How often do you think about toilet paper? You might when the weather report calls for snow. You certainly did during the early months of covid when stores were stripped clean of paper products in general and toilet paper in particular. You definitely do when you’re in a public restroom and there’s none there. Will your stall-mate spare you a square? Otherwise you go, you wipe you flush. And during those moments, you rarely think about what you’re using or where it came from. However, the choice you make when buying toilet paper doesn’t just affect your comfort but the comfort of Mother Earth. Yes, toilet paper and our planet’s health are closely linked.
That square of toilet paper comes from trees. Millions upon millions of trees are needed yearly to create all the rolls of toilet paper we see in the store. Trees are the lungs of our planet. If they go, we go. And since we go many times a day, we should be thinking about what we are using and flushing into the sewer or septic system. Is our choice sapping the life out of our planet?
Trees remove much of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that we humans and animals spew into it through our exhalation as well as the exhalation of all forms of transportation and industry that rely on fossil fuels to operate. The more trees we cut down, the more carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere. Excess levels of carbon dioxide are causing the global climate changes we are seeing today. So, what that square is made of is pretty important.
Much of the toilet paper we use in the United States is manufactured from clear cut trees from the Canadian boreal forest. Large forested areas of the world such as the North American boreal forest (of which the Canadian boreal forest is a part) and the Amazon rain forest are carbon sinks, meaning they absorb carbon dioxide. Without enough carbon sinks worldwide, more carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, which is detrimental to all living beings. According to whogivesacrap.org, “every day, over 1 million trees are cut down to make traditional toilet paper.” Because we are destroying these great forests just for that square, we need a new approach to keeping ourselves clean.
According to the Environmental Paper Network, “toilet paper made from trees has three times the climate impact as toilet paper created using recycled materials.” Yes, recycled toilet paper. No, it’s not made from what you flushed away this morning. It’s made from the paper products you send to the recycling center—newspapers, magazines, printer paper, etc.
Before the invention of modern-day toilet paper, people used a variety of substances to keep their posterior region clean. According to history.com, “In very ancient times, wiping with stones and other natural materials and rinsing with water or snow was common. Some cultures opted for seashells and animal furs.” Additionally, moss and leaves have been used for centuries as have pieces of cloth and broken pieces of pottery. “By the early 14th century, the Chinese were manufacturing toilet paper at the rate of 10 million packages of 1,000 to 10,000 sheets annually.” Although paper had become available in the 1400s, “…modern commercially available toilet paper didn’t originate until 1857” in the Western world. Other sources of toilet paper were corncobs and pages from magazines and newspapers. “The first perforated toilet paper rolls were introduced in 1890, and by 1930 toilet paper was finally manufactured ‘splinter free.’” We’ve come a long way in cleaning our bottom safely.