First published November 2006, last updated August 2013
Yep, even the humble facial tissue can have quite an impact on the environment.
I originally published this article back in 2006 after discovering the manufacturer of the tissues I used to purchase utilized pulp made from trees felled in old growth forests.
Imagine that; the destruction of virgin forests, just so I could blow my nose. It’s pretty disgusting. Aside from the source of the material used for making tissues, some manufacturers also use dangerous and highly toxic bleaching processes; plus fragrances and other additives with dubious origins.
The problem is you can’t always trust what’s written on the box. In the instance I mentioned above, the manufacturer stated that they sourced materials from renewable plantings and “sustainably managed forests” – it seems at that point that they were using the term rather loosely.
Since this article was first published, the manufacturer has made some progress – achieving Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation and switching to oxygen based bleaching in Australia. However, FSC accreditation has been criticized by some who say its standards are not always being applied in practice.
The best advice I could offer here is to look for solid statements such as “no bleaching”, “unbleached”, “100% recycled paper” and similar in facial tissue products. If you’re still not certain, most large companies offer consumer hotlines and you can gain clarification. If they can’t answer your questions or seem cagey about doing so, then that company may be contributing to the destruction of old growth forests.
Thankfully, in recent years tissues made entirely from recycled paper are now more commonplace and affordable. A few of the brand names offering facial tissues with 100% recycled content include 7th Generation, Green Forest, Ecosoft, Marcal and White Swan.
Aside from the tree issue, using recycled paper products brings other environmental benefits; such as using 60% less energy and 50% less water than making paper from new materials.
As for me, there’s not a box of tissues to be found at my place any more – I make do with 100% recycled paper towel. Sure, perhaps it’s not as pretty as boxed tissues I guess; but it does the job (and is cheaper).
First published July 2010, last updated August 2013
When a movie star goes green, it makes headlines. The green movement also has its share of home-grown heroes; people you see mentioned each week on environmentally themed sites. It’s great stuff as it inspires many people.
What inspires me more is witnessing what would appear to be “random acts of green” by ordinary folks.
I remember an incident a few years back driving along on the outskirts of Adelaide. It was a windy, cold morning with intermittent drizzle. Niki the Wonder Dog and I were comfortable enough in our heated mini-van buzzing along the highway when in the distance; I saw a car on the side of the road. I slowed down thinking that perhaps someone needed assistance.
Out of the gloom emerged a lonely figure; an elderly gentleman with a bag who appeared to be just picking up rubbish along the side of the road.. and no, he wasn’t just picking up cans and bottles for the deposit cash.
He wasn’t wearing a Greenpeace T-shirt, there was no environmental group name stencilled on his car and he certainly didn’t have the media in tow. In fact, there was nothing to indicate he was a “greenie” at all aside from what he was doing – he just seemed to be someone doing his bit for the environment.
I’ll never know his name, but to me he’s an environmental hero. He made me stop and think about why I couldn’t do something like that from time to time; a random act of green-ness – to spend 5 or 10 minutes each trip cleaning up a section of roadside; or perhaps where I stop to have my break.
It’s the sort of thing we can all do.
These random acts don’t have to entail you being chilled to the bone and trudging along a muddy road or spending hours at a time engaged in an activity. It could be picking up some litter in the park or at the beach while you are there, turning off a light at work in a room not being used – just something spontaneous and outside your own usual green focus.
Just imagine, if every adult in the USA performed one random act of green a day, over a year that would amount to over 114 billion actions. That’s a lot of litter collected or lights turned off. As I’ve so often mentioned, simple green actions do work when occurring in multiples.
For those of you who do regularly practice random acts of green – it is noticed and it does inspire. Like the better known green celebrities and activists; you are heroes too.
First published March 2009, last updated April 2013
I often wonder how our parents got by in the days when there was no such thing as disposable diapers, let alone baby wipes. Wipes are very handy to have around, but I never gave much thought to the environment when I was using them. Heck, I didn’t even know what they were made of. I assumed it was some type of wood fiber.
The baby wipe
Baby wipe packaging isn’t the only plastic part – the wipes themselves often are too.
