The major brands of toilet paper are throwing our forests down the drain

What goes through your mind when you are deciding which toilet paper to buy? Sale price, roll size, shabby single layer or luxurious triple? Climate change may not be on your list of considerations, but it should.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the toilet paper industry is among the most egregious weather offenders in Canada.

In its latest report on tissue paper products, the NRDC evaluated the sustainability of 44 toilet paper brands, giving each product an A + to F. Who Gives a Crap score, 100% Recycled and Green Forest ranked higher, while Angel Soft and Charmin lagged behind with critically low scores.

“The companies with the largest market shares have the power to make a significant difference to the future of our world’s forests,” the authors wrote. “Instead, they largely adhere to decades-old fabric formulas that have taken a devastating toll on the forests.”

Charmin’s abysmal rating draws particular ire. Despite a 2020 resolution by the shareholders of Procter and Gamble (the maker of Charmin) to determine how it could eliminate deforestation from its supply chains, the company actually increased its consumption of Canadian forest fiber last year.

And not just any Canadian fiber: P&G relies on climate-critical forests like the Canadian boreal to produce its products.

The Canadian boreal is considered a vital global carbon sink, accounting for a staggering 25 percent of the planet’s remaining intact forest. Contains twice as much carbon as the world’s oil reserves.

However, excessive logging and other human interventions have seen a constant collapse of this precious resource, to the point where these forests now emit more CO2 into the atmosphere than they absorb.

The timber industry alone accounts for five tons of CO2 emissions per Canadian per year, twice the emissions from all of our passenger cars and trucks.

Much of the demand for this staple fiber goes to the manufacture of tissue paper. According to the NRDC, the average American household consumes an average of three toilet paper rolls a week, or 100 pounds of toilet paper a year.

The Canadian boreal is a major source of Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft (NBSK) pulp, the preferred softwood pulp used for tissue products in the US.

Climate change may not be on your list of considerations for shopping in the TP aisle, but it should.

“As the climate crisis worsens, the tissue industry’s continued reliance on a devastating ‘tree-to-toilet pipe’ has become increasingly unsustainable,” said Shelley Vinyard, manager of boreal corporate campaigns for NRDC. “Big corporations like P&G must begin to respond to the pressure and accept their own, much more important role in the climate catastrophe.”

As with cars, straws, and single-use grocery bags, the responsibility and cost for sustainable options falls first on the consumer.

Alternatives to “tree to toilet” plumbing, such as recycled and bamboo-based products, are highlighted in the report. There are a myriad of options, if you are willing to look for them.

“Ultimately, both large and small companies are offering tissue paper products that don’t put our forests down the drain,” Vinyard said. “Now is the time for laggards like P&G to catch up with changing market trends.”

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