We use toilet paper every day in the western world, and it’s something that we barely think about. So, I started wondering: how does our use of toilet paper affect the environment?

After toilet paper is flushed, it will eventually biodegrade. This means that unless there is a leak in your sewage system, toilet paper will not, in itself, pollute the environment. 

However, this doesn’t mean that toilet paper is harmless for the environment. 

The reality is that toilet paper manufacturing releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Toilet paper (as with most manufactured products) is contributing to climate change. 

While toilet paper is biodegradable, it’s important to understand that any process of manufacturing will emit greenhouse gases. Trees also have to be cut down to make toilet paper, which is a paper product. 

Toilet paper is made of either virgin pulp or recycled waste paper. Virgin pulp is (as its name suggests) pulp that does not contain any recycled material. 

Today, the majority of toilet paper is made out of virgin pulp. This is a big problem, because the carbon footprint of toilet paper made from virgin pulp is much higher than that of toilet paper made from recycled waste paper.

I’ll talk about that more later, but first let’s go over how much toilet paper we really use:

Toilet Paper Consumption Facts

So, how much toilet paper do we really use, and is it a big problem?

Toilet paper

The per capita toilet paper consumption of American consumers is a lot higher than that of other countries around the world. 

An average American uses about 24 rolls of toilet paper every year and collectively Americans spend about $8 billion per year on toilet paper.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, each person in the United States consumes about 50 pounds of tissue paper (including toilet paper) per year, which adds up to about 15 billion pounds of tissue consumed per year by the entire country. That equals to about 20% of the entire tissue paper products supply in the world.

For context, Americans only make up about 4% of the world’s population.

Now, I’m not asking you to stop using toilet paper (that would be absurd!). However, you could buy more toilet paper made from recycled sources, or use alternatives to toilet paper (I’ll talk more about this later).

But first, let’s compare the environmental impact of recycled waste paper vs. virgin pulp, so you can get a better idea of the situation:

Environmental Impact of Virgin Pulp vs Recycled Waste Paper 

The production of virgin pulp toilet paper emits 30% more greenhouse gases than when recycled waste paper is used.

The greenhouse gas emissions from just the production of wood pulp, which is then used to manufacture tissue paper, is about three times higher than what’s emitted during the collection and transportation of recycled waste paper.

But, it’s not just the greenhouse gas emissions that are a worry. 

The process of cleaning and preparing pulp requires water, which is essentially wasted and harms the environment as well. In fact, 37 gallons of water (140 litres) is needed to manufacture a single roll of toilet paper.

Even worse, chlorine is used to bleach the pulp and turn it white, while other chemicals are used to soften the pulp in order to produce soft toilet paper.

This all leads to local water bodies being polluted.

The other equally important reason why using virgin pulp for the production of toilet makes no sense at all is that toilet paper is non-recyclable. After it’s used, toilet paper is flushed and gets disintegrated. Hence, using recycled waste paper is a much better choice.

Where Does Virgin Pulp Come From?

The demand for virgin wood pulp and tissue paper products is having a direct adverse effect on the Boreal forest of Canada, which is also referred to as the Amazon of the North. 

A report by the National Resources Defense Council and Stand.earth, titled ‘The Issue with Tissue: How the U.S. Is Flushing Forests Away’, has revealed that between 1996 and 2015, over 28 million acres of the Canadian Boreal forest had been logged.

The majority of this logged wood was turned into pulp to meet the demands of the tissue products industry, and the primary destination was the United States. 

Image illustrating deforestation and logging

But it’s not just Canadian forests that are being logged to meet the demands of the tissue products industry:

A study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture found that timber companies had logged about 13% of the total old-growth and climax species forest in the Pacific Northwest, between 1996 and 2006. 

This was on privately owned land, and not in state park nor national forests, but it’s an alarming figure nonetheless. 

And even though some states like Oregon require timber companies to plant new trees, they only plant certain fast-growing trees, which disrupts the natural ecology of the region.

Deforestation also causes a variety of other negative side effects. For example, it leads to habitat loss, soil erosion, and also reduces the quality of soil over the long term.

How can you help?

Use Sustainable Toilet Paper

Buying more sustainably-made toilet paper products is a great way to start trying to solve this environmental issue. 

The NRDC and Stand.earth report also includes a sustainability scorecard that grades various brands of toilet papers, paper towels, and facial tissues, which informs consumers about the environmental impact of each brand.

There are several brands of toilet papers, like Green Forest, 365 Everyday Value, Earth First, Natural Value, Seventh Generation and Tender Joe’s Bath Tissue that are competitively priced and have minimal impact on forests. The six brands mentioned above exclusively use recycled waste paper to make toilet paper and do not use chlorine to bleach pulp.

