To Buy Recycled or Not To Buy Recycled…A New Perspective On Toilet Paper

file000235448160I started my path on a “greener” lifestyle back when I was 18 and started working in a health food store. At that time, I was very frustrated because making good choices that felt right to me also felt very out of reach financially. In fact it was a little over a decade later that I felt I had the financial wherewithal to make all of the conversions in the health and beauty area of my consumer purchases. After many attempts, I finally found products in the natural and/organic sector to replace the products I had been previously using. I found shampoo, deodorant and cosmetics to be the hardest. After finding satisfactory replacements, I was ready to branch out into greener choices in my home as well. One of the first things I changed in my house was cleaning products and paper products. Both switches were made by trial and error and being persistent until I found a satisfactory replacement. I think toilet paper was one of the hardest to not only replace, but also sell the rest of the household on. I was able to finally find a brand of toilet paper that worked for my family and my desire to be environmentally responsible. Then recently, several years after I made the switch the worst thing happened. The manufacturer changed the product formula to the point it was no longer acceptable quality wise and I felt compelled to make a change. Oh how I dreaded finding myself in this position again because I just felt like there were so few viable options. I didn’t want to settle on quality, nor was I willing to pay exorbitant prices just to say I used toilet paper made from recycled paper. Luckily this occurred since I have been working for Marla Esser Cloos. How lucky am I to have such a plethora of knowledge within my access? It was such a relief to know I could just ask Marla and she would be able to give me at least some suggestions as to how to proceed. What I was not expecting was her to give me a completely new perspective on making environmentally responsible purchasing decisions!

What Marla shared with me was eye opening on several levels. She explained to me that not only did the end product matter but how important it is that the company practices, policies, and manufacturing procedures are and how they equally play a role in what makes a product that is an environmentally responsible purchase. This was truly an angle I had never really considered before. She explained to me that certain companies may not offer toilet paper made from 100 recycled paper but they may be highly committed to sustainable forestry which in turn may produce a more environmentally responsible footprint than using a product made of recycled paper. I found this very fascinating. After doing some further reading that Marla had pointed me to I was able to make a confident decision about which toilet paper was going to be my replacement. The bonus of this whole experience was also eliminating any residual question in my mind if my choice in facial tissue was in alignment with my desire to make environmentally responsible purchases choices.

I share this with you to not to tell you my trials and tribulations with toilet paper but to remind you of two things: the transition to being an environmentally responsible consumer is a dynamic multi-faceted process that is absolutely comprised of each and every one of us making consistent conscious choices on a daily basis with the knowledge that collectively each one of these actions combined will over time make a much larger impact and that I have encouraged Marla not to keep all of this knowledge to herself any longer. As a result we will be rolling out a new feature called “Ask Marla” where we will create an avenue for people just like you and me to ask Marla questions in and around incorporating “greener” practices in our daily lives and ways in which we can be more environmentally responsible consumers with ease and confidence. So start getting your questions ready and look for this new feature roll out in the very near future. Please let us know what you are interested in knowing more about in the comments below as well.

6 Comments… add one
Jean Ponzi September 4, 2015, 2:38 pm

With respect for Marla’s enormous expertise and perspective, I have to weigh in for choosing recycled content TP.

Janitorial paper items (TP, paper napkins, paper towels, seat covers) are paper at the end of its useful life. Thank heaven for small favors, we are not EXPECTED to recycle these items (although in some situations napkins and towels can go in with your institutional-scale composting). The resources (fiber, embodied energy, etc.) will never become paper again.

While it’s true that there are almost always MULTIPLE sustainability factors we can consider, with end-of-life (janitorial) paper products, I feel strongly that recycled-content is a decider. Consumer demand for these products is needed to motivate the paper industry toward more mills retooling to make paper from paper instead of trees, and to help achieve cost-parity for the recycled-content products.

And there’s another factor: environmental citizenship. U.S. taxpayers have subsidized the forest products industry since the era (1800s!) when the Timber/Robber Barons clear-cut the great boreal forests to build the great cities of North America. Forest Products is our second-most highly subsidized extractive industry, right behind Fossil Fuels. We are all paying taxes to keep virgin-fiber toilet paper cheaper (and more “Desireable”) than recycled-content TP.

On most store shelves, it’s a LOT cheaper. Even though making paper from paper instead of from trees uses half the energy and half the water and produces half the air pollution, water pollution and solid waste (all manufacturing cost centers) compared to modern, efficient recycled-content mill processes. And those TP-ingredient trees – and all the energy and resources embodied in them – will have one brief ignomineous life, before heading into sewage treatment plants.