The material used in baby wipes can be made from silk, cotton, polyester, wool, rayon, polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene – or a mixture. Price conscious consumers are likely getting a product that’s predominantly plastic – which is derived from crude oil.
So, the first green tip is to never flush these down the toilet as they are not biodegradable, nor can they be composted and for obvious reasons, they aren’t recyclable. Unfortunately, they need to go to landfill where they will spend many years before they break down.
Wipes can incorporate quite a chemical cocktail, including ingredients such as:
– Sodium diamphoacetate
– coco phosphatidyl PG-dimonium chloride
– hydroxymethyl cellulose
– methyl and propyl paraben
There’s not only implications for human health with some of these chemicals, particularly triclosan, but as waste products, they can be toxic in aquatic and land ecosystems.
Baby wipe packaging is predominantly plastic. As outlined in my article “Recycling by the numbers“, not all plastics are created equal. Some can be recycled, others not. It’s important to check the tub for a little triangle with a number in it, which indicates the plastic resin code. If that number is 1 or 2, then it is easily recycled.
If you’re not able to find packaging that can be recycled, try buying a brand that utilizes a container you can reuse for another purpose or one you can buy refills for.
I came across some baby wipes a while back that had an interesting twist on packaging – it was chalk based; made from a mix of calcium carbonate (chalk) and plastic. However, I didn’t check to see if the packaging was recyclable given the chalk content.
Green baby wipe alternatives
While for some people total cessation of plastic based baby wipes may not be possible, particularly when travelling or out and about, when at home you can reduce consumption, plastic waste and save money to boot!
You can use something as simple as a diaper soaked in warm water and then just throw it in with your cloth diaper loads. Others have come up with their own “recipes” for making baby wipes you can lug around, such as the ones here and here.
Note: when looking around for instructions on how to make baby wipes, I noticed quite a few pages recommending the use of baby oil as a component. As it turns out, baby oil is basically mineral oil, derived from crude oil. Environmental issues aside, there seems to be a lot of controversy as to the possible negative effects on health through applying mineral oil directly to the skin.
There are also some commercially available environmentally friendly baby wipes around that use plant fiber and are free of synthetic chemical additives – and they aren’t all that more expensive. If you run a search on “green baby wipes” or “environmentally friendly baby wipes” on your favorite search engine, you’ll likely find these. Also request that your supermarket stock them – you’ll be helping out the companies that produce these wipes, other eco-conscious shoppers and of course the environment!
One of the greenest things anyone can do is not have children. The price paid for taking that stance can sometimes be high, particularly for women.
There are plenty of humans on this planet. I’ve seen no reason that I should add a couple of mini-me’s and muddy the gene pool further. Those mini-me’s could have progeny of their own, and those may reproduce as well.. brrr.. the possible ramifications sends chills up my spine :).
It was an easy decision for me – and I’ve really never had any grief from anyone over it. No raised eyebrows and no pressure from family – I think they are all relieved there are no mini-Michaels either. I rarely even find myself in a position where I feel I’m pressured to justify it.
While it’s all been well and good for me to blather on about population issues and proclaim “dammit, just stop reproducing” as if it was such a simple thing to do; I’ve been looking at the issue from my particular set of circumstances and personal views.
I really hadn’t given much thought to how much pressure there can be on women to crank out kidlings. While I understand it’s still a very big deal in developing nations, I naively thought in developed nations we were generally getting past all that.
As I’ve discovered, it’s simply not so. It appears many women who (as it turns out, bravely) profess to have no maternal instincts whatsoever are at times treated poorly; even among their female peers and friends.
According to Shelly Horton, who has chosen to be childless:
“..it seems by refusing to breed I’m conducting societal heresy.”
Shelly calls being child-free “the last female taboo”.
Even our Prime Minister’s choice not to have children has been used against her in political mud-slinging. I’m not a Julia Gillard fan, but labeling her “barren” is just a cheap shot and totally irrelevant – and possibly incorrect too in the traditional sense of the word.
For whatever reason a woman chooses not to have children; whether it be due to environmental concerns, a lack of “maternal instinct” or even just lifestyle reasons; the decision should be respected and they should not be treated as pariahs. Far from being selfish, these women are doing the planet a huge favour.
