As COVID-19 was just beginning to impact our lives in the SF Bay Area, I made a rare trip to Costco for a few staples. I have been using Seventh Generation toilet paper or Trader Joe’s Bath Tissue, both 100% recycled content, for years. Yet, as was pushing my huge shopping cart around, a pallet of toilet paper appeared and I got bit by the TP hoarding bug. I actually grabbed one of the Kirkland Bath Tissue (30 rolls!) packages—seemingly like enough to supply our two-person household for a lifetime.

I texted a few friends that day. “I actually bought TP at Costco today. A new low.” They responded “Why is that a new low?”

Why is that a New Low?

You might not realize that Costco’s own Kirkland toilet paper comes from the boreal forest in Canada, the most carbon-dense forest in the world. According to NRDC, “… it is being clear cut at a rate of one million acres a year to make lumber, paper, and, perhaps most egregiously, throwaway tissue products. U.S. companies like Costco drive a lot of this demand, fueling the loss of this globally important forest.”

NRDC’s 2019 report The Issue with Tissue: How Americans are Flushing Forests Down the Toilet is a buyer’s guide to the sustainability of at-home tissue products. It gave Costco’s Kirkland Toilet Paper a “F”. According to the report, the other brands that got “F” scores are: Charmin, Angel Soft, Quilted Northern, and Up&Up Soft & Strong (Target’s in-house brand). A key criteria for a low grade is the use of virgin fibers from ancient forests, rather than the use of recycled fibers.

Healthy, intact forests in Canada’s boreal forest provide essential wildlife habitat (including home to the boreal caribou—a reindeer), protect water quality, support 600 indigenous communities, and help ward off climate change by storing carbon. The Paris Climate Agreement identified the world’s forests as vital tools for achieving climate goals. The boreal forest is a massive storehouse for carbon and clearcutting reduces their capacity to absorb and store man-made greenhouse gas emissions. As the NRDC report stresses, “Forests are the lungs of the earth.”

Five Ways to Green Your Flushes

While we all struggle with our family’s health and economic survival, it is easy to get distracted (like I did) from living our green values. But today’s situation highlights the fact that we are all connected and that climate change, and the health of the planet, directly impact our health.  If we want to heal ourselves, we need to heal the planet and adapt and alter our behavior. One silver lining from today’s situation is the possibility of finding a different way to tread on the Earth.

The following tips will help you green your flushes:

  1. Buy 100% Recycled Content : As a home consumer, you have a voice with how you spend your dollars. Even in the time of COVID-19, we can have an impact. For home use, protecting the forests, means buying your toilet paper at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, or other outlets that sell the brands that got an “A”: Green Forest, 365 Everyday Value, 100% Recycled, Earth First, Seventh Generation, and Trader Joe’s Bath Tissue. My tush has never complained about the 100% recycled bath tissues the I usually use. Unfortunately, with shortages, it might be harder to find these in stock. A few other options are outlined below.
  1. Try Bamboo: There are other options to make your flushes more eco-friendly. Toilet paper made of bamboo, which grows quickly, is a green option. Brands made of bamboo include Who Gives a Crap and Tushy. But as of writing this in late April, both sites are sold out.
  1. Return of the Bidet: According to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times “… experts agree that rinsing yourself with water is infinitely more sanitary and environmentally sound. New York Magazine rates the top bidets here. Options range from an affordable bidet attachment to fancier designs that include heated seats.  
  1. Reusable Cloth: I have one friend who cut up an old towel into small squares and is using them as wipes, which she then washes so they can be reused. While this might be a tad too out there for some people, it is a creative solution to get through the current shortages.
  1. Take Action: Companies with the largest market share, such as P&G and Costco, have the potential to make a difference for the future of the boreal forest. Below are two current campaigns where you can take a moment, take a stand, and let companies know that the planet can no longer afford toilet paper made from ancient trees. Tell Costco and P&G know that we don’t need to kills trees for a flush and encourage them to source fibers from sustainable sources:
Sustainability Consulting Bay Area

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