Why bamboo toilet paper?
How many trees to make a roll of toilet paper?
Hard to say. The key figure quoted on the Internet is the WWF one, 270,000 trees globally, or equivalent — to manufacture our demand for toilet tissue.
“Every day, about 270,000 trees are effectively flushed down the toilet or end up as garbage around the world. Such a use of the forests is both wasteful and unnecessary,” said Duncan Pollard, Head of WWF's European Forest Programme. “Manufacturers must use more recycled fibres in their tissue products, as this means fewer trees will be cut down.”
The above references Forests flushed down the toilet, a report commissioned by WWF in 2005. There have been limited studies published on the subject since. The National Defence Council published the only other notable piece of work in 2019, The Issue with Tissue, in collaboration with stand.earth, a report highlighting the relationship between major United States toilet tissue manufacturers and the destruction of the Canadian Boreal forest — one of Earth's most ecologically significant forests.
What is the significance of the Boreal forest in the context of Aotearoa?
We’ve changed our environment, and these changes affect communities globally that have been forced — or will be forced to adapt to survive. Aotearoa is an island Nation — some coastal areas of which are more vulnerable than others. The sea level has risen steadily over the last century, but in the previous few decades, that rate has nearly doubled, primarily due to the influence of climate change.
Greenhouse gases trap heat within our atmosphere, contributing to the melting of land-based glaciers and the thermal expansion of ocean water, both of which lead to rising ocean levels. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, until 1993, the global sea level was rising at a rate of 1.7 millimetres per year. Now, that rate is 3.1 millimetres per year. And we are not immune to the impacts, as shown by the NZ SeaRise: Te Tai Pari O Aotearoa programme.
Globally, toilet paper companies have typically used cute dogs and cuddly bears to distract us from the reality of producing tissue products. The Issue with Tissue revealed the worst tissue brands driving the degradation of irreplaceable boreal forests through their continued use of virgin forest fibre to make throwaway sanitary products. NRDC published 2.0 in 2020, noting shifts in the industry, including a brand scorecard for people to assess major brands’ sustainability credentials. Both reports and the scorecards can be directly accessed via this NRDC link.
The report found that big brands’ refusal to switch to sustainable alternative materials in toilet paper has resulted in devastating impacts on forests and the climate. Covering roughly one-tenth of the Earth’s landmass, the Boreal forest represents the planet’s single largest biome and makes up 30% of the globe’s forest cover. About 28 million acres of Canadian boreal forest have been cut down since 1996. Virgin pulp, the critical ingredient in toilet paper, accounted for 23% of Canada’s forest product exports.
Deforestation and the urgency for alternative materials
The United Nations reports that decreasing the current deforestation rate by 50% by 2030 could avoid 3.7 trillion USD in climate change damages caused by GHG emissions. However, according to recent research, global growth in paper production of 1.1% is expected until 2030. So there is an apparent worrying trend of deforestation that calls for an urgent need for the industry to adopt alternative materials to produce toilet paper. Other studies reference the adoption of non-wood pulps as an approach to mitigating emissions. The authors of Decarbonizing the pulp and paper industry state that when used in manufacturing tissue paper, bamboo, straw and reed pulp results in lowered environmental impacts.
“Bamboo is perhaps the feedstock attracting the most attention due to its richness in cellulose, easy reproduction, and fast growth and regrowth properties. Among the major impacts of deforestation is the loss of natural habitat, leading to biodiversity loss and species extinction, soil erosion, ecosystem disruptions, and increased global warming since around 15% of GHG emissions result from forests' degradation.”
Conserving the lungs of Mother Earth
EcoRoll was our response to an industry that required radical change. EcoRoll is a Toitū climate-positive organisation—and the first toilet paper company to achieve this. We've achieved this by critically looking at every element of the supply chain and striving to make business decisions that best align with this long-term goal. Ultimately, anything that encourages a “conscious consumership” solution purely to our actions is either misinformed or coming from people who want to maintain the status quo.
Shifts in our buyer behaviours, what we demand and where we spend our money sends market signals, but in retrospect, non-wood products represent just 10% of all paper production. We're going nowhere fast if government policies cannot challenge large companies and harmful industries to seek big, transformational solutions. And these are the ones causing the problem. Producers of paper products, of toilet paper, have a responsibility to mitigate climate impacts, seeking alternatives to traditional toilet tissue production, and conserving Mother Earth’s world’s remaining intact forests.