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I had originally given this article the title ‘plastic-free toilet paper’ but after some research I realised that being plastic-free is only one way for toilet paper to be more sustainable. It could be made from recycled paper, be unbleached or bleached without chlorine, be FSC certified, be made by a B corp or a social enterprise. Who’d have thought the world of wiping could be so diverse!
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Image by independent toilet US paper brand Bim Bam Boo
What to consider when choosing toilet paper
Recycled Paper versus Virgin Paper
Although I haven’t come across any specific studies that compare the two, all of the web articles I’ve read indicate that toilet roll made from recycled paper is far more sustainable than versions made with virgin paper. It seems logical but sustainability is sometimes counter intuitive, which is why I like to quote definitive data from studies.
For instance I know recycled paper needs to be deinked, so what happens to all that waste water? For this reason I think your better off sourcing your recycled paper toilet roll from Europe where we have a better understanding of the regulations that control discharges to waterways.
It also worth noting that recycled paper is said to require less bleaching than virgin paper, but this can mean the end product is less soft because bleaching is said to soften toilet paper.
Recycled Paper versus Virgin Bamboo Fibre
Again there are no studies comparing these two products but to me it seems logical that making toilet paper from recycled paper sourced in Europe for European markets is more sustainable than shipping virgin bamboo from Asia. If I find otherwise I’ll update this article
Contaminated Recycled Paper
For a long while I avoided toilet paper made from recycled paper because I was afraid of it being contaminated with BPA, a known hormone disruptor, linked to tumour formation and banned in some plastics. BPA is a very persistent chemical with studies showing elevated BPA levels were found in the urine of cashiers almost a week after handling coated receipts.
You might be wondering how on earth BPA might end up in recycled paper toilet roll. Well, it’s caused by people putting thermal receipts in their recycling bin. Most people aren’t aware that firstly, thermal receipts aren’t recyclable, and secondly that they’re coated with this chemical.
The same study determined that the BPA content in recycled toilet paper was only micrograms per gram, so for the benefit of the planet I decided the risk was low enough to justify switching to recycled paper toilet roll.
Toilet Roll Ply
You probably never thought about the ply of the toilet paper you use, particularly in relation to sustainability. That’s what I’m here for! Standard toilet paper is typically 2 or 3 ply, and that means 2 or 3 sheets thick. There are some 4 ply toilet roll on the market and are most likely branded as deluxe, luxury or quilted. Not only is 4 ply a complete waste of resources some plumbers insist that it’s more likely to block your pipes.
Buying in Bulk
It always made sense to buy in bulk if you can and most of the eco toilet offerings outside the supermarket come in packs of 18 – 48. The only question is whether you have enough space to store it all, and what to do with all those cardboard boxes!
I read on a website that bamboo toilet paper can cause blockages in some pipes and be unsuitable for some septic tanks. I asked around to see if this was true but no one I asked had this problem, but someone suggested that it may be specific to certain systems.
Some toilet paper brands have an Ecolabel on them. Established in 1992, the EU Ecolabel is a label of environmental excellence that is awarded to products and services meeting high environmental standards throughout their life-cycle: from raw material extraction, to production, distribution and disposal.
You’ll see this term on quite a few toilet roll brands but did you know that there are various forms of FSC certified, and of varying sustainability?
- FSC 100% – materials comes from fully FSC-certified forests
- FSC Recycled – material must be pre- or post-consumer waste
- FSC Mix – material used in product is a mix of FSC virgin wood, recycled, and virgin wood from ‘controlled sources’, with ‘controlled sources’ meaning low risk uncertified forests
And now that your fully informed lets talk brands!
Ecoleaf sells 2 ply toilet paper made from recycled material in compostable plastic wrapper. The paper is bleached without the use of chlorine. The product is made by a co-operative called Suma, in which each of Suma’s employees get a say in the direction of the business, get paid the same wage, take responsibility and do a range of jobs each week, from truck driving to cooking to accounts. €6.82 for 9, €3.15 for 4, €18.75 for 27, 240 sheets per roll
The Good Roll in Amsterdam donates 50% of profits to building toilets in developing countries and offer either 100% recycled paper (2 or 3 ply) or bamboo paper (2ply), both made without chlorine, colour- or fragrances and packaged plastic-free in wrapper printed with plant-based inks. Their recycled paper is bleached with hydrogen peroxide and sodium salt and comes with an EU Ecolabel. The recycled paper they source comes from Europe and is process in Germany and the Netherlands. I did email them to ask them if they tested their paper to see if it was BPA free. They replied to say that their products were BPA free but didn’t reply when I pressed them about testing. Although they sell bamboo paper, they say that they prefer their recycled product as it has a lower footprint. The company also works with government-directed social workplaces for a part of our production process. €25 for 24 rolls of bamboo, 400 sheets per roll. €25 for 24 rolls of 3ply recycled, 250 sheets per roll. €24 for 24 rolls of 2ply recycled, 400 sheets per roll.
