During this Coronavirus pandemic we have become a nation obsessed with buying toilet roll. Statistics from The Grocer showed sales in spring 2020 as the virus hit the UK increased by 55% and many sold out as people panicked and it became that essential item that people couldn’t live without, along with hard to find items such as plain flour, sugar, yeast, pasta and tinned soups. I remember going to the supermarket in the early days of the pandemic and seeing people queuing by a roll cage as the loo roll was rationed out by the stressed staff who were asking people not to grab! Just craziness. I’m sure we will look back in the future and remember when….
Given we are very much in the middle of this pandemic still, I thought I’d start off blog posts for the New Year 2021 with some thoughts on buying this essential item. Given we all use it, we can make some ‘eco’ thoughts about buying it (not using it!)
Firstly, what’s the big environmental fuss with toilet role? Surely it’s just paper which is eco, right? The first issue is that it’s single use… I’m not for any moment suggesting reusing it! It’s just good to be mindful for some statistics. According to National Geographic:
Worldwide, the equivalent of almost 270,000 trees is either flushed or dumped in landfills every day and roughly 10 percent of that total is attributable to toilet paper.
That is a staggering 27,000 trees each day that are flushed down the toilet! Think of all the wildlife affected by their loss of habitat and not to mention all of the chemicals that go into the bleaching process of making the soft white sheets that people love so much. There are many companies that claim sustainability by planting new trees to replace the deforestation but this isn’t really an an eco option just damage limitation. The manufacturing of the virgin pulp alone uses a huge amount of water which isn’t recovered in the process due to the toxins used in the bleach. Is it really worth using all that water and losing all those trees for the love of 3 ply softness?
There has to be a better way, either using recycled tissue or alternatives altogether. Again, I’m not suggesting that everyone should use a bidet from now on either, just think about the flushing away of trees in the toilet roll we use. One of the big factors in the past is that recycled toilet paper has been often given negative press for being ‘substandard’ and not a product we would want to use, more like tracing or even sandpaper! However, so much has improved over time with product development and now using recycled paper is definitely a serious market contender as an alternative that doesn’t compromise the quality or softness.
About a year ago, we swapped our usual toilet roll to buying from Who Gives a Crap. They are a fairly new company that makes toilet rolls made from 100% recycled paper. Their recycled toilet paper is made from post-consumer waste such as like textbooks or office paper and a small percentage (around 5%) of post-industrial paper like off cuts from tissue paper factories. There are no bleaching checmical involved in the processing of the paper, instead it is whitened and strengthened with hydrogen peroxide (H202), an eco-friendly alternative that turns back into water (H20) when the manufacturing process is finished. The toilet paper is completely biodegradable and even safe to use in septic tanks (if that is a consideration).
Who Gives a Crap toilet paper comes in bright paper packaging which is also recycled. Win Win! Unlike the supermarket recycled brands which come is plastic (a real bug bear for me). I’ve even heard of people saving the paper to wrap birthday gifts, it is really that well designed. On top of all that, as a company they have also pledged to donate 50% profits to building toilets around the world in developing counties. It’s eco in all their mindset, products and community impact. Their prices are competitive and we have signed up directly with a 3 month subscription which seems to work out perfect timing for a family of 5. I really think its a great example of making a positive eco swap.
Bamboo toilet roll is also another serious market contender in the world of loo rolls with competitors like Bumboo also making this non-paper alternative, with no trees! Bamboo is a great sustainable option because it’s naturally fast growing in places like China and rapidly renewable. It requires no tending, irrigation or fertilisation and only needs to be harvested once a year (it grows back very quickly after harvesting because it’s technically a grass). This is why it is being used for many other things too like clothing fibres. Harvesting in local communities supports a local economy. There is still processing involved in making the bamboo toilet paper and before purchasing it is good to understand where it is manufactured and the transportation carbon impact in moving around the materials. Having said that, the overall impact is probably the same as using recycled paper, not much in it other than preference for the product itself.
Whether you make a switch to recycled toilet paper or bamboo alternatives, what remains to say is we don’t need to be selfish about it. The best ‘eco’ advice is to only buy what we need and then there will be enough to go round without panic buying. Perhaps we should adopt this for all of the Earth’s resources as there is plenty to share if we are sensible with it. Happy New Year!