Get a Bidet

You could also consider ditching toilet paper altogether and buy a bidet instead. A bidet is a device that sprays water to clean your bottom after you go to the bathroom.

The reason most people prefer toilet paper is because of the stigma attached to cleaning yourself with water after using the bathroom. However, if you can overcome this mental block, you can consider getting a bidet for your home. As a matter of fact, bidets are actually more hygienic than toilet paper!

Think about it this way: if a bird pooped on you, you would wash it off with water, not wipe it off with tissue paper. The same applies for a bidet after we go to the bathroom.

Bidets are significantly more efficient than toilet paper and have a considerably smaller environmental impact. In a standard bidet, about half a liter of water is used in a minute. This equals to about an eighth of a gallon per use.

In comparison, 37 gallons (140 litres) of water is used to manufacture a single roll of toilet paper. All of that water is essentially wasted, which further harms the environment.

Image of the Tushy Classic Bidet / image used with permission from HelloTushy.com

I’ve recently been sent a bidet by TUSHY to try out (Thanks TUSHY!). It’s an attachment that fits under your toilet seat and requires no special tools for installation (except a screwdriver). I haven’t used it enough to put out a full review yet, but you can check out other customer reviews on their website.

Update: I’ve recently published a full Tushy Bidet review on my blog. After using it for over 6 months I can comfortably say that buying a bidet will be the best choice of your life. But, don’t just take my word for it here – check out my review and see for yourself.

Their most basic bidets cost less than $100 and best of all, you can get an extra 5% off all orders at their website by clicking the link below and using promo code “5OFFTUSHY” at checkout. Check them out!

Get 5% off all orders with code 5OFFTUSHY!

Disclaimer: Buying your TUSHY products through my link will make me a small commission, but you won’t be charged any extra (in fact, you’ll actually save 5%!). Thanks for supporting me and my blog! 🙂

Don’t Use Wet Wipes!

Wet wipes have also been touted as an alternative to toilet paper, but they’re actually equally bad or maybe even worse than toilet paper. Wet wipes are made from plastic, which makes them non-biodegradable. If that isn’t bad enough, wet wipes are also known to clog sewer systems.

15 Surprising Toilet Paper Facts (Infographic)

The infographic below will show you some more facts about toilet paper (and its environmental impact) that you may find interesting.

Infographic By QS Supplies

To Wrap Up

Unfortunately, manufacturers are unlikely to change their ways unless consumers demand accountability.

Hopefully, knowing about the environmental impact and carbon footprint of toilet paper will convince you to look for alternatives, or at least opt for toilet paper made sustainably with recycled waste paper.

About the Author: Megan Hudson

With a passion for green living, Megan is a freelance writer who focuses on environmental issues, politics, and interior design. Her weakness in life — coffee, wine, oversized sweaters, and a good read.


Last Updated: 2021-03-11

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4 Comments

  1. I enjoyed your article. Clearly, it masks a subtle marketing ploy to purchase bidets. However… since early 2020… I have been using homemade cloth wipes to dry myself after urinating… cutting my TP use by about 75%. It is good for environment, sanitary and quite economical, yet every time I try to promote this as an alternative to TP… people clam up and shake their heads. It’s sooo easy and not a problem at all, folks. Youtube it. very doable.

  2. There are tree farms that are meant to supply the needed pulp not just for paper but also if you look around you’ll see telephone and electric poles. In my community, I wish these ugly poles would be eliminated and wires put underground. When confronted, our local politicians told us it would cost 1 million $’s per mile to accomplish that. Further, forests need to be managed. Old decayed and pest infested trees need to be cut down and removed, or you have forest fires as in California, and the spread of pest such as the emerald borer. Last, I see you make a commission on selling bidets. Forgive me if I take your article as a sales pitch masked as an environmental minded article.
    Toilet paper by your own admission is biodegradable, and it’s use sanitary. You’d prefer E. coli to spread?

    1. Hi Slavin,

      Thank you for your comment. Everything in this article is fact-checked and backed by reputable sources (linked within the article). If you see any stat or claim I made that is false, please let me know so I can take it down.

      I don’t deny that toilet paper has its uses — and plus, bidets may not be practical for everyone, depending on the situation. Both bidets and toilet paper also have their own drawbacks, and determining which is better might depend on the specific situation at hand.

      Also, yes I do earn a commission selling Tushy bidets, as stated in the article. When this article was first published I did not have an affiliate link and did not make a commission. I added the link later after Tushy sent me a bidet to try out, and after I found it was a good replacement for toilet paper.

      Thanks for sharing your opinion and contributing to the discussion 🙂
      Hugh

  3. I’ve taken a liberty to share this on my Facebook after reading all the news about people hogging toilet rolls at supermarket due to COVID-19. I see this “fear” as a good opportunity to push for more environmental-friendly changes to our lives!

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