The deal with toilet paper

By Sustainability Consultant Kathryn

This is the first in a series of articles designed to help our business address our environmental impact. And we hope it’ll be useful for your business too.

This study was prompted because the only paper we use at KFA HQ is loo roll – other than that we’re paperless!

Who Gives a Crap toilet roll
So the big question is; does it matter what we wipe with?

And the short answer is YES!

But there is so much choice out there that it can be tricky to know what’s best. Even when you’re actively working in sustainability, looking for a greener option isn’t always an easy task.

And like so many trips into the world of sustainability, the more I looked into the different brands and the different methods and materials used the more overwhelmed I felt.

I even tried to take a shortcut and get ‘Ethical Consumer’ website to do the hard work for me. But that just added more things to think about!

So in true KFA fashion we scaled it right back to the key questions, and here’s the result of our investigations.


The bad guys

Most major tissue brands rely heavily on virgin wood pulp, or “chopping down trees” to you and me, for the production of their toilet tissue.

We’re talking all the classics here; Andrex, Cushelle and supermarket own-brands.

And to make it worse, these rolls are often dyed, and can even be perfumed too. Adding unnecessary chemicals into our waterways.

Seeing the Forest Stewardship Council ‘tree-tick’ stamp gives some assurance that the timber used to make the product was sustainably sourced.

But Ethical Consumer has taken the line that “toilet paper made using virgin wood pulp, even if FSC certified, cannot be considered a sustainable product”. This is due to the length of time it takes to replace (regrow) the forest.

In that context it’s hard to justify chopping down trees to wipe our bums, especially when there are other readily-available, more sustainable options, so let’s just rule these products out completely.


The good guys
  1. Recycled toilet paper

Toilet paper made from recycled/waste paper has a significantly lower environmental impact than using virgin materials. Crucially, it does not increase demand for living trees to be felled, which allows more forest to remain intact; we all know how important that is.

And recycled paper generally uses less bleach than virgin pulp, and some of these loo papers are completely chlorine free (that’s the nasty stuff).

There are still negatives; processing waste paper uses water, energy and chemicals, and whatever was on that paper originally can still end up in our water supply.

So in the sliding scale of bad to good, recycled loo rolls rank above toilet rolls made from virgin materials, although there is still an environmental impact to consider.

But don’t buy yet, there’s more…!

  1. Bamboo Toilet paper

According to leading bamboo toilet paper brand Naked Sprout, “bamboo requires no pesticides or fertilisers and only needs rainwater to grow. It absorbs 5 times more carbon dioxide than trees and produces 35% more oxygen. It is naturally the fastest growing plant in the world and rapidly renewable. Growing up to 3 feet in 24 hours and reaching maturity within 4-6 years – trees take 30-60 years”.

The catch is that almost all commercial bamboo crops are grown in Asia so it must be shipped thousands of miles to get here. Both Who Gives A Crap and Naked Sprout are very open about this and make assurances that this is done in the most sustainable way possible; both use sea freight as opposed to air.

But even if the raw material is better, and uses fewer resources in the production process, there is still a negative environmental impact.


What else do we need to consider?

Chemicals. Does the product contain nasty chemicals that we simply flush directly into the water supply?

Wrapping. Plastic = bad!

Shipping. How does the roll get to our loo? Is it delivered in an environmentally friendly way?

What about the ethics and ambitions of the company we choose? Do they give to charity? How much? Is it a % of turnover, or of profits (which as accountants we know can be manipulated!).


So how do we make the choice?

At KFA HQ we’re working through a box of Who Gives A Crap recycled loo rolls. Better than rolls from chopped down trees.

But as in life, so too in loo roll research! As we learn more, our choices may change.

And right now we believe that preventing unnecessary plastic pollution and protecting our water by not flushing unnecessary chemicals down the drain, are the most important criteria.

In an ideal world of course, we’d use UK-grown bamboo, processed without excess chemicals here in the UK, and wiping UK bums. Sadly that’s just a pipe-dream for now!


Our next purchase will be from Naked Sprout.

We accept there will be an environmental cost of getting the bamboo from Asia, but the positives outweigh that cost; unbleached, made from bamboo, shipped to the end user in a carbon-neutral way.

And they give 2% of their turnover to charity.

So that’s our choice. For now.


Continue the conversation.

And if you liked this you’ll love our monthly newsletter, written by our Activist Accountants, fighting for our world, your world, and the world.


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