Jun 27, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Coronavirus pandemic worsens environmental damage from toilet paper

A grocery store aisle sporadically filled with toilet paper
Remember when toilet paper was going to be our new currency? Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The environmental damage caused by our toilet paper-buying habits has worsened during the pandemic.

Why it matters: Most at-home toilet paper is made from virgin material produced by clear-cutting forests, unlike the office toilet paper, which is usually made from recycled fibers. As a result, the shift to doing business at home hasn't been good for forests.

What's new: This week the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a new report detailing the link between major U.S. toilet paper manufacturers and the destruction of Canada's boreal forest.

  • NRDC found that while a number of companies have seen growth in toilet paper from recycled materials, the top manufacturers still depend on 100% virgin forest fiber, feeding what the group calls a "tree-to-toilet pipeline."

But there's a reason why many toilet paper makers still use virgin fiber: it's a lot softer, which many consumers not surprisingly prefer when buying their own supply.

  • Office buildings, by contrast, usually fill their bathrooms with recycled fiber toilet paper, either for the environmental effect or because it's cheaper.

The bottom line: We seem to value our bottoms more than the planet.

Go deeper