Wiping Our Butts with the Future: Understanding the Paper Industry

By David Kim
Wiping Our Butts with the Future: Understanding the Toilet Paper Industry

We all want the best for our families. We know how important it is to protect the environment. But it’s hard to know what’s causing the biggest problems and what we can do to help solve them.

We’ve taken it into our own hands to educate ourselves about one contributor to climate change: the Toilet Paper industry. Here’s what we found to help us make the best decisions for our families.

Water Wasters

Have you ever told your kid off for running the shower too long? Or for leaving a faucet going? Now, can you imagine an industry that’s constantly leaving the water running on an enormous scale, just so we can use the paper it produces and then throw it away?

The paper industry consumes more water than any other single industry on Earth. The pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy in the world and accounts for 4% of the world’s energy use.

The paper industry is a problem that goes beyond just trees: it wastes tons of water. In the US alone, we waste 500 billion gallons of water and decimate 50 million trees a year – just for toilet paper. Wasting all that water just for a convenience is more than just sketchy.

Say Goodbye to 27,000 Trees A Day

According to National Geographic, “Worldwide, the equivalent of almost 270,000 trees is either flushed or dumped in landfills every day.” Of those 270,000 trees 10% are used just for toilet paper. That means that every year, 27,000 trees are destroyed and the water is wasted just so you can wipe and then throw it away.

It’s a hard truth to acknowledge. We’re used to toilet paper – we like it. It’s comfortable and it provides a solution to one of life’s messy rituals. Reducing your environmental impact by giving up toilet paper sounds like a really tough (and gross) decision.

We Can Make It Work

Fortunately, you don’t have to give up toilet paper completely to help the environment, although that’s the ultimate goal for many people who want to reduce their carbon footprint (and we’ll talk about one way to go completely toilet paper-free below). There are several great alternatives you can choose to buy that are better options than traditional toilet paper.

Remember: every dollar counts. Companies will notice where consumers are spending their money, and if they see that people want sustainable alternatives, they’ll start offering them. It’s so important that we spend our dollars on products that will reduce our carbon footprints and help the Earth!

Recycled Toilet Paper

One potential solution to the toilet paper energy waste problem is to choose toilet paper made from recycled materials. Producing recycled toilet paper requires less water than producing conventional toilet paper does, while also making use of tons of already-used paper that’s sitting in landfills. Can you say, yasss queen?!

It’s a fantastic solution. Nearly 35-40 percent of total landfill mass is wasted paper, according to various estimates cited by Worldwatch, a Washington D.C.-based independent research organization. Repurposing this wasted paper and turning it into recycled toilet paper is a great potential solution. It makes use of existing material that’s sitting in the landfill while also saving water and trees.

The benefits of buying paper products made with recycled materials goes beyond just toilet paper. According to OneGreenPlanet.org, we could save about 10 million trees if every household in American replaced just one package each of conventional toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, and tissues with products made from recycled materials.

At first, your family members might balk at the idea of using recycled paper napkins on their faces, but when it’s recycled toilet paper for their behind, there’s really no excuse. In fact, you have our permission to chew them out if they say they don’t want to try recycled toilet paper. It’s such an easy step to take to reduce your carbon footprint.

It’s sometimes tempting to think, “Well, I’m just one person and my family is small, so it doesn’t matter what I do.” But it’s not true! Lots of people fall into this trap, but the truth is that what you do matters on so many levels.

According to the Dr.Greene blog, “If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper (500 sheets) with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees.” That’s a huge impact, and that’s what will happen if every single household replaced one conventional roll with one recycled roll. If you and ten of your friends replace all your rolls with recycled toilet paper, imagine the impact!

Recycled toilet paper is the easiest option to switch to when it comes to choosing a more sustainable path for you and your family. Buy recycled and yourself up for some of that good karma!

Hemp Toilet Paper

Hemp toilet paper is a new alternative that many people are considering in place of conventional or recycled toilet paper. According to IntelligentLiving.com, “The hemp plant can be harvested in as little as 70 days, requires little water throughout the process, and has the power to rebalance nutrients in the soil. Its fibers (often a waste material) are perfect for situations where lots of material is needed – such as for toilet paper.”

Planting hemp actually helps the soil? Nice! Brownie points for the hemp TP producers!

So, one major benefit of producing hemp toilet paper is that it takes less energy than producing conventional toilet paper. Another major benefit of choosing hemp TP is that it’s biodegradable. It doesn’t contain the same harsh bleaches that conventional toilet paper does, meaning its impact isn’t as harsh.

While the hemp industry is still evolving, hemp toilet paper might be the way of the future. Advocates say it is softer than regular recycled toilet paper because hemp fiber is made up of more cellulose than tree fiber. No matter what, hemp toilet paper is more sustainable than conventional toilet paper, and if you have the opportunity to purchase it, you might want to try it out!

Bamboo Toilet Paper

Similar to hemp toilet paper, bamboo toilet paper is a great alternative to conventional TP. Bamboo toilet paper also tends to be softer than most recycled toilet paper. One company, Who Gives A Crap, not only produces toilet paper made from bamboo, but their glue is vegan, and they offer rolls delivered in cute, kid-friendly packaging. Their “Play” set of rolls are wrapped with character designs and the box is designed so that kids can use it as a puppet theater, too!

You never thought you’d see the day where your kids played with toilet paper and you actually wanted them to,right? But the people at Who Gives a Crap actually gave a crap and made their products dual-purpose – toilet paper and a toy!

Bamboo toilet paper might be the way of the future, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not necessarily as environmentally-friendly as recycled TP because it takes less water to produce recycled toilet paper. Still, bamboo toilet paper is definitely a better option than traditional TP!


There is one way to go completely toilet paper-free. You might not be ready for this option, and that’s okay! While they aren’t necessarily common in the U.S., bidets are a cultural norm outside of the Western world, and it’s easy to see why. They clean you better than toilet paper does, which is extremely important if you are paying close attention to your hygiene.

Using a bidet also reduces your paper, and therefore your tree, consumption. A reporter for Glamour magazine found that, “According to statistics from 2010, more than 27,000 trees are cut down for toilet paper daily - that’s a whopping 9,855,000 annually – and... it’s actually closer to 15,000,000 now.” That number is astonishing. Every single year, 15,000,000 trees are cut down just for toilet paper. It’s actually really difficult for our brains to fully comprehend how many trees that is, but you know that 15,000,000 is way too many.

On the other hand, some people might protest that using a bidet wastes water, but when you take the time to actually compare the amount of water involved in the process of producing toilet paper to the amount of water a bidet takes, the answer is clear: the bidet is the more sustainable option. According to Glamour, “Toilet paper uses roughly 437 billion gallons of water (1,654,224,949,608 liters) and 253,000 tons of bleach annually. Not to mention: the energy it takes to cut down the trees, transport them, process them into toilet paper, package the toilet paper, transport that to stores and then to your bathroom.”

Producing conventional toilet paper wastes so much water, and it’s more hygienic to use water to clean yourself with a bidet after you go to the bathroom anyway. Bidets are a great option for those who can invest in them and who are ready to make the change.

To Sum It All Up...

It takes a lot of water and trees to produce toilet paper, and we haven’t even considered the packaging yet. If you care about the environment, then you already know that packaging can be extremely wasteful. One part of toilet paper packaging that many people don’t consider is the cardboard tube. According to the Dr. Greene blog, “Over 17 billion toilet paper tubes are thrown away each year. That’s enough to fill the Empire State Building. Twice. Every minute, Americans throw away 32,280 toilet paper tubes.” That’s an enormous amount of waste, and that’s just the tube.

So it’s pretty clear that toilet paper packaging needs to go... down the drain.

In all seriousness, the toilet paper industry needs to focus on producing only recycled toilet paper. But the industry won’t change unless its customers change. If you stop buying toilet paper made from virgin trees and start using alternative methods, and if you encourage your friends to do the same, you will make an impact. The industry will notice when it sees its profits drop while the sustainable TP companies’ profits soar.

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