How The Lorax Influenced My Recycled Toilet Paper Dilemma

Recycled toilet paper has been used in the bathrooms of my humble home for many years now. Having read some statistics a while ago on the negative environmental impact virgin fiber toilet paper has on the number of trees that grace this earth, recycled TP seemed a no-brainer.

I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.

The truth is we couldn’t exist without trees. Putting aside their lovelier aspects such as providing shade, animal habitat, fruit and beauty,

  • Trees produce oxygen. One mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.
  • Forests serve as giant filters that clean the air we breath by intercepting and retaining airborne particles, reducing heat, and absorbing such pollutants as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
  • Trees clean the soil, absorbing dangerous chemicals and other pollutants that enter the soil, either storing them or actually changing the pollutants into less harmful forms.
  • To produce its food, a tree absorbs and locks away carbon dioxide in the wood, roots and leaves, taking it out of our atmosphere. With the imminent threat of global warming/climate change looming over our status quo lives, trees are essential to absorbing the carbon created by our current addiction to fossil fuels.

Trees are clearly essential to our lives and need to be protected. Yet recently I was having days here and there where I secretly longed for softer toilet tissue. Recycled toilet paper has come a long way, but it’s smoother than it is soft. I began to wonder what the harm would be in buying a softer brand and occasionally alternating it with 100% recycled. On my next visit to the grocery store I came upon and purchased Scott’s Naturals, which is 40% recycled. I thought this was a reasonable compromise.

Still, it wasn’t sitting easily with me. I had to do more research in order to feel at greater peace with my new TP choice. It may seem silly that I was spending this much time on a basic household product, but the Lorax was on my shoulder, and I’ve always been one to listen to the Lorax.

Well, it turns out that toilet paper is one serious environmental disaster, worse in impact, The Guardian reported, than “gas-guzzlers, fast food or McMansions.” According to  a report from the World Watch Institute, “forests in both the global North and South are under assault by paper companies competing to fill what they insist is an inexhaustible consumer demand for soft, fluffy toilet paper, which can only be manufactured from virgin fiber.” The equivalent of about 27,000 trees is flushed into landfills every day!

Oh! Baby! Oh!
How my business did grow!
Now, chopping one tree
at a time
was too slow.

According to online magazine World Science, “the boreal, or northern forest, comprises about one-third of the world’s forested area and one-third of the world’s stored carbon.” Canada’s boreal forest alone stores 23 percent of the planet’s terrestrial carbon – more carbon per acre than any other ecosystem on earth, including tropical forests. That’s an amazing percentage!

The paper industry is devouring these ancient forests and some in the industry are replacing them with “tree plantations” as if that were an even trade. But it’s not. Just as the Once-ler took all the Truffula Trees away from the Barb-ba-loots, the clean air from the Swomee-Swans and the clean water from the Humming-Fish forcing them to leave for any chance of survival, so too do we permanently destroy complex, critical biodiversity when we clear-cut forests.

And tree plantations have a horrible impact on the environment. In addition to displacing indigenous plant and animal life, they require tremendous amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and soak up huge quantities of water, which, by the way, is a finite resource that is getting all the more finite with each passing day.

Here’s where I confess that I have been buying Scott’s facial tissues. I buy recycled toilet paper, paper towels and printer paper, but I find recycled facial tissues too scratchy for my delicate nostrils. Scott advertises on the box that they plant three trees for every one cut down. “That’s great!” I thought. I bought into the concept of tree plantations without knowing what that meant. I had a talk with my nostrils and decided that we need to incorporate recycled facial tissues into our nose-blowing repertoire. Gratefully, they didn’t turn their nose up at the idea.

Tim Spring, CEO of Marcal, a U.S. company that has been making recycled toilet paper (using nothing but recovered fiber) for over 50 years, said “Sixty percent of all paper manufactured ends up in landfills, only 40 percent is recaptured for further use. We throw away enough paper to make toilet paper for a lifetime.”

And check this out. According to the University of Colorado’s Environmental Center, one ton of recycled paper saves 3,700 pounds of lumber and 24,000 gallons of water; uses 64 percent less energy and 50 percent less water to produce; creates 74 percent less air pollution; saves 17 trees; and creates five times more jobs than one ton of paper products from virgin wood pulp. Though these figures are about paper products overall, it’s a big statement against virgin toilet paper, if you ask me.

Yet soft, fluffy, state-of-the-art toilet paper marches on. “Kimberly Clark is the international industry giant driving the market – a global market it claims is clamoring for the softest, most absorbent, thickest toilet paper, which can only be manufactured from virgin fiber.”

I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered my loads…

I went right on biggering…selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.

But at what cost? At the end of The Lorax, the Once-ler, who was responsible for cutting all the Truffula Trees down in the first place, gives the young boy the last Truffula Tree seed and says,

You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.

Dr. Suess was providing a hopeful message that says we have it in us to reverse the destruction that irresponsibility has caused. But, in reality, if we cut down the old-growth forests and replace them with tree plantations, the chances are slim that “all of his friends may come back.”

Is it worth it to let this go on, or is it best to lower our standards of comfort on some things so that trees can do what trees do best – help protect our air, soil and essential biodiversity? I’m going back to recycled toilet paper, with a small supply of 40% recycled tucked away for the days I need it. Same goes for facial tissues. It’s what the Lorax would want me to do and, as I said, I’ve always been one to listen to the Lorax.

3 responses to “How The Lorax Influenced My Recycled Toilet Paper Dilemma

  1. Lisa-fantastic article. I really liked how you formatted this piece and it is very persuasive. I’ve been wondering about this topic for awhile and I think I can find a reasonable recycled and ditch the Scott. But, I agree, I’ll keep a “forest-eating” box of Kleenex for allergy season!!! Great job. Please post this to eco-moms–we’d all love!!

  2. ::One should always listen to the Lorax. I will step up my game and go out of my way to get the 100% recycled instead of the 40%.

  3. Thanks for tuning into the TP scene, Sheila, and for passing the article along. It is amazing to see how such a basic household item has such a profound impact on the functioning of Earth’s critical life-sustaining systems. Live and learn!

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