Are you buying the best toilet paper in Aotearoa, NZ?
Toilet paper is something we don’t, or most of us don’t put much thought into it until it’s not there. Shortages made headlines in the wake of hoarding, its availability becoming an index for our times. And today, according to Consumer NZ, it is rarely on sale. How personal values inform the choices we make daily is equally interesting. For the longest time, cuddly animals have conditioned the public to believe that anything other than this toilet paper would require a sacrifice in personal comfort, quality and or performance. This is not the case.
Not much has changed regarding toilet paper production since its inception. Today, the majority of toilet paper is still made with virgin wood pulp, with a percentage moving towards recycled paper. However, according to Ethical Consumer Magazine, the recycled content is declining.
“There is no need to cut down forests to make toilet rolls, yet this is what is happening. With consumer attention focused on plastic, some big brands have slowed and even reversed their use of recycled paper in the toilet rolls they make.”
And then again, this year, Ethical Consumer shared that the three leading toilet brands had cut the amount of recycled paper in their toilet tissues, sharing an even more damning position that the use of virgin wood pulp was fuelling deforestation.
“Using virgin wood pulp, even if certified, cannot be considered a sustainable product. It is hard to justify using virgin wood pulp to make a product that is, by definition, to be immediately disposed of, especially when there are more sustainable options, such as using recycled pulp, which are easily available.”
There is no shortage of studies on academic websites investigating the Life Cycle Analysis of virgin versus recycled tissue paper. Masternak-Janus, A. and Rybaczewska-Błażejowska, M. write in their 2015 publication: Life Cycle Analysis of Tissue Paper Manufacturing From Virgin Pulp or Recycled Waste Paper. Management and Production Engineering Review, 6(3), pp.47-54.
“This comparison is based on the materials and energy used as well as emissions and waste resulting from tissue paper production. Life cycle assessment (LCA), ReCiPe method, was chosen as the analysis tool. The analysis based on endpoint impact categories proved that the production process based on waste paper is more environmentally friendly than the one based on virgin pulp in all impact categories: human health, ecosystems, and resources. This is largely because of its lower material and energy requirements in the life cycle. Since tissue paper is the final use of fibre, recycled waste paper is strongly recommended.”
That makes sense.
And yes, trees for toilet paper are grown locally. So, the deforestation argument regarding toilet paper is tricky because most of the trees that big brands chop down were planted specifically for paper-making, and toilet paper companies own forests specifically grown for toilet paper. They do here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Still, the recycled paper argument stands. Why use a virgin product when you can utilise existing resources?
Or use another natural resource that regenerates faster?
With increasing population comes increased consumption and inevitable strain on natural resources. Tree toilet paper manufactured locally contains mainly a percentage of pine and Douglas firs, and according to the Forestry Corporation, sustainable harvesting within the industry is 30-40 years. Data accessed via the Forest Owners Association New Zealand Plantation Forest Industry Facts and Figures provides harvest age averages over the past five years: Pinus radiata 29.1 years, Douglas-fir 40 years, Cyprus 34 years and Eucalyptus 21 years. Toilet paper is used in seconds.
Bamboo is a resistant plant with rapid growth and a consequent high carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake. The carbon sequestration capacity of bamboo forests has been estimated similar or even larger than that of fast-growing timber plantations. Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth. Its growth cycle completion occurs between 120 and 150 days. And unlike other cash crops, like pine, bamboo requires little fertiliser and pesticides for its management. At the forest ecosystem level, bamboo is vital for rehabilitating degraded land, as a timber substitute, for erosion control and watershed protection. Yet there remains an urgent need to recognise bamboo for its potential in carbon mitigation strategies and as a substitute for agroforestry or forest ecosystems.
What mainstream rankings will not consider
It is difficult to determine the difference between any brand, recycled paper or not. When brands are ranked, the methodology included in deciding which paper is subjectively better is different from how we, or you, our readers and subscribers, would consider the options. Reviewed brands are wrapped in soft plastic, which is interesting because these are huge companies with significant revenues yet still wrap their paper products in plastic.
