Regular vs. Recycled Toilet Paper

by Steve Graham, Networx

If every American family replaced one regular toilet paper roll with recycled paper, we would save 420,000 trees, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. But many people won’t pay extra for recycled brands, particularly if they don’t think it works as well.

We’re here to confirm that it does work, and there’s not much difference between recycled brands. However, you will have to sacrifice some softness and quality if you are used to the premium stuff.

Experiential Test Results

The NRDC lists 17 brands of 100-percent recycled toilet paper. The group only compares the environmental qualities of the brands, but we wanted to put recycled toilet paper to real-world tests. My wife and I have been using three brands of recycled toilet paper, alongside two types of regular toilet paper with virgin fiber.

In blind tests, neither of us could tell any difference between three widely available recycled brands — Whole Foods 365, Seventh Generation and Natural Value. However, all the brands were softer and performed better than a cheaper generic brand, Valu Time. On the other hand, none of the other brands could stand up to the premium-priced toilet paper, “squeezably soft” Charmin.

Image credit: macaron*macaron (Est Bleu2007)

Scientific Test Results

But a couple of somewhat more scientific tests showed that there really is some difference between recycled brands,  with the cheap generic stuff still rating pretty good.

To test absorbency, I dropped 0.5 ml water onto a square of paper, and measured how far the wet spot spread. Predictably, the Charmin absorbed the most water, so the spot only spread 65 mm. Valu Time was the second most absorbent. The spot spread 98 mm on the Seventh Generation recycled toilet paper, the least absorbent brand.

To test strength, I pulled a square of paper until it ripped, and measured how far it stretched before tearing. Again, Charmin earned top marks. It stretched 12 mm before breaking. However, Natural Value recycled paper was nearly as strong. On the other hand, Seventh Generation and Whole Foods papers stretched just 5 mm before tearing.

The Data

To wrap it up in greater detail, here are the stats for our five tested toilet paper brands:

Natural Value

Roll: 250 2-ply sheets

Size: 4.2” by 4” (116.6 square feet total)

Recycled paper content: 100 percent

Post-consumer content: 80 percent minimum

Whitening process: Chlorine-free

Absorbency test: 94 mm wet spot

Strength test: 11 mm stretch

Cost for four-roll pack: $1.99 (at Sunflower Market)

Price per square foot: 1.71 cents

Whole Foods 365

Roll: 168 2-ply sheets

Size: 4.3” by 3.66” (73.4 square feet total)

Recycled paper content: 100 percent

Post-consumer content: 80 percent

Whitening process: Chlorine-free

Absorbency test: 85 mm wet spot

Strength test: 5 mm stretch

Cost for four-roll pack: $1.49 (at Whole Foods)

Price per square foot: 2.03 cents

Seventh Generation

Roll: 352 2-ply sheets

Size: 4.25” by 4” (166.2 square feet total)

Recycled paper content: 100 percent

Post-consumer content: 80 percent

Whitening process: Chlorine-free

Absorbency test: 98 mm wet spot

Strength test: 5 mm stretch

Cost for four-roll pack: $3.99 (at Whole Foods)

Price per square foot: 2.40 cents

Charmin Ultra Strong

Roll: 176 2-ply sheets

Size: 4.27” by 4” (83.5 square feet total)

Recycled paper content: 0

Post-consumer content: n/a

Whitening process: unknown

Absorbency test: 65 mm wet spot

Strength test: 12 mm stretch

Cost for four-roll pack: $3.69 (at Beavers Market)

Price per square foot: 4.42 cents

Value Time

Roll: 176 2-ply sheets

Size: 4.25” by 4” (83.11 square feet total)

Recycled paper content: 0

Post-consumer content: n/a

Whitening process: unknown

Absorbency test: 80 mm wet spot

Strength test: 8 mm stretch

Cost for four-roll pack: $1.29 (at Beavers Market)

Price per square foot: 1.55 cents

234 comments

David Stanley
David Stanleyabout a month ago

Check out the process for making recycled Toilet Paper...NOT environmentally friendly! For a sustainable, clean and green approach get a Hand Bidet Sprayer. With these you don't really need Toilet Paper anymore and washing with water is far more hygienic, healthier and saves money too.

Jo S.
Jo SICK S.8 months ago

Thank you.

Jo Recovering
Jo SICK S.10 months ago

Thank you.

ERIKA SOMLAI
ERIKA SOMLAI2 years ago

thank you for sharing

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin2 years ago

great info! thanks for sharing!

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Steven H.
Steven H3 years ago

One brand of green toilet paper that I have been using is Bum Boosa. Instead of being made from trees, it is made from bamboo, which is a lot more sustainable. The toilet paper is made from 100% bamboo processed with the mechanical pulping method. It is tree-free, biodegradable, BPA-free, elemental chlorine-free and it breaks down quickly. Even the packaging is made from recycled paper. I find that it is really soft and the paper is thick, so it doesn’t tear easily. The best part is that they plant a tree for every 4 rolls sold.
Check them out at http://bumboosabambooproducts.com/shop/index.php?cPath=4

Patricia H.
Patricia H.4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Fred Krohn
Fred Krohn4 years ago

I tend to prefer low cost over fanciness, hence I use single ply store brand or recycled a lot and avoid the overpriced multi ply stuff. I grade more by efficiency of cleaning than perceived 'softness'. Only thing I outright despise is the idea of going back to corn cobs...

Laurie D.
Laurie D.4 years ago

Okay. I'm the dissenting vote here! I've tried every recycled toilet paper we have available here in Alaska and have been UNIMPRESSED!! I have reluctantly gone back to Charmin. SORRY!!