A major threat to forests made Comedy Central’s Colbert Report Threatdowns list earlier this week: 3-ply toilet paper. Wiping our bums just should not be contributing to the destruction of some of the last untouched forests in North America, according to several environmental groups and to the comic relief of Steven Colbert.
Potty Humor Permeates News Coverage of Forest Destruction
Ed note Nov. 1, 2009: Hulu video no longer available but you can still watch on Comedy Central.
Colbert is not the only member of the media (?) who couldn’t resist the joke: The Washington Post headline that may have inspired the sketch read “Environmentalists Seek to Wipe Out Plush Toilet Paper.” “Soft Toilet Paper’s Hard on the Earth, But Will We Sit for the Alternative?,” the sub-title continues.
Softness Sells; Price Paid in Trees
Consumer Reports, on the other hand, takes toilet paper very seriously, ranking brands on softness and strength, among other characteristics. “In one test, trained panelists feel and scrunch a strip of six sheets from each roll,” says a Theresa Panetta in a Consumer Reports video. And softness is a major factor that that bumps three-ply Quilted Northern Ultra Plush ahead of recycled brands such as Seventh Generation and Marcel in the CR ranking. That super fluffy brand sold 24 million packages in the past year, bringing in more than $144 million, according to Information Resources, Inc (IRI).
Several of the softest, thickest toilet papers on the market – Cottonelle Ultra, Quilted Northern Ultra and Charmin Ultra — increased sales by 40 percent in some markets in 2008, according to IRI. According to Greenpeace, some major toilet paper brands use no recycled content. Unfortunately for the trees, recycled paper fiber is shorter than virgin fiber and makes for a rougher bath tissue.
Marcel Manufacturing is trying to get past that particular prejudice in the marketplace, pointing to strength as the real measure of TP quality. “If the paper breaks during your use of toilet paper, obviously, that’s very, very important,” Tim Spring, Marcel chief executive told the Washington Post in a detail-free, yet surprisingly graphic description of the situation.
Squeezablely Soft Doesn’t Move Every Bath Tissue Market
This is one issue that’s definitely not about necessity. Cultural preferences and ad campaigns make a huge difference. We’ve been conditioned by commercials featuring bears and clouds and grocers imploring us to squeeze (or not). Toilet paper commercials are so integrated into our popular imagination that the New York Times mentioned Mr. Whipple, a grocery store manager from Charmin commercials, by name, without feeling the need to identify him, in the headline of its story on toilet tissue and deforestation earlier this year.
Recycled toilet paper is actually quite common in restaurants and office buildings and other away-from-home restrooms in the United States. But at home, softness rules. Not so in Europe or Latin America where recycled bathroom tissue is purchased for the home at ten times the rate of the United States (20 percent vs. 2 percent).
Convincing Charmin to Switch to Recycled
Greenpeace has been campaigning to end the flushing of ancient trees by convincing manufacturers to switch to recycled or sustainable paper pulp for more than four years. Earlier this year, Greenpeace published its own toilet paper guide ranking companies on sustainability over softness (available in pdf and for the iPhone. According to their analysis, “Americans could save more than 400,000 trees if each family bought a roll of recycled toilet paper—just once.” (read also Care2 blogger Angel Flinn’s piece on the Greenpeace toilet tissue guide.)
The group recently came to an agreement with Kimberly-Clark. While the they have taken some flack for cutting a deal over Kleenex, Greenpeace feels that Kimberly-Clark is such a big purchaser of wood that the agreement could shift the entire industry.
Greenpeace is now working on Georgia Pacific and Proctor & Gamble. Tell P&G to follow KC’s lead here.
Could Your Personal Hygiene Be Even Greener than Recycled?
The Greenpeace TP pocket shopping guide can help consumers choose more forest-friendly bath tissues but some green living enthusiasts may want go to even further.
One possible reason the European preference isn’t for the super soft stuff could be wide-spread bidet use for personal hygiene. While not standard issue in the American bathroom, bidets aren’t hard to buy or install. There are also bidet-inspired products that fit onto a standard American toilet.
Another option is reusable wipes. Families already washing cloth diapers for a baby might not find this such a wild idea.
But even if you do go for a tree-free option personally, make sure you tell Proctor & Gamble to make Mr. Whipple’s toilet paper recycled.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may
not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.