Q: I love my extra-soft toilet paper. How bad is my habit and what eco options are there?
A: It's one of those things most of us don't really discuss over dinner but everyone in the developed world has grown addicted to. Yes, toilet paper. We all buy it, and, sure, most of us prefer the feel of extra-soft triple ply, the kind that's "cottony" soft, but is it really worth flushing bleached-out ancient forests down the toilet on a daily basis?
How much damage can a little square of tissue really do? Well, over 700,000 tonnes of disposable tissue products are tossed every year in Canada, and much of it comes from old-growth forests like Canada's beautiful boreal. The average person goes through about 100 rolls of TP a year, according to Greenpeace. That's a good 5 kilometres' worth if you were to roll it out. And if you multiply that by a nation of 32 million, well, we're talking about 3.2 billion rolls, or 160 million kilometres, not to mention the emission of thousands of kilograms of nasty air and water pollutants from the manufacturing process.
Never fall for products that greenwash themselves by announcing that they're biodegradable (thanks, Royale, but every toilet paper out there is biodegradable) or recyclable (sure, you can recycle it, but who would after it's used?).
Several brands contain recycled material, but look for a high level of post-consumer content (minimum 80 per cent), like Seventh Generation (available at Noah's on Bloor, Essence of Life in Kensington and Karma Coop in the Annex for about $1.35 for one roll and $3.80 for four), Fiesta (available at many corner stores from $1.49 to $3.29) and Loblaws' PC Green (24 pack for $6.99). None of these use chemical bleaches in their whitening process, which is another key feature to look for (although Fiesta sometimes uses a hydrogen peroxide derivative to lighten up recycled material when there's a whole whack of coloured paper in a batch).
When it comes to facial tissue, there are even fewer eco options. Seventh Generation is really the only brand that gets the thumbs-up from Greenpeace's eco shopper's guide. It turns out that few of us are willing to part with the extra softness that comes from blowing your schnozz with virgin forest. Watch out for shifty "recycled" symbols. Sometimes they only refer to the cardboard box. Read the fine print to make sure.
And for those of you wondering who the worst offenders are when it comes to chopping down old-growth, Procter & Gamble (maker of Charmin TP and Puffs facial tissue) and Kimberly-Clark (maker of Kleenex) top the list of culprits.
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