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carbon footprint, toilet paper, virgin woods

The Cost of Comfort: Soft Toilet Paper “Equals Ecological Destruction”

March 17, 2009 11:21 AM
by Shannon Firth
Would you sacrifice comfort in the bathroom to protect the planet? Recent statements by the NDRC explain just how damaging certain types of toilet and tissue paper can be.

Hummers Versus Soft Toilet Paper

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According to research from the Natural Resources Defense Council, using multi-ply, extra-soft or quilted toilet paper is more damaging to the environment than driving a Hummer. The Guardian reports that the problem stems from the chemicals used in the pulp-making process, and the type of wood used. In the United States, 98 percent of toilet paper is made from virgin wood. In contrast, 40 percent of toilet paper in Europe and Latin America comes from recycled materials.

According to The Guardian, virgin wood has longer fibers that make it easier to “lay out and fluff up.” Dave Dixon, a spokesman for Kimberly-Clark—maker of Kleenex tissues and other paper products—told The Guardian, “For bath tissue Americans in particular like the softness and strength that virgin fibres provides.” In defense of his company, he added that its paper products are made at “sustainably farmed forests.”

Lindsay Allen, forestry campaigner for Greenpeace, told Fast Company that in addition to a public awareness campaign aimed at consumers, the organization is also actively battling the tissue and toilet paper industry. When Kleenex Cottonelle set up a couch in Times Square and asked for volunteers to “let it out” by sharing upsetting stories, its unwittingly chose a few Greenpeace members who told the company’s cameras, “[I]t’s really sad that you’re using North Ameican (sic) Boreal virgin fiber in your products.”

Anya Kamenetz, a writer for Fast Company, argues that it’s important for businesses to adapt and to design products that are less harmful to the environment: “Is it really impossible to make a soft, fluffy paper with recycled content, and to make it an appealing brand?”

Background: Understanding hidden waste

Canada’s Peace and Environment Resource Centre explores the “hidden waste” associated with consumer products through a process known as LCA, or Life Cycle Assessment. “Described as a ‘Cradle to Grave’ approach, LCA looks not only at the ‘end result’ but examines a process, product or service’s impact through every stage of its life.” PERC’s site also has information to help consumers choose between foam and paper cups, and cloth and disposable diapers.

In a 2007 lecture at the EG Conference in California, Mark Bittman, cookbook author and New York Times columnist, tells his audience that more greenhouse gases are released through livestock production than through transportation. Bittman also argues that the food Americans consume is responsible for the surge in “lifestyle diseases” like diabetes. Put simply, Bittman says, “You eat more plants, you eat less other stuff, you live longer. Not bad.”

Related Topic: Responsible consumption; Carbon footprints

In July, findingDulcinea profiled the “Patron Saint of the Plastic Bag,” Attorney Stephen L. Joseph. Part of Joseph’s support for plastic hinges on the downside of paper bags, which release methane as they decompose and require more energy to make. Some companies are also developing heavier plastic bags that can be reused, or compostable plastic bags that break down better than the lightweight industry standard.

Anyone considering buying a hybrid car should factor in her locale. Discover Magazine reports that although a hybrid may be a good match for those in metropolitan areas with heavy traffic, it may not be the right choice for those in the country. Discover’s Tyghe Trimble writes, “If you usually use your car for long stretches on the highway, an efficient gas engine—or better yet, modern diesel engine—may be even more eco-friendly than the hybrid.”

For many, the decision to buy a hybrid is also financial. Bradley Berman, founder of hybridcars.com, told CNN, “It depends on what equipment level you’re looking at … if you buy the most fuel-efficient one, you'll definitely get a return on your premium within a few years.”

In May, findingDulcinea reported on a study from the Brookings Institution which concluded that “metro area residents have smaller carbon footprints than the average American,” noting that public transportation and residential density are important contributing factors, as are electricity and weather.

Reference: Buying green toilet paper; Green living

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