Are you Wiping with Rainforest Trees?

November 1, 2011

This is a post from my friend Marcie Barnes which is cross-posted on her site, greenetarians.com.

You’ve probably heard of the the concerns that come along with the destruction of rainforests and other ancient swaths of virgin ecosystems. Among these include: loss of biodiversity (there is a long list of the things that are lost here), loss of carbon-sequestering trees and other plants, and loss of species that depend on those habitats.

…more than 80 percent of the Earth’s natural forests already have been destroyed. Up to 90 percent of West Africa’s coastal rain forests have disappeared since 1900. Brazil and Indonesia, which contain the world’s two largest surviving regions of rain forest, are being stripped at an alarming rate by logging, fires, and land-clearing for agriculture and cattle-grazing. – National Geographic

These are sobering statistics for any good treehugger, and should be for any human citizen of the Earth. But what is quite alarming is the reason behind all of this deforestation. One may naturally assume that trees are used for timber, which we need to build structures to house ourselves. That indeed is one use, but according to mongabay.com – the reasons are many:

  • wood for both timber and making fires;
  • agriculture for both small and large farms;
  • land for poor farmers who don’t have anywhere else to live;
  • grazing land for cattle;
  • pulp for making paper;
  • road construction; and
  • extraction of minerals and energy.

(There is also a large market for palm oil which is widely used as a food ingredient – most notably in cookies and candy).

Of course the focus of this article is #4 – pulp for making paper – which of course includes paper for such things as textbooks, printed materials, paper plates, napkins, towels, diapers, and of course, toilet paper.

Now out of all these things, most of which can be justified as necessities in American culture, it’s the use of paper products for hygiene (namely paper towels and toilet paper) that make the least amount of sense, especially in light of the fact that one is essentially using a tree to wipe themselves. Why? According to wikipedia.org, humans have used things such as “rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone, sand, moss, water, snow, maize [corn cobs], ferns, may apple plant husks, fruit skins, or seashells” [not to mention water] for this task. Although “the first documented use of toilet paper in human history dates back to the 6th century AD, in early medieval China,” it appears that this practice was generally considered as non-hygenic.

It is obvious that corporate marketing has made this option much more desirable in the last 100 years.

Okay okay we hear you laughing – “I’m not going to wipe my butt with corn cobs!” and we understand…

So in the true spirit of what greenetarians is all about, we offer you this. Sure, toilet paper is a great (and convenient) invention that few of us would be willing to part with. Our ask is this, if you do one thing, please purchase 100% recycled paper products at every opportunity possible, and recycle as much paper in your own home and office as possible. Based on our research, the “big” brands you are familiar with, such as Charmin, Cottonelle (and their paper towel counterparts Bounty and Viva) are virgin-wood products and should be avoided at all costs. Many times, we found the prices (and comfort level, trust us) to be very similar with the exception of when the “big” brands go on sale, which unfortunately, doesn’t seem to happen very often with the recycled brands.

This Shopper’s Guide from the National Resources Defense Council asks you to avoid those brands and explains why.


Charmin toilet paper on sale beats the price of the 100% recycled brand, but the normal price of this Charmin pack is $7.19. Resist the urge to buy virgin paper on sale and use conservation techniques, such as scheduling your shower after your bathroom time, in order to use less paper.


Once again, the paper towels, on sale, are cheaper. However, the regular price of these Bounty paper towels is $8.19. In this case, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to buy a pack of cotton bar towels to use in the kitchen, which you can easily toss in the wash with your regular laundry.

When it comes to other paper products, it’s important (and confusing) to buy products made from sustainably-sourced or 100% recycled paper. Stay tuned for next week’s post in which we will delve more deeply into the (sadly) mind-boggling world of paper trade and certification.

Modified photo credit goes to creativezazz on flickr.com

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