More and more people are becoming environmentally conscious and are making efforts to recycle, buy sustainable products, and reduce consumption, but one wasteful item that is often overlooked is toilet paper. After all, toilet paper can’t be recycled (that would be gross), and it’s got paper in the name, meaning it is made from trees. In fact, purchasing toilet paper is such an ordinary and ingrained part of our lives that most people don’t give its purchase a second thought. However, toilet paper is not only incredibly costly over the course of a year, it’s also wasteful and unsustainable for the planet. Just how much waste does toilet paper produce? The numbers might surprise you.
The Cost of Keeping Clean
Because toilet paper is something that everyone needs, we don’t give a lot of thought to its cost. However, most people use 1 – 2 rolls of toilet paper a week. Add it up, and you’re looking at a family of 4 people spending about 1,200 dollars per year on toilet paper alone! The toilet paper industry is worth about 30 billion dollars worldwide, and Americans are the biggest consumers, purchasing about 8 billion dollars of toilet paper per year. Americans alone go through about 12 billion rolls of toilet paper per year. That’s a lot of wiping and a lot of money!
An Unsustainable Industry
We’ve already established that toilet paper is a type of paper, meaning it is manufactured from trees. About 27,000 trees are literally flushed down the toilet each day in the form of toilet paper, and a single roll requires 37 gallons of water, 1.5 pounds of wood, and ⅓ kWh of electricity to produce. And that’s just one roll! When you think of it from that perspective, that means that old-growth forests are disappearing each day to help clean our rear ends, contributing to deforestation, habitat loss, and the rising impact of greenhouse gases on our climate. If you think that your toilet paper use alone isn’t enough to make much of a difference, think again: one tree produces about 1,000 rolls of toilet paper, so an average American will be responsible for the use of 384 trees over the course of their lifetime. Of course, wood fiber isn’t naturally white, so toilet paper must also be bleached; the bleaching process uses 235,000 tons of chlorine, much of which ends up in local water supplies. Plus, in order to manufacture and transport toilet paper around the world, approximately 17.3 terawatts of electricity are used per year, much of which comes from coal-fired power plants that release greenhouse gases into the air. Additionally, most toilet paper is wrapped in soft plastic for transportation and hygiene, and that plastic is rarely recycled, which only contributes to the amount of waste generated by toilet paper. For a product that is meant to help keep us clean, it’s sure contributing to a messy planet!
All that waste doesn’t feel very good, but there are more sustainable alternatives to traditional toilet paper. Some manufacturers are starting to produce toilet paper made from recycled paper, while other companies are using bamboo to manufacture toilet paper that is softer, stronger, and more sustainable than traditional competitors. The best way to reduce your toilet paper consumption is to do your research about which products might meet your requirements for softness, strength, and cleanliness while also taking steps towards improving sustainability and decreasing toilet paper’s carbon footprint. There are options out there to help you make a sustainable switch while still keeping your bum squeaky clean!