Toilet paper could wipe us off the face of the earth 

Deforestation threatens environment, reducing toilet paper production could help

Easterly Yeaman 

Staff Writer

Two hundred seventy thousand trees are cut down every day to accommodate for the amount of toilet paper the world uses. According to an article in the Calgary Herald by Paul Hanley, this alone accounts for 15 percent of deforestation, which has an adverse effect on the environment. Carbon is released from the soil, and there are less trees to absorb that carbon.

ESD contributes to these statistics. As a community of around 1,400, the school requires close to 3,600 rolls of toilet paper every year. Recently, alternatives to using trees have been introduced and may help reduce this impact. However, the demand for plush toilet paper restricts any real change.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an organization that advocates for safeguarding “the Earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends,” published that the Canadian Boreal forest provides toilet paper for most big name brands in the U.S. They use a process called clear cutting which takes all the trees down in a certain area leaving a barren landscape. This forest is one of the most carbon-dense in the world, and holds  twice as much carbon in its soil than the world’s oil reserves. The cutting down of trees in this area alone releases 26 million tons of carbon annually. In addition, 25 million acres of forest, the size of Kentucky, have been cut for logging, reducing trees that absorb carbon.

“Trees take time to grow, so if you plant them, you have to wait a long time before you’re able to harvest them,” Physics teacher Matt Varvir said. “Even if every tree cut down you plant one, that’s still gonna have an adverse effect on the ecosystem.”

Plush toilet paper and tissue paper are very popular, especially in the U.S., but they are produced from trees that are centuries old. While some companies such as Cottonelle® and Scott® have taken steps to decrease the effect they have on the environment, customers still want that luxurious paper which requires the cutting down and grinding of old trees.

“That obviously is an issue because if you’re getting rid of [older trees] you can’t replace them unless you choose to wait thousands of years, which is not helping us right now,” Varvir said. “Those trees have a lot more connections with and are a lot more supportive of the ecosystems around them. You’re removing a lot of the history of the ecosystem which can have an adverse effect.”

Toilet paper produced by trees releases its remaining carbon into the atmosphere, making its impact three times worse than toilet paper made from recycled materials. Using recycled materials or a virgin pulp doesn’t require trees. In Japan they use “washi” as a paper additive which comes from rice, hemp, bamboo and wheat.

“ESD should look into using brands that use recycled toilet paper so we can reduce our impact as a community, though it might be difficult to make such a change,” Environmental Awareness Club president senior Camille Greening said. “More big name companies should promote and use recycled materials instead of trees.”

Some companies are starting to take action. The parent company of Kleenex®, Cottenelle® and Scott®, Kimberly-Clark, has not only acknowledged their corporation’s impact on the environment, but has also taken steps to reduce that impact. Kimberly-Clark has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent no later than the year 2030. This includes the reduction of the organization’s carbon footprint in places like the Boreal forest, where there are high-carbon values.

“They may have some sort of detailed plan, but even if they do, unfortunately, with their products there’s always going to be some deforestation involved,” Varvir said. “So I would imagine that unless you’re gonna change stuff up in the manufacturing process there’s really not a lot they can do on that front.”

At ESD, the brand of toilet paper used comes from Georgia-Pacific. The company promotes a commitment to sustainability, stating on their website: “We strive to be a preferred partner and drive continuous improvement to create sustainable outcomes that benefit society.”

“We use the proprietary product associated with our dispensers, from Georgia-Pacific,” Director of Facilities Jay Michael said. “We stock about 200 cases of toilet paper and about 150 cases of paper towels throughout the school year.”

ESD uses around 5,400,000 feet or over 1,000 miles of toilet paper each year, which is equivalent to a trip down the coast of California. That being said, it only costs about 22.5 trees to supply ESD’s toilet paper needs for a year. While it doesn’t sound that much, when evaluating the number of households in Dallas alone, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau is around 1 million, an estimate of 500,000 trees are cut down for toilet paper each year. 

“The increased use of toilet paper brands that are environmentally friendly can make a significant impact, even if it’s not huge,” Greening said. “Any small action supporting the environment is better than none at all, and we need more of that now more than ever.”

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