Recycling is problematic, period, and additionally, Aotearoa rates poorly for recycling. Last October, further plastic bans came into effect, and more this July and from February next year, council recycling collections will be standardised. Only packaging with the resin codes 1, 2 and 5 will be accepted. Anything else will be considered non-recyclable.
Soft plastic recycling is not circular
Soft plastics are an obvious issue, and the systems in place to collect and process these materials need revisiting. In Australia, the failure of REDcycle has received little media attention and raises questions regarding the scale and long-term viability of the model elsewhere. The soft plastics collections program was suspended last November after discovering that soft plastics collected from Woolworths and Coles were either landfilled or stockpiled. REDcycle was not recycling.
In the most recent report from the panel convened by the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, ‘Rethinking plastics in Aotearoa’ on page 126, we find:
“At present, there are some mechanical recycling solutions for soft plastics collected in the Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme that mix these materials with HDPE (#2) to form new products, such as fence posts. Soft plastics are the filler for these new materials – it is not a circular solution. Still, it could be argued this reprocessing gives these materials a longer life than recycling as they are incorporated into durable products. Soft plastics require further onshore solutions, which may go beyond mechanical recycling. For example, there may be some applications where it is better to use compostable soft plastic packaging rather than relying on packaging being recycled.”
Currently, 99% of plastics are derived from fossil fuels; "It's so cheap", the head of the UN Environment Programme stated in a recent interview. A byproduct of the fracking, gas and shale industry, formal negotiations for a UN treaty to end plastic pollution were limited in formal progress at the third round (INC-3). There was no mandate for either a formal programme of intersessional work or for developing the next version of the “zero draft” treaty text. The president of Cop28, Sultan Al Jaber, claims there is “no science” indicating that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global heating to 1.5C.
Without deep diving into recycling and waste management, a big part of the packaging consumption issue should focus on comprehensive circular economy measures to eliminate the plastics we don’t need. From inception, the cardboard packaging makes sense. We do not need soft plastic to wrap our toilet paper. We deliver our toilet paper in FSC® cardboard cartons. They’re recyclable and compostable for people who have at home compost systems. As stated on recycle.co.nz:
“With 97% of New Zealanders having access to facilities to recycle paper. That and recycling rates for paper are higher than for plastics. “Clean paper and cardboard waste is easy to recycle, and it means fewer trees are felled.”
Redefining the relationship we have with a product we rarely think about
Not only to the planet but also between us and our bodies. We are, as are others selling similar products, up against huge and often global companies that have ingrained in us a lot of habits that very few of us ever think about. Alex Crumbie considers the West’s obsession with luxury and an underlying denial of the planetary boundaries. As Simon Creasy reports for Tissue World Magazine:
“So it appears that businesses are offering increasingly luxurious toilet paper, which requires more virgin pulp, to increase sales. This leaves issues of sustainability side-lined. It does appear that consumers are demanding softer, more luxury toilet rolls, so a change in consumer preferences is needed, too. Still, I believe the primary responsibility lies with the [tissue] businesses.”
For us, it’s about appealing to people who already care, whether that is reducing waste, particularly plastics or those who care a lot about the chemicals that go into their cleaning products and other goods they use daily in their households. People raising children is another. The world requires new ideas, innovation and products that take less from Mother Earth. Because while it seems insignificant over a year, over a lifetime, our consumption adds up to either a practice that is less or more sustainable than it first appears. It’s paper, after all. We, the industry, recycle paper. But not toilet paper.
We’ve been fortunate that our subscribers are willing to pay a bit more per roll to help us achieve a shift from the mainstream toilet paper offering. And like other ecologically conscientious toilet paper companies, we are creating a growing, important market segment not dependent on trees. We’re always looking forward to finding new ways to connect, inform, and inspire. If you are a subscriber and would like to feature on our blog, please get in touch.