From Tissues to Toilet Paper

A forest of terms

From Tissues to Toilet Paper

Check your weekly grocery list. You’ll probably find toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels on it. These disposable products have become so common that, until recently, we didn’t give them—or the forests that were cut down to create them—much thought.

Now many of us are searching for ways to enjoy the convenience of these items without damaging the environment.

Nothing to sneeze at
One roll of toilet paper or one box of tissues doesn’t seem like much at first. Now multiply the 22 kg of tissue products consumed per person per year by 32 million people. That’s a staggering 7,000 tonnes annually.

According to Greenpeace Canada, if every household replaced just one roll of virgin-forest toilet paper with one roll of recycled paper, we’d save about 48,000 trees, 3,200 cubic metres of landfill space, and 65.5 million litres of water. Add in recycled tissues and paper towels, and we’re saving forests, preserving land and wildlife habitats, and conserving water.

If you’d like to save even more paper, consider using hankies instead of tissues, and rags or cloths instead of paper towels. They’re washable and reusable.

Vote with your wallet
One of the best ways to encourage more manufacturers to produce environmentally sustainable products is to use your buying power to support the ones that already do. Though some mainstream manufacturers have introduced green lines, many of these big, traditional companies continue to use virgin wood and wasteful processing methods. Other more innovative companies are fully committed to producing truly eco-friendly products.

Health food stores are great places to shop for these products. Look for brands that use post-consumer recycled paper. There are also recycled brands that use 80 percent less water in their manufacturing processes.

According to Greenpeace Canada, the best environmental purchase is “a recycled tissue product with recyclable packaging.” For a full list of eco-friendly and not so eco-friendly products, see tissue.greenpeace.ca.

The next time you sneeze, go to the bathroom, or clean up a mess in the kitchen with a post-consumer recycled paper product, give yourself a pat on the back. Your environmentally conscious choice today means a tree-filled tomorrow. 

Become a savvy shopper
Manufacturers are responding to consumer concern about the ecosystem with an array of environmentally friendly goods. Ads and packaging boast catchphrases such as pre- and post-consumer recycled, chlorine-free, biodegradable, and recyclable. They all sound good. How do you choose?

Check the list of terms below, read the fine print on the packaging, and click on the manufacturer’s website for more information. That way you can distinguish truth from greenwashing, a nasty practice in which companies twist terms to make their products sound greener than they really are (see “Drowning in greenwash” in April 2009’s alive).

Pre-consumer recycled
Material comes from manufacturing leftovers, either at the paper mill or the factory, but are still derived directly from trees rather than from reused sources.

Post-consumer recycled
The original material has actually been used by consumers and comes from old newspapers and other paper products collected and recycled in blue-box systems. When you buy household paper products with post-consumer content, you reward companies that use this resource, support local recycling programs that rely on industries to buy recyclable material, and keep reusable material out of landfills.

Biodegradable
This term has become almost meaningless from overuse and lack of government regulation. Technically, it means the product will break down and return to its natural components. In reality, that process could take centuries if the material is buried under a landfill and not exposed to sunlight, air, and moisture. Also, some substances could break down into harmful environmental toxins.

Chlorine-free
Many large manufacturers still bleach paper with chlorine, a potentially harmful chemical that seeps into our water system and is linked to respiratory illnesses. Look for products that say TCF (totally chlorine free) or PCF (processed chlorine free) on the package. While recycled paper products may contain chlorine from their original processing, the amount in recycled products will decline as more environmentally conscious manufacturers move toward PCF.

Recyclable
This simply means the product is recyclable—somewhere. It doesn’t mean your town or city has the capability to recycle it. Check with your municipality to see what can or cannot be recycled, and shop accordingly whenever possible.

Note: Read labels carefully to see what these terms apply to. The word recycled could refer to just the packaging, the box, or the cardboard core rather than the actual tissue or paper. And check what percentage of the product is made from either pre- or post-consumer recycled material; the higher the recycled material, the better. 

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