Not as green as it looks

Not as green as it looks

I’ve just finished writing an article for Red: the Green Magazine about a rather personal issue. Friends and relatives scoffed and chuckled when they heard that I was researching the environmental implications of toilet paper, but by the time I was finished I saw my father-in-law carrying a 9-roll pack of greener loo-paper home from the store. My wife has also switched to the environmentally friendly option.

So which paper is best? Good ol’ cheap 1-ply. Any brand will do because they are virtually all made from recycled paper, but if you want the added benefit of knowing that your roll hasn’t been rolling down the highway accumulating a carbon footprint, Twinsaver is made in Cape Town, Durban and Gauteng, so you are virtually assured of a local roll if you buy it in one of those areas. Carlton is only made in Gauteng. Otherwise, look for a local manufacturer.

I’ve heard all the arguments against 1-ply. People say it actually costs more because you have to use twice as much. This is wrong on three counts. For starters single ply is more than half as thick as double ply, 5/8s as thick to be precise. And there are 500 sheets on a 1-ply roll—or should be—and only 350 sheets on a 2-ply roll. Finally, research suggests that people use about the same number of sheets regardless of the thickness.

The other argument against 1-ply is that it is rougher. I cannot deny that it is not quite as soft. So keep one roll of extravagant, environmentally noxious, virgin 2-ply on hand for those moments when some unmentionable condition makes you tender down there. And let us know if you find a 1-ply that you think is softer than most.

Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on any high-priced bog roll purporting to be “green.” If you want to know why, you can read the full article from Red below:

How many trees have you flushed down the toilet in your lifetime? The South African paper industry is equipped to manufacture 4.7 kilograms of tissue a year for every man, woman and child in the country. So it is a reasonable estimate that consumers of tissue made from virgin wood will consume about a tree every decade.

Fortunately, South Africans have a large and growing range of options to reduce their loo-print, ranging from toilet paper made from sugar-cane fibre to 100-percent-recycled, 2-ply rolls. With choice comes confusion, however, and paying extra for green marketing may not help the environment. Often the cheapest rolls are also the greenest. When buying toilet tissue, saving the environment and saving money can go hand in hand.

For decades, most South Africans have been using 100 percent recycled toilet paper—without paying an extra cent. These shoppers did not even know they were making the environmentally friendly choice, though they might have noticed a few speckles in the paper that suggested its former existence as office paper. Three-quarters of the toilet rolls sold in South Africa are single-ply rolls that are usually tree-free, something shoppers would never know from reading the labels. The more expensive, two-ply toilet tissue is mostly made from virgin wood pulp.

The problem with virgin toilet paper is not the lost trees—they generally come from forest plantations where each harvested tree is replaced by a seedling. But toilet paper from wood pulp unleashes a host of other assaults against the environment for a product that gets used for only a few seconds. Tree farms take up land that could otherwise be home to diverse natural forests. The conventional pulping and papermaking process uses twice as much water and far more energy than recycled toilet paper. And logs, pulp and tissue are regularly shipped all the way across South Africa, adding to virgin paper’s expansive carbon footprint. Recycled toilet paper, by contrast, is often sourced, manufactured and sold all in the same city.