I once saw this TED talk by William McDonough. In it he gave a pretty damn good reason for us to avoid consumption of paper products, and it was this:
"if you look at a tree and think of it as a design assignment, it would be like asking you to make something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, provides habitat for hundreds of species, accrues solar energy's fuels, makes complex sugars and food, changes colours with the seasons, creates microclimates, and self-replicates ... but by all means ... lets cut it down so we can write on it".
Worse than writing on it, we wipe our bits and butts with it, which according to Greenpeace is worse for the environment than buying an SUV. In America, 98% of toilet roll sold come from virgin woods due to the country's insistence on having extra-soft, quilted, multi-ply. This, despite the fact that toilet paper can be made at a similar cost from recycled material.
If sole reason whole forests are being cut down is for our privileged asses to have that 'plush' feel toilet paper marketers have convinced us we need, then we need to identify what within us allows us to be swayed to heightening the importance of commercialised comfort over conscious consumption.
On Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, luxury toilet paper (I believe) falls into the 'esteem' category. The prestige of having it, and the feeling of accomplishment achieved by being able to afford it / havae our guests use it. In the end, we support deforestation because our ego tells us to. So much so that The New York Times reported a 40% rise in sales of luxury brands of toilet paper in 2008.
Just so we fully understand the impact, ONE tree makes about 1,000 rolls of toilet paper ... Americans use an average of 7 billion rolls per year (twice as much as Europeans, because, portions, probably)... so that's 7 million trees for America's asses alone ... never mind the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, the nasties don't even stop there. Toilet paper industries use chlorine and chlorine dioxide to bleach out the wood. This process creates cancer-causing chemicals such as dioxins and furans, which fly up into the air and spread themselves around. For toilet paper production workers, the people living in the surrounding communities of the mill, and you, this is a health concern. Low levels of exposure have been linked to many health problems such as cancer, hormone imbalances, immune system impairments, reproductive issues and birth defects. Because the chemicals found in bleach cannot be excreted by our bodies, they just accumulate, creating a ticking time bomb.
[RECYCLED UNBLEACHED TOILET PAPER]
Buy, and only buy, toilet paper made from recycled materials (ideally wrapped in recycled paper instead of plastic). There is usually at least one option at every grocery store, especially in North America. Or , you can buy in bulk on AMAZON HERE. But for the sake of our planet and our oxygen, rally up that activist roar in you and stop voting with your dollar for deforestation.
[INSTALL A BIDET]
There are bidet's you can install onto your toilet which eliminates the need for toilet paper at all. I've lived in Europe over ten years now and I can't say my experiences with them are my most joyous of life, but in the interest of saving trees I might go ahead and give them another go. Apartment Therapy has a list of which bidets they think are best HERE. Apparently, Toto Washlet, which you can get on Amazon HERE, is king.
[REUSABLE TOILET PAPER]
I'm not there yet, I've got to admit. For sure, with pee, since it is already sterilised, I could consider it, but the rest of the business, I don't think so, not unless there was some sort of pick up and delivery deal like the ones for cloth diapers. That said, there are some people trying it out and loving it, here's a Youtube video of someone braver (and greener) than I. All you'd need are some reusable wipes (I'd recommend getting organic reusable baby wipes HERE). I can't really see me going for this. But you can watch this Youtube video of someone who's trying!
Photos: Design Love Fest