Is There An Eco-friendly Toilet Paper?

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toilet paper

I loathe buying toilet paper. Even though I buy recycled, eco-friendly toilet paper, it’s like eating food you can’t stand. I hold my nose and dive in. I buy bulk quantity so I won’t have to buy it so often. It is the most notorious, disposable, single-use item we have. It is a huge waste to cut down trees to make paper to wipe our bums. Multiply that thought by the millions of people who use toilet paper several times a day, and that adds up to a LOT of trees! In the US alone, 26 billion rolls of toilet paper are sold each year!

History of toilet paper

Toilet paper, as we know it today (on a roll), was invented in 1880. Twenty years before that, it was offered in a package of sheets (squares?) medicated with aloe. In 14th century China, TP was a 2’x3′ sheet reserved for Emperors and the imperial court.

Before paper, people were just plain creative getting themselves clean. They used animal fur, sticks, corncobs, seashells, stones, moss, grass, scraps of fabric, water and their hands. My daughter went to an Outward Bound school. On backpacking trips, they were encouraged to use pinecones, but there was always a stash of toilet paper for the squeamish and girly. My personal experience taught me that the soft leaves of the mullein plant do the trick gently.

I’m not suggesting reverting to sticks and our hands. What alternatives are there that are gentler on the planet and just as gentle on our bums?

Recycled toilet paper

The obvious choice of eco-friendly toilet paper is recycled, made of recycled content. There are some issues with that, though. Recycling anything takes energy, but not as much as manufacturing from raw materials. Toilet paper is not usually 100% recycled, so it must use virgin trees, too. The more post-consumer content in anything recycled the better. This reduces waste in landfills.

But the real issue with recycled toilet paper is BPA, a carcinogenic material found in paper receipts and other paper items that get recycled. Are you wiping yourself with BPA? It seems to be a minute amount. It’s up to you to decide.

Other Ideas

Women use more paper than men do. We can’t shake it! A friend of mine has two daughters. They use toilet paper for #2 and rags for #1. The rags are rinsed after use and put in the laundry right away.

You could use rags for #2, though, too. Why not? It’s not much different than using cloth diapers. Wipe yourself, put the rag in a closed bucket of water with a bit of soap in it, then do the laundry.

I think rags are a great idea. I wouldn’t subject company to it, though.

Bagasse is a byproduct of the manufacture of sugar from sugar cane. Once the cane is crushed to extract the juice, the stalks are left behind. This is being turned into paper for all kinds of purposes, not just TP. This is an excellent example of a renewable resource – using an entire plant, instead of carting the ‘useless’ parts to the dump.

I think I am going to try to wipe with sugar next time. This is completely renewable made from a plant byproduct. No trees are cut, no bleach is used, and there are no micrograms of BPA.

What are your thoughts on toilet paper alternatives?

 

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.