Posted on: March 10, 2020 at 11:26 am
Last updated: July 26, 2020 at 10:54 am

Toilet paper – you probably use it multiple times per day, but have you ever stopped to consider the impact it has on the environment? In the United States, the average person uses around fifty pounds of toilet paper every year, which adds up to a lot of waste [1]. Fortunately, hemp toilet paper could help reduce the impact that our toilet paper use has on the planet.

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The Environmental Impact of Toilet Paper

Most of the toilet paper used in the United States is made with wood pulp from Canada’s boreal forest. The amount of toilet paper being processed every year, and therefore the number of trees being used, has had a massive impact on these forests, which has created negative consequences for Indigenous Peoples, wildlife, and the global climate [2].

The Canadian boreal forest is the largest intact forest in the world and is home to many species including the boreal caribou, Canada lynx, and American marten, as well as over six hundred indigenous communities. 

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The forest also plays an important role in the fight against climate change, through its ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere [2]. 

While it is possible to use recycled fibers for the purpose of toilet paper, many of the world’s biggest brands are opting instead to cut down trees to produce “virgin” paper.

There is no need to cut down forests to make toilet roll, yet this is precisely what is happening,” said Alex Crumbie to The Guardian, a researcher for Ethical Consumer [3].

Softwood trees make the best, softest toilet paper. Pine and Spruce trees are most commonly used for toilet paper, and Canada’s forests are filled with them. The toilet paper industry has left many forests barren and unable to recover, and the amount of water and energy required to process a tree into toilet paper is extremely high.

It also takes a shockingly large amount of bleach, formaldehyde, and organochlorines to improve the strength, softness, and color [4].

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What Have Other Companies Done?

The Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) and Stand.earth recently put out a report ranking toilet paper brands in terms of sustainability. Unfortunately, the biggest and most popular brands were the ones that scored the lowest. Charmin, Kirkland Signature, and Angel Soft, among others, received an “F”. 

Interestingly, Whole Foods in-house brand 365 Everyday Value’s Sustainably Soft received a D, along with Cottonelle, Scott, and Trader Joe’s Super Soft bath tissue [5].

Proctor and Gamble is the maker of the leading toilet paper brand in America, and the report found that they don’t use any recycled material in their products. Shelly Vinyard, a boreal corporate campaign manager for the NRDC believes that the company has the resources to lead the industry in terms of sustainability. 

“Procter & Gamble has the innovation resources to bring Charmin into the 21st century; the question is whether the company will embrace its reputation as an innovator to create sustainable products using recycled material instead of clear-cut trees,” said Vinyard [5].

There are, however, some brands that received top marks. Green Forest, 365 Everyday Value’s Bath Tissue (Whole Foods’ other in-house variety), Natural Value, Earth First, Seventh Generation, and Trader Joe’s Bath Tissue (the store’s other in-house variety) all received an A-grade, because they manufacture their toilet paper from recycled material [5].

Read: Stop Throwing Away Empty Paper Towel Rolls, Here’s 11 Ways to Reuse Them Around the House

Hemp Could Be the Answer

Hemp has a multitude of uses, and now the environmentally-friendly fiber could be the solution to America’s toilet paper problem.

Commercially grown hemp does not require any pesticides to grow, uses very little water, and has the ability to balance out the nutrients in the soil. A hemp plant can also be harvested in as little as seventy days, as opposed to trees which require several years [6].

Hemp also produces four times more cellulose fibers than per acre compared with trees [9] and has one of the world’s best biomasses, capable of growing up to six tonnes of hemp per acre of land when growing high fiber yeild varieties [7][11].

Hemp is cheaper to manufacture than regular toilet paper and is more biodegradable than any other tissue paper [6]. Hemp paper can also be recycled 7-8 times whereas wood pulp paper can only be done 3 times [10].

Read: Scientists Use Recycled Sewage Water to Grow a Forest in the Middle of Desert

The Downside to Hemp Toilet Paper

While hemp is generally considered to be better than cutting down trees, it is not necessarily a perfect solution. It is important, of course, that the hemp being used is sourced sustainably and does not negatively impact forests. 

While hemp can typically be grown without pesticides, herbicides, or irrigation, it does require more fertilizers, as well as greater amounts of chemical additives during processing, than other alternative fibers. It’s environmental impact, however, is still less than that of cutting down trees for virgin fibers [8].

What Other Fibres are Available?

Hemp toilet paper isn’t the only eco friendly option. There are other companies, such as Who Gives a Crap and Tushy, that are making toilet paper out of bamboo, which is a very sustainable option because a single bamboo shoot can grow up to 39 inches in a single day [5].

Another option is to use a bidet, which can reduce the amount of toilet paper you use, and there is also a company called Family Cloth, who are making a reusable cloth toilet paper, for those who are extremely committed to cutting back their toilet paper use [5].

Read: This Community College Student Made A Boat Out Of Mushrooms And Sailed It Down A River

What Hemp Toilet Paper Brands are Available Right Now?

Unfortunately, there are not a tonne of companies yet who are manufacturing hemp toilet paper. HempSoSoft and Hempies are available in the United States, and both companies are committed to sustainability and lowering their environmental impact [7].

As a consumer, you have the power to influence larger companies to change their manufacturing practices and transition to more sustainable production methods. It is important to educate yourself on the brands that are currently using more environmentally-friendly practices and purchase their products over the competitors.

You can also speak out, and urge large corporations like Procter and Gamble, who are responsible for the manufacturing of Charmin toilet paper, to transition to using recycled materials, and more sustainable fibers.

We need to stop using materials that are destructive to our planet, and it is important that large corporations, who have the most resources, lead the way.

Keep Reading: Company Collects 80% of City’s Recyclable Plastics and Turns It All into Lumber

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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