THE BLOG

Is Your Ass Worth One Million Trees a Year?

09/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The first time I brought home a package of recycled toilet paper, my husband was not a happy camper. Caressed since childhood by the fluffy comfort of Charmin and Quilted Northern, the rough texture of 80 percent post-consumer content seemed harsh by comparison.

"Do we really have to be one of those households?" he protested, echoing Larry David's sentiment in the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode in which Larry gets into all sorts of shenanigans when he refuses to frequent the bathroom at his own home, because environmentalist wife Cheryl insists on stocking toilet paper of the coarse recycled variety.

"Please?" I beseeched. Then, like Cheryl (based on real-life global warming activist and HuffPost blogger Laurie David), I launched into my spiel about razed virgin forests, how trees help stop global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and how -- well, you get the picture.

My hubby graciously obliged, as he has with most of the family environmental overhauls I've implemented over the past several years, and soon learned to make do (sorry!) with those sparse, rough rolls. (Although I know he secretly rejoices every time we visit his parents' house or the elegant powder room of our friends in the Hollywood Hills.)

Soon, everyone's toilet paper may lose some of its fluffiness: Greenpeace's five-year-long battle against tissue-product mogul Kimberly-Clark (K-C) came to a victorious end last week, with the Kleenex/Scott/Cottonelle manufacturer agreeing to source 40 percent of its North American tissue fiber from recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified pulp by 2011.

But some don't think this measure is enough. "Since when is 40 percent a passing grade?" questioned Marcal CEO Tim Spring in a statement issued shortly after the Greenpeace/K-C truce announcement. "While I understand the negotiating process, Greenpeace needs to rethink these standards. There is no excuse to make paper from anything but 100 percent recycled fiber, especially when you consider that paper takes up a quarter of our landfill space today."

While it certainly behooves Marcal to use this as a favorable circumstance to promote itself as the (unbleached) white knight of paper products -- the company has been making its toilet paper and other goods out of recycled fiber since 1950, a time when people were still throwing trash out of car windows -- the opportunist do-gooder does have a point: Is your ass worth 1 million trees a year?

OK, so I'm referring more to our collective bottom here; the National Resources Defense Council estimates that if every US household swapped out just one four-pack of traditional bath tissue (made from virgin fiber) for the recycled version, it would save approximately 1 million trees a year. And eliminate 60,600 pounds of chlorine pollution. And preserve 356 million gallons of fresh water. A few more statistics that may convince you to make the switch:

Half of the world's forests have already been cleared or burned, and almost 80 percent of what remains has been seriously degraded.

• One tree can absorb as much carbon in a year as a car produces after driving 26,000 miles.

• The paper industry is the fourth-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions among US manufacturers.

I'm not going to lie to you: Recycled toilet paper doesn't even come close to the real stuff. But when I contrast the fleeting comfort of soft cottony tissue with the feeling I get envisioning my grandchildren being able to visit the same majestic forests that existed long before my own grandparents were even born, I realize that it's a small sacrifice I'm willing to make.

I won't judge if you're not ready to load up your lavatory with Seventh Generation. None of us is perfect, and even I have a few not-so-eco-friendly products I've deemed too important to my daily happiness to eliminate from my regular routine (Pantene, for one). But consider swapping at least one regular paper product (napkins, paper towels, facial tissue) for the recycled kind. Or go one better: Use cloth napkins for meals, keep a stack of dish towels next to your kitchen sink, and carry a good old-fashioned handkerchief.