What are the “qualities” we need in TP? Soft (OK!), quilted (?), holds up (for sure), doesn’t overload septic systems (sometimes), impregnated with aloe (really?!?), advertised by darling cartoon bears or, dating myself here, Mister Whipple (PLEASE!!!), etc. etc.

What’s advertising and what’s reality? How much is enough?

Our purchases can and do make an impact, whether individual or institutional. We can vote with our dollars – and at some point vote out antiquated subsidies.

I buy a perfectly sturdy, nicely quilted 100% recycled content TP at Office Depot in a 48 roll pack for $34.99 (less with coupon); that’s about $.28 per roll. Case lots of other options, including dispenser style and coreless, are available online.

Office Essentials, a locally-owned office supplier that is leveraging GREEN know-how as customer service and a business advantage, stocks a similar excellent product selection at http://www.offess.com

Even if Charmin sources FSC, I’m buying – and advocating – 100% recycled!
Jean Ponzi

Marla Esser September 6, 2015, 9:30 am

Jean,
Thank you for your insightful response. I appreciate the conversations that have followed the blog about toilet paper. First, I had no idea that Office Depot carried TP made from recycled paper. So, I went and bought some a few days ago and agree that it is good AND it fills my desire to use and buy products with recycled content wherever possible. I agree that wherever possible buy recycled first!
I believe Jane’s conversation about considering other options, such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council for responsibly sourced wood) were intended for times when a recycled option is not available or does not met the need. I had shared with Jane an article I had read about Kimberly Clark working with Greenpeace (http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/10/06/kimberly-clark-and-ngos-building-sustainable-supply-chain) to address issues raised about their sustainability practices, mainly fiber sourcing. The 2 large consumer product companies, Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble, both have quite a bit of sustainability information on their web sites. I applaud their efforts and hope they will continue to do even more, especially using more recycled content. As for me, I will continue to buy and encourage others to buy recycled content whenever possible. I hope our conversations will help others to buy more recycled products too. Thank you for your insights and guidance.

Tina Gleisner September 4, 2015, 2:39 pm

Too funny as I expected to learn what toilet paper you picked after reading to the very end so ???

Bob September 4, 2015, 3:07 pm

Why do you use toilet paper? Why not use an old t-shirt and wash it? People wash cloth diapers, why not cloth toilet wipes?

Gary Steps September 4, 2015, 3:54 pm

Jane, welcome to the world of “it’s not that simple” As you found out from Marla, just picking a product(in this case TP) is not as easy as looking at the label and seeing “recycled”.

First, “recycled” from what? Wood waste? Post consumer? Are they cutting down forests to make your TP? The word recycled, like many words, gets grabbed and bent as soon as it gets big enough that it can be abused by marketing organizations.

Second, how is the product produced? Most TP is produced by taking the feedstock, mixing it with massive amounts of water (where did it come from, what was done with it?), adding bleach and other noxious materials, then draining, flushing(see above), and then adding other nasty chemicals to make it soft. (serious aside – did you ever think how those “fabric softeners” soften the fabric? – I found out one day when I got a stick it in your dryer fabric softener. Two days later, I was in my doctor’s office with a very nasty rash all over my body. It was the fabric softener. As soon as I ripped it out of the dryer,ran multiple runs of towels through the washer and dryer, and then washed every item of clothing I owned, the problem went away. Fabric softeners are among a long list of products that would be banned instantly if consumer health and safety were more important than corporate profits. Think how long it took just to ban sexy cigarette ads.

Btw, I prefer TP made from non wood based material. Instead of burning wheat straw (normal), or hemp waste, or other normal byproducts of other products, why not use the low quality cellulose to produce a low quality (soft, short fiber) product like TP?

Etymology of “toilet paper” – in the Middle Ages, wealthy people used small cloth rags that were woven by peasants for the specific purpose to clean up. Poor people used plants(carefully).

One last etymology note – “toilet” comes from the French in the Middle Ages, menaing “little cloth”

Bob September 4, 2015, 5:02 pm

“I buy a perfectly sturdy, nicely quilted 100% recycled content TP at Office Depot in a 48 roll pack for $34.99 (less with coupon); that’s about $.28 per roll.”

You math is in the TJ Crapper. $34.99 / 48 = 72.9 cents a roll. Where do you get your coupons to bring it down to 28 cents?

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