We will not run short on humans anytime soon and its far better one child is brought into the world by a woman who really, really wants one than a hundred by women felt pressured to do so – and that goes way beyond environmental issues.
If you’ve made a decision to remain child-free and are copping grief over it; check out this article by Shelly Horton on the topic.
First published May 2007, last updated February 2013
Before the final curtain is drawn on our lives, we can make environmentally friendly choices as to how our funeral and burial is conducted.
When my mother passed away at the age of 50, it was an incredibly sad time. While I had experienced death through my work at a hospital, I had never been to a funeral – that process was a mystery to me. Her decisions as to what should be done with her remains reflected upon the way she led her life – humbly and always thinking of others.
She requested that there be no embalming, no viewing, no monuments, a simple and small service, no flowers, a very simple casket and cremation. Her ashes were spread in places she loved in Australia and around the world. People overseas held their own small services to commemorate her.
While my mother loved nature, I don’t know if her decisions were environmentally motivated. It was probably more a case of her not wanting to be a bother; bless her :). We were lucky enough to have an excellent funeral director and I learned a great deal during the process about how we treat our dead.
Death in developed countries is generally not very environmentally friendly. It’s often a reflection of our lives as consumers. While a funeral is an important part of the grieving process for those of us left behind, there’s much we can do to have less of an impact on the environment when we pass on.
After we die, if our wishes are for an open casket viewing, we need to be embalmed. The following are the more invasive aspects of that process (a warning to the queasy):
- Arterial embalming – injection of embalming chemicals into the blood vessels
- Cavity embalming – internal fluids removed and more embalming chemicals placed into cavities.
- Hypodermic embalming, more embalming chemicals under the skin where required.
- Surface embalming in cases of viewable injuries.
Cosmetics may also be applied, also fragrances.
Embalming fluid is usually made up of formaldehyde, methanol and ethanol. Formaldehyde is carcinogenic and a common environmental pollutant.
Do you really wish for this to happen to your body? Is a viewing necessary? I’m not criticizing if you do; but these are aspects you may not have considered.
Caskets and coffins
Then comes the casket or coffin – aside from being horribly expensive and the energy used to create elaborate coffins, they are often made with various plastics, varnishes solvents and glues, with some even being lead lined. Coffins made from particle board also contain formaldehyde. These chemicals leach into the surrounding soil and in the case of cremation, can release dioxins, hydrochloric acid, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and other chemicals.
The funeral service
The funeral itself can be an elaborate and resource intensive affair with flowers, motorcades and people travelling from all points of the globe to attend. Burial is also taking up increasing amounts of land – acres and acres of marble slabs, headstones and not much else.
Cremation has gained popularity in developing countries over the past couple of decades. It could be considered greener in many ways, but isn’t without its issues; particularly if a coffin is cremated along with the deceased. A great deal of energy is needed to cremate a body. Most crematoriums no longer use coal but natural gas or propane. However, the temperatures required are around 870–980C (1,598–1,796F) and the average time is around 90 minutes. Emissions from crematories include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury, hydrofluoric acid and hydrochloric acid.
For the environmentally conscious person concerned as much about the impact of their death on nature as they are of their life; many funeral directors are recognizing this and offering green funerals and burials.
For instance, in relation to caskets there are more readily biodegradable options such as this wicker casket:
.. and this is a concept I really like – the coffin cover:
Images courtesy of Steven Mears Memorial Center
A UK company performing green funerals and burials
The body is placed into a cardboard box which is then slid into the coffin cover for the service. After the service, the cardboard box is removed and buried or cremated. The cover can then be reused. This option means less trees are used for making coffins, it speeds up the decomposition process and also decreases the amount of energy needed if the remains are to be cremated.
The coffin cover not only makes good environmental sense, but also financial – cardboard coffins cost a fraction of even the simplest solid wood caskets.
Another type of casket is the woollen coffin, made by Hainsworth in the UK.
Woollen Coffin – Natural Legacy by Hainsworth
Handmade using British wool, the woollen coffin is supported by a frame made of recycled cardboard. The interior is lined with organic cotton, edged with jute and has a waterproof base that is also biodegradable.
