The Good guide: toilet paperHome » Latest issue » Good, issue 24 » The Good guide: toilet paper
What loo paper should we be using in the smallest room of the house in order to have the smallest ecological impact?
Toilet paper has rolled a long way in recent years. Gone are those industrial-strength sandpapers we once endured, as well as the slippery brown tracing paper-like substance that lurked in the school loo paper dispenser. This is the golden era of quilted, embossed, patterned – even scented and moistened – toilet paper available at our whim.
But there’s a price to pay for such luxury. Most of the loo paper currently used today comes not from recycled paper fibre but virgin fibres processed for the purpose. And according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), about 270,000 trees are flushed down the drain or end up as rubbish every day all over the world.
Local environmental organisations estimate that one in four of the toilet rolls sold by New Zealand’s major retailers come from Indonesian rainforests, where unsustainable and illegal logging, badly managed plantations, and the use of bleaching chemicals can all contribute to environmental damage.
Price: $0.94 per roll
Made of: 100 percent embossed, unbleached, recycled office waste paper. Safe Toilet Paper helps raise funds for Planet Ark, an Australian not-for-profit environmental organisation.
Made in: Australia
Certifications/accreditations: Endorsed by Planet Ark
Available from: www.ecostoredirect.co.nz
Price: $1.23 per roll
Made of: Up to 70 percent recycled fibres from crushed sugarcane residues, mixed with timber pulp and then put through a chlorine-free bleaching process. Greencane's plant-based material breaks down fast, so it's particularly suited to composting toilets, older plumbing and septic tanks. Its rolls are 30 percent bigger than the average roll (300 sheets instead of the standard 230 sheets) and are ink and fragrance free.
Made in: Asia
Certifications/accreditations: The Greencane factory has ISO14001 environmental quality manufacturing standard.
Available from: Check the stockists list at www.greencane.co.nz
Price: $0.74 per roll
Made of: 100 percent unbleached, recycled Grade 1 post-consumer waste paper. This involves either unused office paper or printers’ offcuts that are collected and sorted before being mixed with water to become a pulp.
Made in: Australia
Certifications/accreditations: EnviroMark Gold
Available from: Countdown, New World
Price: $0.89 cents per roll
Made of: Virgin pulp from Forest Stewardship Certified sources.
Made in: New Zealand as a subsidiary of Swedish-based SCA. Purex is a Community Partner of the New Zealand Red Cross and an official sponsor of the Red Cross Annual Appeal. The company has switched to geothermal energy for tissue manufacturing at its Kawerau plant. This has cut the plant’s carbon footprint by 39 percent. In a 2007 study SCA was ranked as the world’s second-greenest company.
Certifications/accreditations: Environmental Choice New Zealand
Available from: Countdown, New World, The Warehouse, Supervalue and more
Made of: Yesterday's discarded newspaper.
Made in: New Zealand. As used by Mark Boyle, the author of The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living. Potential disadvantages include an uncomfortable scratchiness, and unless used sparingly, a tendency to block sewage systems.
Available from: All good newsagents and corner dairies
To bidet or not to bidet?
One way to cut down on the cutting down is to use a bidet. Cleaning your privates with a bidet’s water stream does a better job than using paper and reduces the need for all the energy, materials, water and transport needed to get toilet tissue to you.
That said, a bidet uses an estimated half litre of water each time, and if you buy an all-singing, all-dancing model that heats the water and blow-dries your bottom you will be using additional home energy too. There’s also the initial cost to keep in mind: about $300 for the most basic clip-on unit for your existing toilet. And you'll still need to get your bum dry.
Any colour you like, as long as it’s white
In days of yore it was common to be able to choose your favourite colour of toilet roll. Then the USA's Food and Drug Administration agency banned a whole range of dyes and fragrances after evidence that many of them could cause cancer. This left the world with much plainer-looking (but not less problematic) loo paper.
These days, unless stated otherwise, all toilet paper is bleached at the paper mill using chlorine, which can lead to pollution problems. According to research conducted by Purex, about one in five of us still feel the need for little pictures on our loo roll, so the company uses water-based inks and dyes for its designs. Earthcare does likewise for some of its products, putting the ink in the middle of its three layers to keep it further away from your skin.
Loo roll hit the headlines in recent months with the epic tussle between environmental groups, led by Greenpeace, and the paper giant Asia Products & Paper (APP), on behalf of their toilet paper subsidiary Cottonsoft. Caught in the middle of the debate are various sustainability certification schemes.
Indonesian-based APP has been targeted by environmentalists for its felling of forest habitats essential to the survival of critically endangered Sumatran tigers and endangered orangutans. And APP in turn is part of the Sinar Mas group of companies that have been key players in rainforest destruction for palm oil production.
The campaign against APP began when forensic testing carried out as part of an eight-month investigation by Greenpeace, the Green Party and WWF New Zealand discovered the presence of mixed tropical hardwoods in a range of Cottonsoft products. Cottonsoft hit back, saying the testing was carried out by inexperienced researchers, and did not prove that the wood material found came from protected Indonesian rainforest. They also claimed that Cottonsoft retail brands are sourced from sustainable forest locations independently certified by the international organisation Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).
In round two, PEFC told WWF they didn’t cover Cottonsoft’s claims of sustainable production in Indonesia. And the conservationists pointed out that APP had pledged, and failed, to switch to 100 percent plantation sourcing of timber for major pulp mills three times: missing self-imposed deadlines to stop using native forest timber in 2004, 2007 and 2009.
The public campaign has certainly had an impact. In 2011 Cottonsoft laid off seven workers in Dunedin and two in Auckland, blaming it on the effects of the campaign, and has said it will now seek New Zealand’s official Environmental Choice certification for its retail products. In the meantime, another Greenpeace investigation claims to have acquired video evidence of APP timber yards containing large amounts of legally protected ramin hardwood, and PEFC say they are investigating this as a possible breach of APP’s certification. Consumers would do well to stay tuned, as it appears this particular battle will continue for some time yet.
Can't remember what's what? Go to www.good.net.nz/toiletpaper to download Greenpeace's guide to rainforest friendly toilet paper