Everyone is going a bit crazy for toilet roll at the moment. We usually buy toilet roll in bulk from Who Gives A Crap but as I’m sure you know a lot of places are sold out; it’s mad! I’ve been meaning to do some research on whether Who Gives A Crap are truly the best option so I figured now is a good time. I managed to find an alternative brand who I am happier with for now.
In 2018 it was estimated that the UK was the third leading toilet paper user globally with people using 127 rolls of toilet paper each per year equalling 11.4kg! This is mad! That’s 2.4 toilet rolls per week!
Why not just buy regular toilet roll?
Toilet paper is a throwaway product that you use for seconds. Despite this, the majority is still made from virgin wood pulp which is extremely wasteful and massively contributing to deforestation. A report by WWF showed that in Sumatra, the cause of most deforestation is not due to palm oil but in fact the US toilet paper brands Livi and Paseo. Similarly, the boreal forest that covers 60% of Canada is also feeling the effects with almost a quarter of deforestation due to virgin pulp demands, the key ingredient for toilet paper.
It’s hard to justify cutting down extensive areas of forest just for something that is immediately thrown away. Our forests are vital for combating climate change so this needs to stop. Recycled toilet roll is usually made of materials either left-over in manufacturing or that has been used and thrown away such as office paper. By using a combination of the two, we are reducing the demand for trees to be cut down as well as preventing more materials heading to land-fill. Producing toilet paper from virgin wood pulp also requires nearly twice as much water and produces double the amount of harmful emissions compared to the recycling process. Bamboo toilet roll is another option and when sourced responsibly is much more sustainable than virgin pulp. However if you don’t live somewhere where bamboo grows it may have to be shipped half way around the world to you.
What toilet paper to use?
I’ll admit it, I jumped on the Who Gives A Crap band wagon. The company has a sense of humour and sells bamboo and recycled toilet rolls individually wrapped in colourful paper with no plastic in site. 50% of their profits go to helping build toilets and improving sanitation for communities in developing countries. I love that you can bulk buy 40 rolls at a very affordable price. There’s a cat included on their team member list (Chief of Feline Relations) – what’s not to love! For more info and an interview with the head of product and sourcing for Who Gives a Crap (2017) read here.
The rolls are good quality but as they are individually wrapped in paper, this adds up to a lot of paper. Although plastic free, paper wrapping isn’t the best for the environment either, requiring four times as much energy to produce compared to plastic bags. A study found that paper must be used three times to be more environmentally friendly than single-use plastic, taking into account the energy used in production and the types of emissions released during manufacture and transportation (paper is heavier so requires more energy).
However after chatting to Clare about her experiences going low waste she made some valid points: is it more sustainable to have individually paper wrapped recycled toilet rolls shipped from China (where the majority of their bamboo is grown) or several packs of 9 recycled rolls wrapped in plastic/ “biodegradable” material made in the UK? It is hard to give a definitive answer especially when Who Gives a Crap are using their profits to benefit those in need.
Things to consider when buying toilet roll:
- Is it recycled? This is much more sustainable than using virgin pulp
- Does it have the Forest Stewardship Council “FSC Mix” label? If so then it will be made using a mix of virgin wood pulp, recycled and virgin wood from “controlled sources” which are not fully certified FSC forests.
- Is it made from sustainable alternative fibres such as agricultural waste?
- What is the packaging? Is it plastic? Is it recyclable? I’m always very sceptical if that packaging says it is biodegradable and try to avoid single use plastic as much as possible.
- Is it bleached? Try and use brands that don’t use chlorine. The chemicals used in recycled rolls are much less toxic than the ones used to bleach new virgin wood pulp.
Although many major brands will have the Forest Stewardship “tree-tick” stamp this only means that (in theory) the timber used was sustainably sourced. This doesn’t mean that it is a sustainable product, still using virgin wood pulp. Recycled paper is much more sustainable, although it is important to be wary of any chemicals used in the process. Bamboo can lack rigorous monitoring with plantations sometimes grown in recently deforested areas. FSC certification can be given to bamboo companies but is expensive for small-scale products. Basically, it’s important to do your research on the brand first.
There are only a selection of brands that don’t use virgin pulp at all which include Who Gives A Crap, Ecoleaf, Essential, The Cheeky Panda and Traidcraft. Using recycled toilet paper is much more sustainable than using virgin pulp. Ecoleaf, Essential and Traidcraft all use 100% recycled fibre from the UK. Who Gives a Crap have 100% recycled fibre from China and bamboo toilet paper from China while the Cheeky Panda uses 100% FSC bamboo from China. Bamboo is a great alternative fibre but may cause more harm than good when shipping it half way across the world.
There are also only some major supermarkets that offer recycled products: Tesco, Sanisbury’s, Co-op, Morrisons and Waitrose. However, it appears that many major brands are providing less recycled toilet roll in 2019 than they were in 2011 as they believe the demand for it simply isn’t there. This may be due to consumers being more focused on plastic pollution.
What do I do? I’ve been using Who Gives A Crap for a while now but decided to try something made in the UK. All the brands have similar ethical standings (although Who Gives A Crap is the only one donating to a given cause) and pricing so I looked at the packaging.
Essential and Ecoleaf have 100% compostable packaging made from potato starch which seems like a good option. However, it has been argued that many people don’t actually compost at home so the packaging ends up in landfill waste which results in, as it does with other organic material in landfill, the release of methane as it degrades. If the packaging is put into recycling it may contaminate other material meaning that it can’t actually be recycled. Most local waste disposal authorities do not accept compostable packaging in the food or garden waste for the same reason – it may contaminate and that would be very costly to sort out.
So that left me with Traidcraft who say that their packaging is recyclable with plastic bags at large superstores. Not perfect but I think the best option at the moment although their website now doesn’t have any toilet roll probably due to the panic buying too! I managed to get some before this happened – phew.
I will do some more research into the 100% compostable packaging but Essential they seem like a good option in the future and their rolls are slightly cheaper.
Another option is of course cloth toilet paper… I know I’m not sure if I’m ready for that either. It’s also called “family cloth” which makes the whole idea sound 100% worse. There are many benefits though including:
- more affordable
- truly eco-friendly (no re-ordering a disposable product)
- gets you cleaner – it’s a cloth after all and not a tissue, it will never tear
- healthier with no bleach or chemicals
Apparently it much better for the environment, by saving energy and water used to make toilet roll as you just put the cloth into your normal laundry but I’m not sure how I would feel doing that? Plus I do one laundry load a week at the moment so that’s some time the soiled cloth would have to wait to be cleaned… I would definitely end up doing more laundry. Apparently there is no smell from what I’ve read but I’m still not so keen. It’s probably one of those things that you just need to try and isn’t as bad as it seems. Maybe one day… there’s also the option of buying a bidet which many countries have as a norm already.
There’s lots of different options and I would love to hear any advice you can give! What’s your preference and why?