Serious Tissues makes 3ply toilet paper from recycled paper in the UK, packaged in a recycled cardboard box. There is no mention of whether chlorine is used to bleach the paper on their website. They also plant 1 tree for every roll sold. €21 for 18 rolls. (33m length, 280 sheets per roll)
Econatural is a brand of 2ply toilet paper made from the recycled cellulose fibres present in beverage cartons that is Ecolabel certified. It comes wrapped in ‘recyclable’ soft plastic, which isn’t currently collected in Ireland for recycling. There is no mention of what bleaching agents are used to make this product, which is made by the Italian company Fibrecraft and sold through a variety of outlets in Ireland. including Hunt Office, Ecoland, Down to Earth Materials, and Lilly’s Eco Clean. €5 for 8 rolls. 27.5m length, 250 sheets per roll.
Memo offers 3ply toilet paper made from unbleached recycled paper, which they say is vegan although no certification was visible on the website. Their product received the German Blue Angel award for environmentally friendly products. Their toilet paper comes wrapped in soft plastic packaging. €3.40 – €5 for 8 rolls. 30m length, 250 sheets per roll.
Tesco own brand of FSC certified toilet paper is made from recycled paper and comes in paper packaging. €2.96 for 9 rolls. 27.5m length, 220 sheets per roll
Aldi also has a 2ply toilet paper made from recycled paper in compostable plastic packaging branded as Nature Soft. €2.69 for 9 rolls. 21.5m length, 250 sheets per roll
Who Gives a Crap sells 3 ply toilet paper made from either bamboo or recycled paper, which it packs in bulk (24 or 48) in pretty wrappers, in cardboard boxes sent using carbon neutral shipping. They’re also a B corp and donate 50% of their profits to build toilets in countries that need them. They still use a small amount of chlorine to bleach their products. €30 for 24 rolls of recycled. €34 for 24 rolls of bamboo. 37m length, 370 sheets per roll,
A Good Company is a Swedish based B corp selling FSC and vegan certified 2 and 3ply bamboo paper in paper packaging, packed in plastic-free cardboard boxes. They say their toilet roll is made with a close loop system that requires no chemicals, and they’ve replaced the inner carboard tube with bamboo paper. €52 for 48 wrapped 3 ply rolls, 3ply with 370 sheets per roll. €35 for 48 unwrapped 2ply rolls, 450 sheets per roll.
Cheeky Panda is certified vegan bamboo 3ply toilet paper made in a factory in China that makes their toilet paper converts steam to energy and recycles the water used in production. They also say that the bamboo they use is FSC certified and grown organically, although no organic certification was visible on the website. They say they don’t use harsh chemicals but don’t specifically mention if they use chlorine to bleach their paper. Their bulk orders are packaged in a cardboard box sealed with paper tape, but their supermarket offerings are wrapped in oxy-degradable packaging, which is neither recyclable nor compostable. The company offsets the carbon they generate by donating to The World Land Trust, Whale & Dolphin Conservation & Toilet Twinning. €24 for 24 rolls. (24m length, 200 sheets per roll)
The Good Roll (See above)
Plastic-free Virgin Paper
Archie and Lizzy are an Irish company selling Eco Comfort, a 2 ply toilet paper, made in Ireland that is plastic, chlorine, fragrance and bleach free. Their FSC certified boxes are made in Cavan, their plant-based tape in Nottinghamshire and wrappers in Leeds. They are a member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, an alliance of companies and organisations trying to reduce plastic use. The participate in beach clean up and donate to The Ocean Cleanup. €20 for 27 rolls. 22m length, 200 sheets per roll.
The brand Nicky has paper-packaged virgin paper toilet roll, and another that comes without inner tubes!
Aldi and Lidl also have paper-packaged virgin paper toilet roll.
Before you go ….
Not only do I want you to consider not only changing your toilet paper brand to something more sustainable, I also want you to consider reducing it.
Some households have given up toilet roll completely for some bathroom visits! These families use something called family cloth, which simply put are just sections of hemmed fabric used for no 1s and put in a sealed container for washing at the end of the day. We wouldn’t put a wash on every day so I’m not sure I’m up to that but if someone uses cloth nappies it might make lot of sense.
You may not be ready to give up toilet paper completely but it doesn’t mean you can’t cut down on it. One way to do that is to wash with water before using toilet paper just to dry.
You can do this with a dedicated bidet or you have a bidet fitting retrofitted to your toilet like this one from the aptly named bumgun!
There are also alternative designs that works inside the bowl like that from Boss Bidet.
Now there’s plenty of food for thought this Friday morning. Enjoy.