How to choose more sustainable toilet paper

How to choose more sustainable toilet paper

. 7 min read

The world’s most expensive toilet paper

If you were a billionaire with money to flush away, what would you wipe your bum with?

You could use actual paper money — but it might be hard to flush.

Or you could use 22-carat-gold toilet paper, which was a thing — and existed until some supposed billionaire went and bought it.

It was created by Australian company, Toilet Paper Man and was inspired by the gold toilets found in some hotels in Dubai.

The single 3-ply roll was painstakingly inlaid with flakes of real gold. It took four years to make. And, despite sounding like an outlandish art project, it was 100% usable.

It was put on sale for an eye-popping $1,376,900.00, which, at the time, was around £825,000. The roll eventually sold and was delivered personally to the buyer, along with a bottle of champagne.

The toilet paper we buy every day may not cost hundreds of thousands of pounds — but it is costing the earth.

Thankfully, most people prefer more sustainable toilet paper — or, in some cases, no toilet paper at all.

Not all countries use toilet paper

It’s estimated that only 30% of the world’s population uses toilet paper. The other 70% use either water or soft leaves.

In India, for example, toilet paper isn’t used much outside hotels and tourist spots. Locals clean themselves with water, which they consider much more hygienic.

In parts of Europe, bidets are commonly used in homes. And Japan has these amazing high-tech toilets, which combine a toilet, a bidet and a sink that recycles your hand-washing water for the next flush.

Using water is generally considered to be more efficient than wiping. But as this option hasn’t yet taken off in the UK, toilet roll is very much still on our shopping lists. We just love Andrex.

The environmental impact of toilet paper

The average UK consumer gets through around 127 toilet rolls every year. Between us, that adds up to a whopping 1.3 million tonnes.

But what many consumers don’t seem to realise, is just how much of our toilet paper is made from virgin wood pulp. This means trees have to be cut down to make it.

In the UK alone, we get through 7 million trees worth of toilet paper every year. One tree produces 800–1500 toilet rolls — depending on the size of the tree and the quality/length of the roll.

If those trees aren’t grown sustainably, this is contributing to mass deforestation and the destruction of animal habitats.

This is something that should concern us all.

So how can we, as consumers, choose more sustainable toilet paper?

In this guide, we’ll give you the information you need and tell you what you need to look for.

Choose plastic-free toilet paper

If you want to buy more environmentally friendly toilet paper, start by looking at the packaging it comes in.

What is plastic-free toilet paper?

When we talk about plastic-free toilet paper, this means it hasn’t been packaged in plastic film.

In the UK we use around 5 million tonnes of plastic every year — and nearly half of that is packaging. Rather than being recycled, most of this plastic is shipped abroad where it ends up in landfills or polluting the waterways.

You’ll find most supermarket toilet paper is still packed in plastic. If there’s no other option, you can check that the film is recyclable and make sure you recycle it according to the instructions.

Choose recycled toilet paper

If you want to be sure that no trees were harmed in the making of your toilet paper, one of the best ways is to buy recycled.

How is recycled toilet paper made?

Despite what some people say, recycled toilet paper is not made from used toilet paper. That would be gross!

Instead, it’s mostly made from used white and coloured office paper. The waste paper is shredded and made into bales. The bales are then taken to the toilet paper factory.

At the factory, the paper is mixed with lukewarm water and pulped.

The wet pulped paper is then injected with air. This makes all the ink rise to the top, so it can be skimmed off and removed.

The next step is to remove the water. This is done by squeezing the pulp through heavy rollers. At this point, the pulp is a murky grey colour, so some manufacturers treat it with bleach to whiten it.

The pulp is then spread onto a flat screen and run through a dryer. This is where it turns from pulp into thin paper. It can then be rolled onto large spools and embossed.

Embossing patterns into the paper doesn’t just make it look pretty, it also makes it thicker, stronger and more absorbent.

The embossed paper can then be rolled onto a long cardboard inner tubes and sliced into individual rolls.

