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Cutting down trees for toilet paper is destroying our forests

cutting down trees for toilet paper is destroying forests

There are really great applications for wood. Toilet paper is not one of them.

It’s easy to lose sight of the natural and unnatural capital that goes into making the products we interact with daily. The connections between these items and the resources used to produce them, the labour conditions and other impacts are hidden behind supply chains, and the same can be said for the food we consume. It makes it all too easy for us to avoid a sense of responsibility. 

When we think of single-use products, plastic straws and surgical face masks come to mind. Most of us haven’t thought much about toilet paper. Still, toilet paper is a single-use product that is in part responsible for deforestation, ecological disruption and the displacement of Indigenous communities.

How many trees are cut down for toilet paper?

Arguably buying toilet paper is a micro decision. However, according to a WWF report, 270,000 trees are cut down for toilet paper, flushed down the world’s toilets each day or dumped in landfills. It is necessary to know the figures, not all toilet paper sold here is produced locally. Aotearoa is an island nation importing many consumer goods or materials to produce those goods locally. Understanding the origins of the products we buy and their inputs enables us to make more informed choices for our bodies and the Earth. 

The Natural Resources Defence Council has published extensively on the topic. These figures are found on pages 10 and 11 of "The Issue with Tissue: How Americans Are Flushing Forests Down the Toilet." For example, in the global context, pulp, the foundational ingredient of tissue products, is a substantial driver of logging in the Canadian boreal forest. This virgin pulp accounts for 23% of Canada's forest product exports and is the world's largest producer of northern bleached softwood kraft (NBSK) pulp. Approximately half of Canada's NBSK pulp is used in producing toilet tissue products. Canada ranks third globally in intact forest loss, accounting for 15% of the world's forest loss between 2000 and 2013 alone. And this is only one pulp source used in toilet paper production. 

Forests are the lungs of the earth. Investing in forests doesn’t only help keep carbon out of the air; it also protects biodiversity and Indigenous communities. In a historic move to protect more than 85% of the world’s remaining forests, leaders of over 100 countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030. It’s a welcome effort, particularly in that it prioritises natural carbon sequestration systems. However, the pledge isn’t binding, and 2030 is almost a decade away.

Many of the leading tissue companies continue to rely on virgin fibre pulp in their products rather than investing in existing alternatives. The fact remains that the world is run on various assumptions that make it extremely difficult to lead disruptive, transformative change. With little competition to incentivise these companies to innovate, major toilet paper brands continue to do what they have always done best—cutting down trees, and contaminating our air and waterways while getting rich.

Why bamboo toilet paper is better for the planet

Bamboo is one of the world’s fastest-growing plants, capable of growing up to 91 cm in 24 hours. More recently, as noted in 'Review of the Resources and Utilization of Bamboo in China', bamboo has become a high-tech industrial raw material and substitute for wood—a Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) due to advantages such as rapid growth, high yield, short rotation, and easy management. 

Capable of absorbing 35% more carbon dioxide per hectare than similar plants and regenerates on its own after cutting. So for a single-use product like toilet paper, bamboo makes sense. After three years of research and development, we arrived at a product we’re proud of. Made of 100% bamboo and entirely without trees, EcoRoll contains zero chlorine or toxins and requires only a fraction of the water needed to produce tree paper. 

For us, achieving Toitū climate positive certification as an organisation also worked to ensure we held ourselves accountable. It is one of the most robust certifications of its kind. Beyond neutrality, climate-positive certification requires us to measure and offset our emissions to positively impact society and align with science-based targets, influence supply chain networks, and educate stakeholders taking meaningful science-led action to reduce carbon emissions.

The latest IPCC report outlines the urgent need for us to adapt to our changing world. Compared to previous reports, this newest report acknowledges adaptation efforts for climate action are insufficient in effectively managing climate risks. 

"If the solutions aren’t big and seeking transformation, it is probably coming from people who want to maintain the status quo."

Ultimately, the responsibility to stop destroying the planet is on the shoulders of the big corporations. There is an urgent need to preserve existing boreal forests and restore degraded areas if we are to avoid losing this relatively intact biodiversity haven and significant global carbon sink. There is a need to re-educate. We live in a society that has taught generations of people to see the world as something to be used rather than something we should be working in a relationship with. The more we remind ourselves of these connections, the more we can make the necessary changes, purchase a different brand or not buy that particular product.