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The Issue With Tissue and Toilet Paper: How the U.S. Is Flushing Forests Away
By Jennifer Skene and Shelley Vinyard
For most people, toilet paper only becomes an issue when it unexpectedly runs out. Otherwise, it's cheap and it's convenient, something we don't need to think twice about. But toilet paper's ubiquity and low sticker price belie a much, much higher cost: it is taking a dramatic and irreversible toll on the Canadian boreal forest, and our global climate. As a new report from NRDC and Stand.earth outlines, when you flush that toilet paper, chances are you are flushing away part of a majestic, old-growth tree ripped from the ground, and destined for the drain. This is why NRDC is calling on Procter & Gamble, the manufacturer of Charmin, to end this wasteful and destructive practice by changing the way it makes its toilet paper through solutions that other companies have already embraced.
The Canadian boreal forest is the largest intact forest in the world, holding immense value for Indigenous Peoples, species and the climate. It is home to over 600 Indigenous communities whose cultures have remained inextricably linked to the forest for millennia, and is habitat for iconic species like the boreal caribou, Canada lynx and American marten. In addition, the forest is critical in the fight against climate change, storing the carbon equivalent of nearly twice the world's recoverable oil reserves in its soil.
Yet, this forest is under severe threat from industrial logging operations that push further into intact boreal forests each day. Between 1996 and 2015, more than 28 million acres of boreal forest were logged, an area roughly the size of Ohio. Each year, boreal logging emits hundreds of millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, dramatically accelerating the pace of climate change.
Much of this logging goes to feed global demand for tissue pulp—especially in the U.S. The Canadian boreal is a major source of northern bleached softwood kraft (NBSK) pulp, the U.S.'s most favored grade of virgin softwood pulp for tissue products. The U.S. is a particularly voracious consumer of tissue. Over the last 150 years, since toilet paper was first invented, Americans have developed an insatiable demand for these coiled white rolls. The average four-person household in the U.S. uses over 100 pounds of toilet paper a year, far outpacing the rest of the world and driving a dangerous "tree-to-toilet pipeline" whereby trees are converted into pulp, turned into toilet paper, and flushed away.
Fortunately, alternatives to the "tree-to-toilet" pipeline already exist. Tissue products made from recycled materials are far more sustainable because they do not rely on clearcutting forests and they emit one-third the greenhouse gases as tissue products made from virgin fiber.
NRDC and Stand.earth have developed the scorecard below to inform consumers of which brands lead on sustainability, and which lag behind. Companies like Seventh Generation and Natural Value have brands that perform well because they use a high percentage of recycled material. The biggest tissue producers—Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific—perform poorly because their brands like Charmin contain zero recycled content, irresponsibly relying exclusively on virgin pulp even as threats to our forests mount.
Consumers have power in their pocketbooks and can make a big difference through their toilet paper purchasing decisions. By following this scorecard, you can minimize the environmental toll your everyday toilet paper use is having on the planet. In addition, you can urge Procter & Gamble, which produces Charmin, to transition to a more responsible alternative by embracing tissue made from recycled content and sustainable alternative fibers for their at-home toilet paper.
Now, more than ever, we need to protect our remaining forests. Given toilet paper's extreme cost to Indigenous Peoples, the global climate, species and forests like the boreal, tissue companies need to act as global citizens and usher the world into a more sustainable, sensible paradigm that does not rely on trees for creating their products. Just as we need to abandon coal, plastic straws and other devastating practices, the tree-to-toilet pipeline must end. For the good of communities, species, and the climate, we cannot afford to keep flushing our vital forest ecosystems away.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Melissa Kravitz
Can't stop eating that bag of chips until you're licking the salt nestled in the corners of the empty package from your fingers? You're not alone. And it's not entirely your fault that the intended final handful of chips was not, indeed, your last for that snacking session. Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted, almost constantly craving more of whatever falsely satisfying manufactured treat is in front of us.
By Kim Knowlton
A new paper just out in The Lancet Planetary Health provides the first global indication that recent temperature increases, propelled by climate change, are in fact contributing significantly to longer and more intense pollen seasons.
EcoWatch is pleased to announce its second photo contest! Earth Day is happening on April 22nd, and this year's theme is "Protect Our Species." With that in mind, we want EcoWatchers to show us your photographs of creatures that inhabit Earth. Send us your best photos of species you value.
By Julia Conley
In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.
That's according to a new report from renewable energy analysis firm Energy Innovation, showing that about three-quarters of power produced by the nation's remaining coal plants is more expensive for American households than renewables including wind, solar and hydro power.
At least 19 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in flash flooding in the south of Iran, the country's semi-official Tasnim News Agency said. The city of Shiraz in Fars province was the worst hit by the flooding, which occurred after a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.
Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.
The Navajo Nation has decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.
A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.
A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.
For a deeper dive: