Here at The Optimist Daily, we have already discussed the negative environmental impact of destroying forests to produce single-use paper products like toilet paper. For years now, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been urging consumers to switch to more sustainable alternatives to traditional toilet paper such as rolls made of recycled paper, bamboo, or better yet, ditching paper altogether and opting for a bidet.
If you’re not quite ready to trade in your rolls for a bidet and want to know which alternative is the most eco-friendly, keep reading.
Bamboo toilet paper – Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world (the average conifer takes a year to grow one foot, while bamboo can experience the same growth in a single hour) and can thrive in a variety of climates. They don’t take up as much space as boreal forests, don’t require the use of fertilizers or pesticides, and don’t need to be replanted once harvested.
Bamboo toilet paper is usually 100 percent biodegradable and will decompose at a much faster rate than regular or recycled options, which sometimes take many years to fully degrade. However, this does not mean bamboo is necessarily the most eco-friendly option.
Bamboo is largely imported from Asia, which adds to its environmental impact, and the NRDC notes in its 2019 report that hardwood forests are being cleared to make room for bamboo plantations. If you decide to purchase bamboo products of any kind, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo to ensure that it comes from “responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits”.
Recycled toilet paper – The NRDC states that recycling paper into bathroom tissue uses less water and energy and produces less air and water pollution than toilet paper manufactured from timber. Unfortunately, many brands will mislead consumers into thinking that their products are comprised of more recycled material than they actually are. Be sure to note whether a brand is entirely recycled, or just partially.
Bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxin that can disrupt the reproductive systems of aquatic wildlife when flushed down the toilet, has also been detected in recycled toilet paper, making some environmentalists wary of promoting it wholeheartedly.
So, which is better? – Bamboo is found to be healthier for your skin, but the NRDC says that recycled toilet paper currently has a lower environmental impact. This is because bamboo is often planted on deforested land and doesn’t promote biodiversity as hardwood does. All this, on top of the carbon emissions from importing bamboo from Asia, makes recycled toilet paper the better choice right now, but at the end of the day either is better than your traditional roll, so if you’re looking to make a sustainable switch, check out our guide to sustainable toilet paper makers.