How to choose recycled toilet paper

The best recycled toilet paper you can buy is 100% recycled — and it should say this on the packaging.

If you can’t find 100% recycled toilet paper, you can check the packaging to find out what you’re buying.

Look for FSC labelling

FSC is short for the Forestry Stewardship Council. This is a non-profit organisation that’s committed to ensuring high standards in forestry.

You’ll find that most toilet roll packaging has the FSC Mix label. This means the product has been made from a mixture of virgin wood pulp and recycled materials. Some of that virgin wood pulp will be from well-managed FSC-certified forests — but not all of it.

Some of the pulp is also from sources that are thought to be low risk, but haven’t actually been certified.

What if there’s no labelling?

If your toilet roll packaging doesn’t tell you what the paper is made from or where it comes from, this is usually a bad sign. It suggests that the paper is made from virgin wood pulp — and that the trees used to make it were not from sustainable sources.

Choose unbleached toilet paper

Bleach is used to whiten, strengthen and soften our toilet paper.

For many brands, the bleaching process uses a form of chlorine. But this produces highly toxic dioxins and pollutants, which are harmful to both the environment and our health.

Recycled toilet paper typically requires less bleaching than virgin tree fibres.

If you want to choose unbleached toilet paper, and other unbleached paper products, you need to check the label. Here’s what to look for:

Processed Chlorine-Free (PCF)

This is the best option available. It shows that no chlorine is used in the processing or bleaching of the paper.

Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF)

This shows that no chlorine is used to bleach the paper. So there are no dioxins or chlorinated toxic pollutants involved.

Instead, the paper is bleached using oxygen, peroxide and ozone systems.

Elemental Chlorine-Free (EFC)

This process uses a chlorine compound. It reduces dioxides, but doesn’t eliminate them completely.

Choose bamboo toilet paper

If you want to buy a more sustainable toilet paper, bamboo could be the future.

One of the main problems with using virgin wood pulp is the amount of time it takes for trees to grow. This can be anything from 10 to 30 years, depending on the type of tree, the climate it’s grown in and its access to water.

But as bamboo is a grass, it’s regrowth is much, much quicker. In fact, bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants on earth. One particular species of bamboo can grow up to 4cm an hour — so fast you can almost see it growing!

Using bamboo is more eco-friendly than using trees. It can be grown sustainably and harvested regularly. And a bamboo plantation takes up much less space than a forest.

How is bamboo toilet paper made?

Raw bamboo is cut from the plantation and taken for processing.

At the factory, it’s pulped, then passed through giant rollers that flatten it and turn it into toilet paper.

Like virgin wood, the bamboo is versatile and can be used to make the toilet paper itself, the inner tubes and the outer packaging.

Does bamboo toilet paper break down?

Yes. Bamboo toilet paper breaks down fully, quickly and naturally in water. So it won’t block your toilet or clog up your pipes.

Is bamboo toilet paper better?

Bamboo is a naturally soft and strong product, so it doesn’t need treating or bleaching with chemicals.

And its natural softness makes it kinder to your bum than recycled toilet paper, which can sometimes be rough and scratchy!

Ready to buy more sustainable toilet paper?

Bother is always on the lookout for more sustainable toilet paper brands and we’re currently stocking recycled toilet paper made by Who Gives a Crap.

Who Gives a Crap is an ethical brand that makes its toilet rolls from 100% recycled books and office paper.

This 3-ply toilet paper is soft, strong and — as it comes in double-length rolls — very, very long! No inks, dyes or scents are used to make the paper, so it’s skin-friendly and kind to your bum.

What’s more, Who Gives a Crap donates 50% of its profits to building more toilets for people who really need them. Proper toilets help communities to dispose of their human waste properly and without polluting waterways. They also give people a safe and private place to do their business.

If you’d like to support the work of this amazing brand and get some classy toilet paper for your bathroom, you can buy Who Gives a Crap here.