Bathroom tissue gets even more eco-friendly

Most toilet paper available today for the away-from-home market includes most, if not all, recycled content. While the percentage of pre and post consumer recycled content in bathroom tissue can vary by brand and supplier, the good news is that, whether pre or post consumer material, the use of recycled fiber keeps it out of the landfill. Some brands of tissue are more eco-friendly than others. With a bit of research, one can determine what to consider, besides cost, when making a green purchasing decision.

The U.S. Department of Energy ranks paper manufacturing as the fifth most energy-intensive industry: a major emitter of greenhouse gases through electric power generated using coal, oil and gas. While its energy use remains a huge challenge, the industry has made giant strides in reducing its environmental impact in recent years. Today, according to Dan Silk, vice president of sustainability for Georgia-Pacific, there are more trees in the United States than 120 years ago. Properly managed forests are certainly important but the transition toward including more recycled content in products has also made a huge difference.

The elimination of chlorine from the manufacturing process — a step now certified by the Chlorine Free Products Association and signified by its Processed Chlorine Free mark — has further reduced tissue’s negative impact. In paper making, dioxins are formed during the bleaching process when chlorine combines with organic material. Dioxins can bioaccumulate in the environment and are a proven cause of numerous health problems. Dioxins almost wiped out the eagle population in the United States.

Byproduct of Recycling Process

While what chemicals are used in the manufacturing process is important to consider, so too is what is done with the byproducts of manufacturing. For example, the de-inking of recycled paper produces a sludge that historically has been sent to landfills. Georgia-Pacific’s Silk says concrete manufacturers are now using his company’s de-inking “waste” as an ingredient in concrete. Joe Tadeo, CEO of Atlas Paper Mills, says his company is providing it to farmers to use on their fields. “It holds water in the soil and adds some degree of nutrient,” he says.

Earlier this year, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published a report titled, “Don’t Flush Tiger Forests: Toilet Paper, U.S. Supermarkets and the Destruction of Indonesia’s Last Tiger Habitats.” WWF found that American companies and consumers are inadvertently contributing to Indonesian rain forest and tiger habitat destruction by buying toilet paper and other tissue products made with fiber from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). Products made with APP fiber, such as toilet paper,were increasingly landing in hotels across the country under the Paseo and Livi brandnames, WWF said. The WWF report highlights the importance of knowing where the ingredients for tissue come from.

“I would be skeptical of product made outside the United States,” Tadeo says. 

Those looking for assurance that companies are indeed doing what they say they are doing from an environmental standpoint should not only look for the Processed Chlorine Free mark but also the Green Seal, EcoLogo, Forest Stewardship Council, and Sustainable Forestry Initiative marks.

Image of green bathroom tissue provided by Garsya via Shutterstock

Next page: Clearing up myths about recycled bathroom tissue