Other environmentally friendly caskets are made from cornstarch, bamboo or recycled paper. In the Middle East, a simple shroud is often used.
Some funerals don’t take place until many days after the person has passed on. In some cultures, they must bury their dead within 24 hours – this means that bodies don’t need to be refrigerated for days on end and makes good hygienic and environmental sense. If you make your funeral arrangements well in advance, it may be possible to shorten the length of time between your passing and internment or cremation.
For the service, you can state that you don’t wish for flowers, but request that money that would have been spent on flowers be donated to charity.
As for a resting place, natural burial grounds are now springing up in many countries. These are usually woodlands, forests or reserves. Large monuments aren’t permitted to be erected, just simple plaques – you basically blend in with the environment.
A company in Australia has taken the natural burial a little further. Upright Burials places the body in a vertical position in a biodegradable body bag; which it says is a far simpler and safer approach that removes the occupational health and safety issues and labour costs associated with traditional horizontal burial. I guess in that scenario, all you would need is a suitably sized post-hole digger rather than heavy duty earth-moving equipment.
There are no grave markers at the cemetery site – the name of the deceased person is recorded on a memorial wall, and the next of kin is provided the exact location of the individual grave site.
Cremation alternative – Resomation
As mentioned, cremation isn’t without its problems environmentally speaking – but there’s now an alternative called “Resomation”. Around the same cost of cremation, resomation is a water/alkali based alternative with significant environmental benefits according to the creators of the process. It reportedly uses less energy than cremation, generates less carbon dioxide and avoids mercury and other harmful contaminants being pumped into the atmosphere.
It is supposedly an accelerated form of natural decomposition chemistry. The ash produced instead being like the color of fireplace ash, is pure white (not that it really matters). While a traditional wood coffin can’t be Resomated, a coffin can act as a temporary casket and the deceased is contained in an “silk coffin” inside, which are then resomated. It’s an interesting process that is still undergoing approvals in various countries – you can learn more about resomation here.
As in life, we can approach the sensitive issue of our death with green issues close to mind. – but be sure to discuss your wishes with your family and make prior arrangements wherever possible to help minimize the stress on your loved ones after you have passed on… it’s something I certainly need to formalize!
Going Green? Start ‘Em Young
In our world today there are still several generations living that gave (or still do give) little thought to being green and living sustainably. For the older generations, possibly it was due more to the fact that they were simply trying to survive and did what they could to make a life for themselves.
However, today there are numerous ways to go green, and in many cases doing so is not only more socially acceptable, but is also more economically feasible with more win-win scenarios making their way into our culture all of the time. The best way to go green, though, like any other habit, is to start young. Children are our future, and helping them to go green is not only in our best interest for our ecosystem today, but will obviously be for their best future good as well.
Here are 5 ways to help children to become more eco-conscious and live sustainably:
Be an Example – First, and foremost, as a parent or other influential adult it’s important to be an example. It’s imperative to show children that green initiatives are important to you.
What green practices do you engage in? Are you paying lip service to being friendly to the environment, or are your actions truly congruent with what you say you believe? Just like Show & Tell in a classroom setting is fun and engaging for children to participate in, it’s also the most meaningful way for kids to be taught your own green ethics. If you make a claim to your children that we as humans make too much waste, make sure you are backing that up with practices such as having reusable grocery bags, lowering your carbon footprint by walking and bicycling instead of driving everywhere, recycling, and upcycling among many other alternatives.
Play Green – Kids love to learn with play, and it’s a great way to reinforce concepts. Using their imaginations and inventing or creating their fun by harmonizing with nature is a great way for children to spend time. Here is one example of how you can encourage your children to “play green”.
Kids love to make noise, so guide them to use their talents by creating their “compositions” using natural elements instead of buying them plastic and easily breakable gadgets that aren’t sustainable. And how about building a birdfeeder by upcycling a milk jug? There are lots of green activities that you can engage your children in.
Green Rewards – Kids (and people in general) reinforce habits by reward. By rewarding the children in your circle of influence (your own kids and/or those you lead) with green rewards, their good behavior will not only be reinforced by a reward, but they’ll begin to better comprehend the importance of green products and how you personally feel about them.
