growing, which means it reaches harvesting age quicker than trees. It reaches maturity in 7 years. After reaching maturity, it will regrow and be harvested every year.
It's also better for the environment overall; it needs less water, offers a natural pesticide, captures more carbon, and expresses more oxygen than trees. It also returns to the earth easier than wood; it doesn't release any toxins or chemicals; it just decomposes.
While bamboo is more environmentally friendly than wood, it's still a raw material that needs to be planted and harvested, which could disrupt the ecological balance.
Bamboo's natural qualities also mean they are more environmentally friendly when breaking it down to make toilet paper. Bamboo is naturally antibacterial. This means fewer chemicals need to be added during the production process to create the toilet paper and make it antibacterial.
Its naturally strong fibres help create durable and strong tissue products. It requires no additional chemicals such as bleach or other chemicals to make it strong and soft. And we especially don't add extra bleach to dye ours white.
When it comes to water usage, bamboo wins as it uses 30% less water during production than recycled and 60% less than standard toilet paper. It also produces fewer carbon emissions; it produces 30% less than normal toilet paper.
There is also the transport aspect, which is where bamboo falls down. Currently, most bamboo is sourced from China, which means it has to be transported to countries for production or transported once the product has been produced. There is hope with other countries increasing their bamboo crops and hoping to bring all manufacturing on-shore locally.
So which option is the best? Well, it comes down to personal preference. If you're looking for eco-friendly toilet paper, recycled or bamboo are the way to go. If you're looking for the most environmentally friendly option, recycled toilet paper definitely has bamboo pipped at the post because it doesn't require raw materials. However, bamboo has a long list of eco-benefits that outweigh recycled paper, which still technically needs trees to be harvested to be created.