The United States is literally “flushing forests down the toilet,” according to a recent report that outlined the negative effects of the toilet paper industry on Canada’s boreal woods.
The average American goes through about three rolls of toilet paper a week, and the nation as a whole consumes 20 percent of toilet tissue products worldwide—the highest rate on Earth. Much of this toilet and tissue paper is sourced from old-growth forests in Canada, and that can have negative implications for biodiversity, climate change, and Indigenous communities.
“Industrial logging claims more than a million acres of boreal forest every year, equivalent to seven National Hockey League rinks each minute, in part to meet demand for tissue products in the United States,” said the report, which was jointly authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Stand.earth, two environmental nonprofits.
An American preference for virgin softwood pulp, harvested from conifers such as spruce trees, is spotlighted in the document as a particular problem for the “tree-to-toilet pipeline.” Softwood dominates the boreal forest, which is a huge biome primarily composed of evergreen trees that covers much of Canada and northern Eurasia.
Softwood makes for stronger toilet paper, but this advantage comes with a bigger environmental price tag compared with recycled paper, or pulp from wheat straw or bamboo.
“Creating products using 100 percent virgin fiber generates three times as much carbon as products made from other types of pulp,” claimed the report, which is entitled “The Issue With Tissue.”
To empower consumers to make informed choices about their bog roll consumption, the NRDC and Stand.earth created an environmental scorecard for different toilet paper brands. Companies that rely heavily on virgin pulp—such as Charmin, Kirkland Signature, and Quilted Northern—received an F grade. The companies that scored A grades included Earth First, Green Forest, and Trader Joe’s.
Some companies have already taken a hint from environmentally conscious consumers, vowing to improve their standings. For instance, Kimberly-Clark aims to halve its virgin pulp content by 2025, according to the National Post.
In addition to its environmental effects, the NRDC and Stand.earth argued that the toilet paper industry could affect the 600 Indigenous communities within Canada’s boreal forest. Though many communities are stakeholders in the logging industry, others have witnessed traditional lands become deforested without their input or consent.
“It is time to reexamine current norms of tissue production and consumption,” the report concluded. “Fortunately, solutions promoting healthy forests and a healthy planet already exist. Companies and consumers simply need to embrace them.”
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