As an example of a fun green reward, check out this fun Green Seed Bomb by Green Aid. You can also make some of your own green rewards or maybe you’ll choose to purchase some fair trade products to give out as a reward or incentive.
Help them be a Leader – When children lead out in something they feel important. If your child can share his or her green knowledge with a circle of friends who may not understand the green ethic, you now have an influencer who can spread good information just by being himself or herself. Kids like to be the “first” at something, and if your child can naturally present something to a friend or other group of children it can go a long way to increasing your child’s self-esteem and sense of purpose.
Prepare your child with small and simple ideas and ways that he or she can introduce green living concepts to friends – nothing overbearing or preachy – just something that could be asked about by naturally curious children, which then opens up the door for further explanation. Perhaps some cool-looking upcycled jewelry could be just the trick as a conversation starter.
Engage their curiosity – Children love to be entertained and in such a way that their curiosity is piqued. Take your children on field trips where they can engage in green hands-on activities. You never know, the types of field trips you take the children on may spark their imagination and guide them towards a future career involving sustainability. Helping children to realize that products can be created and enclosures can be built that are eco-friendly can change their perspective about the green economy and that demand is there for sustainable consumerism.
Using the five points above to help a child go green can be life-changing for the better. Remember, children are our future, and habits they create now will affect them for the rest of their lives.
This article is about the period prior to death when we’re on the downhill run.
Kenny Rogers was right when he sang that famous line in The Gambler – dying in your sleep is really is the best you can hope for.
I spent part of my working life working in hospitals and rarely did I see what I would call a peaceful death. Most were quite drawn out and/or traumatic for all involved; including hospital staff.
I can’t remember the exact figures, but the amount of money spent on our medical treatment tends to be more in the last few years of our life than for all of the previous.
Just as in death, there is a lot of money – and waste – in dying. Sometimes I wonder if some of the medical marvels we see that prolong life are really just exquisite and expensive torture designed to line the pockets of a few.
As our bodies wear out to the point of no return, so many resources can go into extending what can be a quite a miserable existence for weeks, months and even years. And to what end? Like a casino, the house always wins.
However, if people choose that extended exit, I respect that’s their choice.
But as someone trying to live a green life and who has perhaps even considered the environment in relation to what happens after you pass – is that something you want?
Environmental issues aside, the dying process can very understandably confuse loved ones. What might be an attempt to communicate “let the suffering end” can be misinterpreted as “I want to keep fighting” – and vice versa.
I’ve often heard people say they don’t want to end their lives tied to a machine or in 24/7 care. I said it myself hundreds of times – I’m terrified of that being my fate. But saying it isn’t enough. It has to be in writing. Furthermore, others need to know that document exists and a selected few should have a copy of it.
I’m in no great rush to leave this life, but when my number is up, I want it to be up. Some of the reasons are purely selfish, but I also don’t want to be helping to make faceless corporation richer by extending what is a spent life, I don’t want other people’s lives turned upside down for any longer than necessary and I don’t want the planet to be further pillaged for what is essentially nothing.
This is where the Advance Directive, or Living Will, comes into play.
It’s a set of what should be crystal-clear written instructions that a person gives detailing the actions that should or should not be taken if a person is no longer able to make decisions about their health.
A good example of an Advance Directive (called an Anticipatory Direction in my state) and explanatory notes, which I based mine on, can be found here. Please note: it’s important to use the right form and format for your own state or country, so you may need to do a little digging around on Google and it would be wise to also consult a local legal professional.
First published December 2011, last updated December 2012
I received the best Christmas present last year. Nothing, nada, zip and zilch. It’s taken some years (decades) but people have apparently finally given up on buying me stuff just because they are told by marketers they need to. Put simply, the Xmas gift push is a massive con-job.
The big problem with gift giving, particularly among adults, is people often don’t know what to buy, what is needed, let alone wanted or would be appreciated. The pressure of imaginary obligation and a December 25 deadline makes otherwise sane and good-hearted people make some very interesting choices.
