Toilet Paper from Recycled Paper, not Trees: Let’s Do This!

Does your toilet paper come from Canada’s boreal forests? The National Resources Defense Council is petitioning the makers of Charmin to stop destroying the best carbon-reduction strategy we have: preserving forests.

And lucky for us, we have an easy way to reduce our own carbon footprint, starting TODAY: buy TP made from recycled paper, not from trees! 

As I’ve mentioned before, throwing something in the recycle bin isn’t enough to ensure that it stays out of landfills. To make it financially feasible to recycle, we need to buy recycled products. A recent New York Times article reports that since China stopped importing much of our recycled paper, many municipalities have nowhere to send it. This is where you come in to save the day by picking the TP that’s made from post-consumer paper! 

NDRC reports that Whole Foods’ 365 brand and Trader Joe’s toilet paper that are NOT the “super-soft” kind are perfectly sustainable. Green Forest and other types you may find at the supermarket are probably fine, too. Today, I am sharing information about some of my favorite brands to help you locate and try some of this earth-saving super-material for yourself (contains affiliate links). Give it a try — you will probably survive the experience! 

Seventh Generation: Recycled TP Available at Target

Seventh Generation has high recycled content toilet paper that is “mostly made in North America” according to their website. Although the whole big package is wrapped in plastic film, it’s important to know that it’s a film made from 50% recycled plastic. And it can be recycled at stores that collect plastic bags and films.

This brand can be a bit pricey, but when buying the large bulk size, I think it’s reasonable. The company is always striving to lower the cost, and they remind us that the best way to lower the cost of a product is to tell all your friends about it. When it becomes widely adopted, it will be manufactured at lower cost thanks to economies of scale. In other words, doing more of something makes it cheaper per unit. 


Marcal: Recycling Before It Was Chic

Marcal Small Steps TP was my go-to TP in Philadelphia. It was manufactured in New Jersey from post-consumer paper and no more expensive than the other brands. Being a huge, old company, I guess they had achieved some economy of scale.

It’s unbelievable to me that this should happen by coincidence, but just as I was researching this article, I found out that less than a month ago, Marcal’s main factory and distribution center in Elmwood Park, NJ burned to the ground. Apparently fires were not an unusual occurrence there, but this time the flames were whipped up by high winds and bitter cold weather (thanks, climate change!).

Marcal toilet paper

The historic building dated back to WWII or before and had a big sign up top that was a NJ icon. It reminds me of all the factories from Lowell, MA to Waltham to North Philadelphia that I have seen from train windows, mostly abandoned or repurposed. Marcal found a way to stay in business by closing the manufacturing loop and developing a truly sustainable model. This article gives a good history of this amazing company, run as a family business for 4 generations before being sold.

The founder’s grandson says, “He saw New York as a concrete forest.” Marcal ran its own recycling programs for over 20 years, recycling 230,000 tons per year. This was a wonderful thing to do for a city that has struggled to get its high-rise communities to sort their waste. 

I just LOVE how they did the right thing — making “paper from paper and not from trees,” as their slogan goes — before it was trendy and popular. Their packaging was much less “greenwashed” than the other brands here. Though they listed impressive statistics on their labels, the graphics were not so self-congratulatory or fashion-conscious. And heck, if your company had saved 21 million trees from being cut down, you’d probably mention that, too, right?

It’s beyond sad that this company has been devastated by fire. I don’t want to think about how much CO2 was released in that blaze. But the real tragedy is that 500 jobs have been destroyed (workers’ relief fund here), and we’ve lost really important infrastructure in the paper recycling business. Fortunately, they still have another factory and are now part of a larger conglomerate that can hopefully revive the operation.

Who Gives a Crap: Yes, That’s the Brand Name

For a plastic-free TP that comes thru a subscription service, look no farther than this chic little company. Their product is made in “the best factory in China,” they tell me. They send a huge box of 48 rolls with no plastic whatsoever.

colorful toilet paper rolls

I’ve reused the colorful wrappers as gift wrap, though the off-color word printed in the very center can be a problem when it comes to kids’ birthday parties. But it can be fun to read the little messages that liven up this usually boring product.

Greenwashed Toilet Paper: Bamboo and More

Unfortunately, brands like Aria, which is made from virgin trees (but plants three tiny smaller ones to try to replace each one!) are probably not eco-friendly enough for me to recommend. It’s imperative that we preserve forests as much as possible, because trees are the best technology we have for sequestering the carbon that is causing crazy climate change. When water is already seeping up onto Miami’s streets on sunny days, it’s time for all of us to grab whatever reachable means we have to slow the melting of glaciers.

Caboo, Seedling by Grove, or any other bamboo toilet paper is one degree better because bamboo is fast-growing, but to me it is still cutting down carbon-sequestering plants to throw in the toilet, when there is tons and tons of paper from our recycling bins with nowhere to go but to waste.

Recycled toilet paper: it is totally within reach, and we can all make a huge difference if we just reach for it. Let’s go!

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