Sep 21, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The things we don't know about our toilet paper

Chart assessing the sustainability of different toilet paper brands
Image courtesy of the National Resources Defense Council

Soft? Quilted? Strong? The familiar adjectives from the supermarket aisle play no role in the Natural Resources Defense Council's annual toilet paper scorecard, which uses environmental yardsticks to judge what the industry so gently describes as bathroom tissue.

Why it matters: Consumers who pick products based on their green credibility will be troubled to learn that big-name brands (which are often cheaper) get poor marks compared with startups that typically cost more.

Details: The NRDC says that Procter & Gamble remains "stuck in the past" and uses "zero recycled content in their toilet paper, instead relying on ancient trees clear-cut from the Canadian boreal forest."

  • Brands like Charmin, Cottonelle and Angel Soft "are made from virgin forest fiber," the NRDC says.

What they're saying: "Our consumption of single-use tissue is taking a dramatic and toll on our global climate," according to the NRDC.

  • "Sustainable alternatives exist, but these major brands simply choose not to use them."

Per The Wall Street Journal: There are differences in opinion over how much toilet paper American households use and how to measure the effects on the Earth.

  • A spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, the maker of Charmin, said the company uses tools such as life-cycle assessments to understand potential environmental impacts, WSJ wrote.

My thought bubble: It would be hard to overstate the memorability of this New York Times exegesis on toilet paper. My fave take-away:

  • "We [Americans] use more toilet paper than Europeans because we’re in the habit of bunching up a wad of it rather than unspooling a few sheets and neatly folding them. Roughly 70 percent of us bunch, while 90 percent of them fold."
Go deeper