But the madness continues on the recipient’s end too. We’re given a gift we have no use for and feel obliged to look delighted and say thank you for the resource sucking lump of useless (to us) material we are now responsible for that will clutter up our lives further.
To make matters worse, having displayed the appropriate level of excitement and thanks, the stage is then set for more of the same next year.
I know this all sounds a little heartless; but when it comes to gift giving, it is not the thought that counts as such. It’s the thought that goes into the gift choice. We need to break the Xmas hyperconsumption cycle – it will not only save us cash but reduce impact on the environment.
An Australian charity estimates the value of 2010’s discarded/unwanted Christmas gifts was more than $750 million – and Australia’s population isn’t that huge (23 million). If that figure is accurate, unless folks in other countries are much better at picking gifts than we Aussies, the global total would be mind boggling.
Unfortunately, sometimes these unwanted gifts just wind up being shoved in a closet, never to be used. They can haunt us throughout our lives.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The Australian charity points out that organisations such as theirs can put these unwanted gifts to good use; either directly for their clients, or sold and the cash raised to help fund the charity’s activities.
Some people “regift”, meaning they give the gift to someone else next Xmas. I wonder how many of these gifts wind up being shuffled from place to place and never used :). Still, it’s a good idea and at some stage perhaps the gift will wind up in the hands of someone who could put it to use.
I read another report where an auction web site stated at around 7pm on Christmas Day they noticed an uptick in new listings and put it down to people selling unwanted gifts. I see nothing wrong with selling something you can’t use in order to buy something you can.
A gift unused and stowed away that may be appreciated by someone else is a horrible and wasteful thing. It’s a loss all round.
But as prevention is better than cure, if you’re someone who often receives unwanted gifts from certain folks, just start your own don’t-give-me-anything-and-dammit-I-mean-it campaign. You can mention environmental concerns or even that you have everything you want and need and as you care about the person so much, you don’t want them spending their money on you. If the person really insists and there is no way to dissuade them, point them towards greener gifts that won’t cost them any more than what they would have spent.
Don’t feel obligated to buy anyone anything either – after all, there is no law to say you must and it’s not illegal to give gifts on any of the other 364 days of the year. In my opinion, gifts should be given when a need or desire is identified and when your heart dictates – not when business does.
Let’s end the Christmas gift giving insanity – for the sake of our bank balances and for the environment. The money saved on paying off the Xmas gift credit card purchase interest can be spent on more useful and enduring things for ourselves or others.
Christmas has become such a screwed up event on so many levels, it’s beyond redemption. I strongly feel it should be ditched altogether aside from the religious aspects for those choose to observe them.
Other related Grinchy-type articles:
Procrastination, ignorance and denial are human specialties. Along with greed, these attributes are the weaknesses that will dramatically change the world as we know it – and soon.
Global carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2011 and will be higher again this year – 58 per cent above 1990 levels, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol.
Everything positive you’ve read about the battle against global warming have merely been band-aids over a gangrenous wound. We’ve outsourced emissions elsewhere and the political will simply isn’t there to make the changes required in time. In many cases, our own will is too weak to make the sacrifices needed.
It’s increasingly looking as though we won’t be able rein in and then *reduce* greenhouse gas emissions to a point that the world won’t warm more than 2C by the end of the century – and make no mistake, the 2C scenario is far from ideal.
Instead, we seem to be looking at a 4C to 6C temperature rise by the century’s end. This will render many regions at times uninhabitable for all but the hardiest of humans, animals and plants. Such an average increase will see more intense weather events and erratic weather patterns.
I’m not particularly forward to my demise, but I’m very glad I won’t be alive at that point in time.
But even now there a signs that the times, they are a-changin'; and quickly. So many records have been broken in relation to weather – and few of a good kind.
Last week, we had a series of storms in my neck of the woods and hundreds of thousands of bolts of lightning throughout the state during the events.
During one episode, I watched the water race down the garden in a shallow torrent not there just 2 minutes before. As it reached my back door and the wind howled, the electricity flickered and then shut off. I thought to myself, “this is what climate change looks like”.
Prior to these storms we had an extended dry spell and temperatures more consistent with the middle of summer.
