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How Your Toilet Paper Habits Harm the Environment

Good hygiene and sanitation are fundamental to public health, preventing the spread of disease and keeping us comfortable. Yet, the very practices that maintain our well-being can have a hidden cost. The seemingly innocuous act of using toilet paper carries a surprisingly hefty environmental price tag. Traditional toilet paper production contributes to deforestation, consumes vast quantities of water, and pollutes waterways. Let’s review the environmental impact of our toilet paper habits and explore alternative solutions for a cleaner conscience – and a cleaner planet.

 

 

The Environmental Impact of Traditional Toilet Paper

 

Deforestation lies at the root of the environmental burden associated with toilet paper.  Large swaths of trees, often fast-growing hardwoods, are felled to create the pulp used in traditional toilet paper production. This process strips away vital habitats for countless species, from insects and birds to larger mammals. 

 

Approximately 27,000 trees are cut down each day for toilet paper production. That’s 9.8 million trees a year! Source: Bumboo

 

The loss of trees also weakens the soil, making it more susceptible to erosion.  This erosion not only reduces fertile land for future growth but also pollutes waterways with sediment, harming aquatic ecosystems.

 

An estimated 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost due to erosion year. Source: Global Agriculture

 

Furthermore, deforestation disrupts the natural water cycle, reducing rainfall and increasing the risk of floods and droughts.  The environmental cost of a clean behind can be a dirty secret, but with a little awareness, we can make a difference.

 

The impact of deforestation on our planet goes beyond the immediate loss of trees.  Healthy forests act as vital carbon sinks, absorbing and storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.  When trees are cut down for toilet paper production, the carbon they've sequestered is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.  This exacerbates global warming, leading to rising temperatures, more extreme weather events, and rising sea levels – a hefty price to pay for a single-use product.

 

One mature tree will absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. Source: Arbor Day Foundation/USDA

 

 

Environment-Friendlier Toilet Paper Alternatives

 

Bidets

A photo of a bidet. Photo source: Brondell

Fortunately, there are sustainable alternatives to the traditional toilet paper routine. Bidets, fixtures that spray a cleansing stream of water for post-bathroom use, offer a water-efficient approach to hygiene.  Unlike toilet paper production, which requires significant water resources, bidets use a targeted amount of water, often adjustable for preference.  This shift can significantly reduce your overall water consumption, making bidets a win for both personal cleanliness and environmental responsibility.

 

In general, a bidet typically uses no more than 20 ounces per use. Source: Brondell. For reference, it takes about 37 gallons of water to create one roll of toilet paper. Source: Tiny-waste.com. So, let’s do some math. If you use the restroom about 6 times a day and use about 7 sheets of toilet paper per visit, that’s 42 sheets a day, conservatively. Now I regular roll of toilet paper is about 150 sheets. Source: Cottonelle. That means you’re using one roll of toilet paper about every 3.5 days. When you break down the water usage you’re using about 10 gallons of water a day on toilet paper vs .94 gallons a day with a bidet. In a year you’d personally be saving 3,307 gallons of water! That’s incredible!

 

Bamboo Toilet Paper

A picture of a roll of toilet paper from the company, Who Gives a Crap

While bidets offer a dramatic reduction in paper use, some may prefer a more traditional wiping method.  For those seeking a more sustainable toilet paper option, bamboo can be a viable alternative.  Bamboo, a variety of grass, is a fast-growing, renewable resource that doesn't require deforestation like traditional tree pulp.  The more that gets harvested, the faster the bamboo grows! However, it's important to be mindful when choosing bamboo toilet paper.  Look for brands that are certified sustainable and ensure the bamboo is sourced responsibly.  This helps avoid products contributing to deforestation in other areas or relying on harsh chemicals in processing. With a little research, you can find bamboo toilet paper that offers a softer touch on both your behind and the environment.

 

Fun Fact: According to Guinness World Records, some varieties of bamboo can grow almost 3 feet per day! Source: OneTreePlanted.org

 

 

Reusable, Cloth Wipes

An image of cloth wipes. Photo source: Marley's Monsters

Cloth, or reusable, toilet paper offers the most environmentally friendly option. These are typically washable cloths made from soft, absorbent materials like cotton flannel.  While the concept may take some getting used to, cloth toilet paper can be just as effective as disposable options.  Hygiene concerns are understandable, but a dedicated wash routine with hot water and detergent ensures cleanliness.  For extra sanitation, some users recommend a bidet spray or flushable liner for the initial cleansing, then using the cloth for final wiping.  Storing soiled clothes in a covered bin until laundry day also helps minimize any hygiene worries.  Ultimately, cloth toilet paper offers a waste-free alternative for those willing to embrace a slightly different routine.

 

Final Thoughts

Traditional toilet paper, while a convenient necessity, comes at a significant environmental cost. From deforestation and water pollution to chemical use and landfill waste, our daily routines can have a surprising impact.  Fortunately, even small changes in our habits can make a big difference. By adopting sustainable practices, we can ensure a healthier planet for ourselves and future generations.

So, the next time you reach for a toilet paper roll, consider exploring eco-friendly alternatives. From recycled paper options to bamboo-based products, there are numerous ways to make a difference without sacrificing hygiene.  Let's make sustainability a part of our daily lives, one roll at a time.

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