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Laurie David and Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D Headshot

Will Recycled Fiber Toilet Paper Become the Next Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb?

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Toilet paper may not be the sexiest environmental issue, but it really is one of the most important considering the manufacturing of that product causes deforestation, which causes more global warming pollution than all the combined emissions of cars, trucks, buses, airplanes and ships in the entire world.

So we were thrilled to see the New York Times publish a prominent front-page article highlighting the ecological stupidity of making toilet paper from natural forests. Although toilet paper is a product that we use for less than three seconds, there are more types of forests at risk from makers of toilet paper than you can imagine: ancient forests, old growth forests, virgin forests, second growth forests, natural forests, high conservation value forests, temperate forests, tropical and sub-tropical forests and boreal forests. (Who knew there were so many?)

There are enormous ecological impacts associated with the pulp and paper industry. Perhaps no industry has forced more species into extinction, destroyed more habitats, polluted as many streams, rivers, and lakes. The pulp and paper industry is the third greatest industrial emitter of global warming pollution in industrialized countries (after the chemical and steel industries), and its CO2 emissions are projected to increase by roughly 100 percent by 2020. And how about this for a mind blowing fact: the pulp and paper industry is the single largest industrial consumer of freshwater (11% of all water used in the 30 most advanced industrial countries goes just to make paper products). Virgin timber pulp-and-paper mills are classified under U.S. federal law as "major" generators of hazardous air pollutants, including dioxins and other highly toxic pollutants considered to be carcinogenic. (Okay, we'll save that for another blog.) No industry has caused as much taxpayer dollars to be spent on ecologically dangerous landfills and incinerators. So talking about toilet paper may be easy to dismiss, but its serious folks. And you can do something about it.

All toilet paper should be made from recovered, second generation fibers. No forest of any kind should be used to make toilet paper. Toilet paper made from trees should be phased out in the same way we're phasing out the use of incandescent light bulbs starting with our schools, theaters, auditoriums, office buildings, and of course our homes. A little "sacrifice" on the "need" for three seconds of softness vs. a whole lot of healthy forests left standing, providing habitat, inspiration, clean water, and soaking up carbon would be a very good change for this New Year. Let's stop flushing our forests down the toilet.

To learn which tissue products are preferable to buy, go to nrdc.org/paper.

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