The particularly vigorous storm was nothing compared to events like Hurricane Sandy. It was short-lived and nobody died. I had a bit of flooding through one room and some mess to clean up. But it did get me thinking again about being better prepared for the future.
Where were the sandbags that I’d been telling myself I must buy? Why wasn’t the generator and mobile solar rig hooked up, ready to go? How about that tree limb hanging precariously over the shed? Why wasn’t X,Y,Z done?
Not knowing how bad the storm was going to get (funnel clouds had been sighted – another unusual event for the area), these things raced through my mind.
Procrastination… and this from someone who believes things are going to get far worse and much sooner than expected. Procrastination, denial and greed is what has brought us to this point and it will also be what kills many of us.
We may be too late on avoiding what we could have with regard to climate change; but:
a) It’s still not too late to keep trying to reduce our impact. We owe it to future generations and we owe it to the planet that has sustained us.
b) Now is the time to prepare for what is likely to come – to be able to adapt quickly.
Something else to bear in mind when considering a climate change affected future: remember we are always only 3 square meals away from anarchy – and that prospect is as frightening as anything nature may throw at us.
First published March 2009, last updated November 2012
Do we *really* need that super soft, fragranced triple-ply white toilet paper with the floral print?
The mind boggles at how many trees are cut down each year just so we can wipe our bums.
While toilet paper from recycled materials is quite common here in Australia and in many other countries, back in 2009 when I first published this article, tissue made from 100 percent recycled fibers was still under 2 percent of the USA’s domestic use market among conventional and premium brands.
I haven’t been able to find any updated statistics, but I have noticed more “name” brands using recycled content, which is good to see.
Looking at a few corporate sites’ sustainability pages, it seems that 2009 saw quite a turnaround in the industry as the toilet paper issue received a fair amount of attention that year. However, even in brands that have seen the light, the level of recycled content is often still quite low.
Further improvements can definitely be made – not just in the USA, but in Australia and other nations too. I’d like to warmly encourage folks to please ignore the marketing that says you *need* the super-fluffy blinding white paper and to at least have a try of the 100% recycled content stuff.
It might not be quite as soft, but millions of people I’m sure would agree when I say that it’s not exactly sandpaper either. There’s certainly no pain involved, I assure you :).
Toilet paper made from recycled material does the job, does it comfortably, does it well – and really, isn’t this an area of our lives where we really don’t need over-pampering; particularly when otherwise what we’d be wiping our butts with was made from live trees?
Most of the paper for toilet tissue in the United States comes from tree farms and second growth forests – an area that has re-grown after a major disturbance; but some still also comes from virgin forests
One of the most commonly used type of tree can produce around 1,000 rolls of toilet paper. Given that Americans use an average of 23.6 rolls per person per year, based on a population of 314,723,449 (estimated USA population at November 2012), that equates to 7,427,473,396 rolls of toilet paper annually – 7.4 billion. We’re talking many millions of trees – and even in the case of plantation timber, that could be put to better use.
Recycled content toilet paper traps
Buying toilet paper made from recycled materials is great but even this can present some challenges.
Recycled paper needs to be de-inked before it is pulped and processed. This de-inking process may involve chlorine to bleach the paper. Chlorine based chemicals can react with paper fibers to create toxic compounds such as dioxin and organochlorines.
Dioxins cause cancer, learning disorders, decreased immune response, diabetes and all sorts of other nasty problems in the wider environment. By the way, the same chlorine issue is prevalent when using virgin-fiber based toilet tissue too.
When shopping for earth friendly toilet paper look for statements such as “unbleached”, “processed chlorine-free” or “totally chlorine free”.
Also be sure to check the level of recycled content – it could be as low as 5%.
Toilet paper from recycled materials costs around the same. If you’re really in savings mode, you can also save on paper (and save yourself some cash) by opting for 1 ply paper. While a roll of 1 ply can be more expensive, there’s more usable paper and studies have shown that people tend not to use more of it. 1 ply also breaks down faster, which is particularly a good thing in septic systems. Less paper means less pumping out and less cost.
Choosing fully recycled chlorine-free paper is something we can all do. If your local supermarket doesn’t stock it, ask for it – the only way we’ll change the situation is through consumer demand.