Friday, July 13, 2012

Toilet Paper - A Modern Day Comfort or Necessity?

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I did my research.  And I don't like what I found.  According to an article on the National Geographic website (, every day the world uses 27000 trees worth of toilet paper. 27 000!  And this demand for toilet paper is only increasing with time.  Can our forests withstand this demand? I'm guessing not.  Apparently paper companies are moving to tree plantations as a solution. The problem is, these plantations then use mass amounts of chemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides.

Noelle Robbins writes in her article "Flushing Forests" ( that tree plantations require a large quantity of water, which is another precious natural resource.   Robbins also notes a statistic that "Canada's old growth and intact forests are logged at a rate of five acres per minute, 24 hours per day"!  This statistic floored me.  And as she notes,  "deforestation is one of the major contributing factors of global climate change". No surprise there.

Oh, and don't forget about the use of fossil fuels for harvesting and shipping machinery, not to mention the insane amount of other resources such as electricity and water that are used in the production of toilet paper (37 gallons/ 140 litres per roll!).  My rant doesn't stop there. Chemicals. Robbins and National Geographic note the use of chemicals in tree plantations, but they are also used in the production phase.

Dioxin is a biproduct of the bleaching process, when chlorine based chemicals are used to bleach pulp white. Do we really need our toilet paper to be white?  Dioxin is a toxin that has both physical effects on our bodies (cancer, endometriosis, and learning disorders, to name a few) and effects on our environment.  For more on this visit

In my search for a list of chemicals used in the production of toilet paper I found an interesting study that linked toilet paper use (chemicals in toilet paper) with vaginal infections. They indicated that they tried to obtain a list of chemicals used by toilet paper manufacturers but were denied this info in the name of 'trade secrets'. (

So how did this monster called toilet paper get it's debut?

According to my research, before toilet paper was invented, we humans were creative and used items like corn cobs (!) mussel shells (!), pages from catalogues and the farmers almanac, stones (!), clay (!) and sponges on the end of sticks that were dipped in salty water. We also used rags.  Two companies are credited with producing the first rolled and perforated toilet papers in the 1880s, similar to what we use today (Scott Paper Co. and Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Co.) (  Toilet paper has grown in popularity quite a bit since this time and now it is estimated that the average family uses approximately 119 rolls of toilet paper each year.  ( Something tells me this number might actually be higher.

Okay, so where am I going with this you might ask.  Knowing what I know now, I'm finding it difficult to reach for the toilet paper with a clear conscience. Literally, every time I reach for the toilet paper I think of all the impacts this modern day comfort has had and will continue to have on our lives/ our earth. For a clearer picture of where I'm going with this, see my previous post on going paperless:

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing the research, and spelling it out for us! Astounding, really.
So...would you use an old style diaper pail to store your "bottom buntings" until wash day?
What you're saying makes sense - but I would NEVER have mistaken you for being granola. I think we need a new label for people who are conscientious of the impact they have on people and the world at large. On second thought, no label at all. Let's ALL get on board! Trail blaze girl!

Anonymous said...

What about bamboo as a viable source for making toilet paper? Or dandelion leaves! Has anyone discovered a way to "process" them?
Save the trees!