Americans love their toilet paper. We are also choosy about the quality. Some of us like it ultra soft, some like it a bit coarser. Some people like a luxury triple ply, some don’t mind a thin single ply. Toilet paper is arguably the most common single-use personal item for consumers and it’s likely that even with economic turndowns and environmental consequences that don’t exactly make some of us feel irreproachable, toilet tissue will continue to be an important part of daily life for us. So as consumers increasingly educate themselves on the impact that their product choices have on the environment, could they be looking for alternatives to conventional choices in tissue?
Our Voracious Appetite for Tissue Products
Worldwide the equivalent of almost 270,000 trees are either flushed or dumped in landfills every day, according to Claude Martin of WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature). Roughly 10 percent of that total is attributable to toilet paper. The result is that forests in both the global North and South are under assault by paper companies competing to fill what they insist is an never-ending consumer demand. (Retrieved on April 24, 2014 http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6403)
We hear a lot about managed plantations now as the global timber industry runs out of forests to clear, but one of the most insidious threats to forests comes from industrial tree plantations because of their lack of biodiversity. How can a biodiverse tropical forest be equated with a monoculture alien tree plantation? The monocultures created in eucalyptus plantations, for example, displace indigenous plant and animal life, require tremendous amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and can soak up such huge quantities of water.
“Consumption reduction, alternative fibers, better and greater recycling of paper all are very basic steps which can be taken to significantly reduce the amount of forest being plundered to drive the wheels of our society.” (retreived on April 24, 2014 http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/manuscript_final.pdf)
So Recycled Content Toilet Paper is the Best Solution, Right?
Well, not exactly. There are a couple of problems associated with recycled content toilet paper. First, the softest, most absorbent, thickest toilet paper seems to be only manufactured from virgin fiber. And consumers seem to be fairly picky about their toilet paper. Recycled content bathroom tissue is often not thick or absorbent enough for many consumers. Second, research suggests that recycling paper to make toilet paper comes at a price. It seems that contamination is one of the biggest obstacles in the recycling industry.
Did you know that BPAs – bispenols A’s can be present in recycled content paper because of the lack of recycling facilities ability to separate out thermal glossy paper? Every sector of the marketplace is now using some form of thermal roll paper, from convenience stores to restaurants, to ATMs, banks, and laboratories. The new technology in thermal paper rolls has enabled faster, quieter printing with expanded graphic capabilities; however, it is problematic when it comes to BPA’s left behind in recycled content. This kind of paper makes its way into the recycling stream just like any other paper.
An important question that consumers have just started asking is, “What happens then when we use recycled pulp in bathroom tissue, a product that is flushed into our septic and sewage systems? Where do BPAs go?” Perhaps not so surprisingly, in 2008 Dresden University in Germany concluded that toilet paper was a major source of BPAs contaminating tap water and recommended that recycled content not be used for products that are flushed or composted. (Retrieved on April 24, 2014 at
So What’s the Alternative?
There are other materials available that produce virgin pulp toilet paper without trees. Fast-growing fiber crops, such as bamboo, are a logical source of tree-free pulp for the manufacture of tissue. As more consumers become aware of the fact that they have other options, the more they will be seeking them out.
Bamboo is an increasingly important alternative to traditional wood pulp and especially for paper and tissue products. Technically a type of grass, bamboo grows faster than any other woody plant in the world. Bamboo is perennial, abundant, and rapidly renewable. Bamboo can be harvested in less than 5 years for its pulp. It can be grown without pesticides and insecticides. Depending on where it is grown, usually no irrigation is needed. Due to its ease of growth and extraordinary growth rate, it is an abundant, readily available, sustainable and efficient crop. Bamboo makes an excellent alternative for fiber used to make toilet paper.
Bum Boosa® offers a 100% Bamboo Bathroom Tissue that rivals the softest, most durable tissues.
Bum Boosa Bamboo Products launched 100% bamboo bathroom tissue in 2010. As a new and innovative product, improvements had to be made, such as the stretchiness of the tissue and how it perforated. Today though, Bum Boosa’s tree-free tissue is vastly improved and comparable to a conventional softer, thicker embossed tissue. Bamboo grows so fast that it does not necessitate recycling. That also takes out the entire issue of BPA contamination.
Bum Boosa’s tissue is currently made with 3 plies due to the fact that the lower impact manufacturing process demands an extremely thin ply to make the tissue as smooth as it is, and subsequently Bum Boosa’s suppliers emboss these three thin plies together for user friendliness. As manufacturing methods are refined, making a two ply tissue while still maintaining its lower impact manufacturing is the objective for the future. While their current tissue is elemental chlorine free, they are also intending to offer a TCF option by 2015.
And if you are still not convinced that bamboo makes sense as an alternative to virgin or recycled tree pulp, then pay attention to what Kimberly-Clark is doing, the largest tissue maker in the world.
Kimberly Clark has made the commitment to transition 50% of wood fiber sourced from natural forests to alternative fiber such as bamboo by 2025. Kimberly-Clark’s UK line of Andrex toilet tissue has already launched a product made with 10% bamboo in the spring of 2012.
According to a life cycle assessment commissioned by Kimberly-Clark and published on February 11, 2013, bamboo appears to have less impact than fiber from northern softwood trees, particularly when it comes to land use because it regenerates in three years as opposed to 70 years for the trees. (Retrieved on April 24, 2014 http://www.cms.kimberly-clark.com/UmbracoImages/UmbracoFileMedia/Alternative_Fiber_LCA_Public_Report_FINAL_01-14_umbracoFile.pdf).
Let’s face it, the value of natural resources changes throughout time. Treeless tissue is here to stay and a practical solution that will help people reduce their carbon footprint. Inquiring customers are beginning to seek out tree-less products that are not only effective, but also alleviate the burden of natural forests and biodiversity for centuries to come.