My husband says I’m too over the top about toilet paper. He could be right. I’ve just spent hours driving myself crazy reading web articles on the topic because, while I’ve learned more than I’d wanted to about how bamboo or hemp or sugarcane are the greenest things since fresh air, I could find little about the environmental impact of processing these alternatives to wood fibers. Plus, none of the articles have told me whether or not the bisphenol A (BPA) found in TP made from recycled products could hurt us.
So I emailed some of the toilet paper companies. Then, after no one got back to me –––no one––– I emailed the Natural Resource Defense Counsel. The NRDC is a non-profit organization that works to safeguard the earth––its people, its plants and animals and the natural system on which all life depends. (I copied that off their website.) To be honest, I hadn’t expected to hear back from them either.
I was wrong.
That same day I received the nicest email from Samuel Wicks, the counsel’s Public Education Associate. In it he answered all of my questions in a very courteous and professional manner that made me feel as if he cared about how I’m trying to make my life greener one corner of one room at one time. He also included articles.
So here’s the short of it:
Are TPs made from raw materials other than wood actually greener?
Bamboo is used to make a variety of things; including textiles and paper. For paper goods, it is pulped into fiber by way of either mechanical or chemical processing. As a general rule, mechanical processing can be more costly, but is better for the environment. The chemical processing methods used can actually harm the planet. That said, most bamboo manufacturers claim to be green, but really aren’t, because they use chemicals to turn bamboo stalks into fiber.
Hemp is another alternative to wood for paper and according to some of the articles I’ve read, it is generally made using chemicals that aren’t as harsh to the environment. Both hemp and bamboo are not grown in high enough quantities in the US, though. That means the raw materials for products made from them would have to be shipped in from other countries, like China. This not only makes them more expensive, but increases their negative impact on the planet.
Sugarcane is grown on this continent and turning it into paper isn’t a new idea. I found this nifty video on making sugarcane paper from back in the 1950’s. It’s about 2 minutes long. (Click the underlined sentence above to watch it.) My favorite part is when the narrator says that sugar is one of our most important foods! But it looks like chemicals are needed during various stages of processing that plant into fiber, too.
How bad is BPA exposure really?
The answer is, it all seems sort of speculative, with some people raising the roof with concerns and other saying: it’s not so bad. But one thing is certain: almost all of us have been exposed for generations. I suppose then most folks (with the exception of ME) figure there’s no point in dwelling on it.
According to one of the articles Samuel had sent, 98% of our exposure to BPA comes from contact with #’s 3-7 plastics, anyway. I don’t know if that makes it all okay, but at least then only 2% of our exposure comes from using recycled paper products. And, with the latter, the powdered version of the chemical is not a coating on the surface, like it is when I take my receipt after the cashier at Price Chopper hands it to me. It seems people who handle receipts frequently should be most concerned. But in terms of recycled paper, the traces of BPA powder are mixed in with the slurry before it’s even turned into TP or other products.
So, what’s my final answer?
My husband and I are going to stay with Marcal for now. But we do plan to try a few of the different brands of toilet paper from the NRDC list. Green Forest is said to be somewhat softer compared to most recycled based TPs. It also received high marks on Greenpeace USA’s list of green TP’s. Unfortunately, it’s not available in our supermarket. But Marcal is!
With that, my husband will be very happy to hear that next week’s post will be about Clorox wipes.
If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to the NRDC, here’s the link to their website: https://www.nrdc.org