Can You Spare a Square?

By Rachel Roberts

289493_6212The average American citizen uses about 57 squares of toilet paper per day and 23.6 rolls per year, producing about 50 pounds of toilet paper waste every year. The United States’ spends more than 6 billion dollars a year on toilet paper with developing countries quickly increasing their own consumption.

The truth of the matter is that toilet paper puts us right in the middle of an existential-environmental dilemma: how can we meet one of our most basic hygienic needs without destroying our planet? Paper production is environmentally intensive, transportation costs require a lot of fossil fuels, and most toilet paper ends up in sewage systems rather than being recycled.

749705_51513879According to the environmental organization Those Come From Trees, one tree produces about 100 pounds a paper, meaning a household of four consumes 2 trees every year when using non-recycled products—that’s not even taking into consideration paper towels, printing paper, or paper supplies.

Americans dump 35-40% of all used paper into dumps and landfills every year. The University of Colorado’s Environmental Center estimates that, “in this decade, Americans will throw away over 4.5 million tons of office paper and nearly 10 millions tons of newspaper… almost all of which could be recycled.”

Although toilet paper accounts for less than 10% of all paper production, it accounts for about 15% of deforestation occurring throughout the world. About one out of every seven trees logged goes straight down the toilet, and almost all heavily advertised toilet paper brands available at the store are made from trees rather than recycled paper.

1165923_48354413If that same family of four were to buy 100% recycled paper products, they would have

  • Saved about 1½ trees per year,
  • Cut water and energy use in manufacturing by half,
  • Eliminated chemicals used for pulp bleaching, and
  • Reduced local sewer tissue waste and landfills.

Some of the best toilet paper brands to look for in the store, which use more than 80% recycled content, are Green Forest, Seventh Generation, 365 (Whole Foods), Natural Value, Earth Friendly, and Trader Joe’s.

A couple of other easy eco-friendly paper habits to keep in mind that can save tons of paper include:

  • Use only what is needed, not more,
  • Buy brands that use recycled products,
  • Use sponges and washcloths instead of paper towels,
  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper,
  • Don’t use paper supplies (plates & napkins) when at home, and
  • Encourage your friends to do the same!


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