A Shopper’s Guide to Home Tissue Products
By Patrick Rogers
In the U.S., we consume more than 15 billion pounds of tissue each year—more than 50 pounds per person. It's taking a major toll on forests like the Canadian boreal.
Few people give much thought to how their toilet paper is made. And to be fair, there's nothing particularly engaging in the backstory of this industrially produced, single-use paper product. But it's important to remember that many toilet paper products equal trees—and we flush them down the drain at an alarming rate. Each year, vast swaths of forest are logged to produce the wood pulp that gets turned into toilet paper, with the final product chemically bleached to whiten and soften.
In fact, tissue products—facial tissues, paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper—are the fastest-growing sector of the international paper industry, with production forecast to rise by 6 percent annually through 2022. In the U.S., we consume more than 15 billion pounds of tissue each year. That means we currently buy, use, and flush about 20 percent of the world's supply of tissue products, even though we account for just over 4 percent of the world's population.
To see the devastating impact of this market, U.S. consumers need only look north of the Canadian border to the great boreal forest that rings the continent in green, which is being felled at an alarming rate, in part to satisfy the global appetite for tissue. Logging crews mostly clear-cut 28 million acres of woodland between 1996 and 2015, an area roughly the size of Ohio, according to NRDC's report The Issue With Tissue: How Americans Are Flushing Our Forests Down the Toilet.
This logging destroys and degrades wildlife habitat, threatens the lands and way of life of indigenous peoples, and robs the planet of one of its most important defenses against climate change. "The boreal is a massive storehouse of carbon that has accumulated in its soils and vegetation over millennia," said the report's author, Jennifer Skene, an environmental law fellow in NRDC's International Program. "When it is released because of logging, it has devastating ramifications for global efforts to mitigate climate change."
Only by using alternatives to tissue products made with virgin wood pulp can we begin to reverse the destruction of the Canadian boreal and other forests, Skene said, who points out that "Many people are not aware of the toll tissue takes on our forests." Here's how you can be part of the solution.
Shop for Sustainability
Fortunately, there are plenty of competitively priced varieties of tissue with minimal impact on forests. The Issue With Tissue report's scorecard assigns grades to all the major brands of toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissues, as well as popular house brands at leading supermarkets and brands that have adopted more sustainable practices.
Leading the scoreboard are six products — Green Forest, 365 Everyday Value 100% Recycled, Earth First, Natural Value, Seventh Generation and Trader Joe's Bath Tissue — that are made entirely of recycled material and use a chlorine-free bleaching process that does less harm to the environment than other methods. Grades of A go to toilet papers that contain the most postconsumer recycled content; this means that most of their materials have already been processed once and therefore reduce waste. (The alternative, preconsumer recycled content, is largely scrap and excess raw material collected during the manufacturing process. While it is far preferable to virgin forest fiber, it does less to offset waste than postconsumer recycled content.) The brands that get an A "have looked into the impact of their products and are embracing alternative materials that will allow us to continue using tissue products with a fraction of the environmental cost," Skene said.
Think Twice Before Buying These Products
Brands that get an F in the scorecard — including Charmin Ultra, Angel Soft, Quilted Northern and Up & Up Soft & Strong — rely entirely on virgin forest fiber for their products. These tissue products have three times the carbon footprint of those made from recycled paper; many also use dangerous bleaching processes. You may notice that the label "FSC certified" appears on some of these brands. While the Forest Stewardship Council is the world's most creditable independent certifier of responsibly managed forests and provides an important set of standards for products that require the use of wood (like lumber), there is no reason tissue products should be made from trees in the first place, Skene said.
Give Your Household Tissue Use More Consideration
Next time you reach for a package of facial tissue at the supermarket, visualize a majestic evergreen spruce or fir in the forest. "Something that we use once and throw away should not be destroying a vital part of our earth," said Shelley Vinyard, who oversees NRDC's work encouraging corporations to establish stronger protections for Canada's boreal forest. In the bathroom, use paper tissue products with reusable materials that get the job done. Keep rags beside your sink and use them as much as possible instead of paper towels. Replace paper napkins with cloth versions, and instead of one-and-done facial tissues, rely on handkerchiefs and washcloths that can be laundered and reused indefinitely.
Despite the steady degradation of the boreal forest, the leading tissue brands stubbornly maintain a business-as-usual approach to the manufacture and marketing of paper tissue products. Charmin, Bounty, Kleenex and other brands continue to manufacture tissue using methods that have changed little since the 19th century, still relying entirely on virgin wood pulp. Meanwhile, they have vast research and development budgets that they could leverage to create soft, strong recycled tissue products. "The companies themselves have said people aren't calling for this," said Vinyard. You can help change the manufacturers' minds by letting them know your concerns about wood pulp from Canada's boreal forest—nearly 60 percent of which is shipped to the United States annually.
"It's all about where responsibility lies," said Vinyard. "Consumers can create the demand for recycled content, but really it's up to major companies with large R&D budgets to innovate and figure out how to make a product that is appealing to shoppers and doesn't destroy our forests."
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By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.
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By Gianna-Carina Grün
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