As a restaurant owner in the foodservice industry, you know that saving energy doesn’t always take place on-site. Efforts you make to support sustainable initiatives often involve researching your way up the production line to find out how the products you purchase or the policies you adopt are really impacting the environment. When it comes to easy ways to go green, purchasing eco-friendly toilet paper should be top of your list. Unfortunately, confusion around quality and certification standards can make it difficult to make informed decisions on which brand is better, ethically speaking.

To help you wipe your conscience clean, here is some background into the production of toilet paper and some tips to help you choose the greenest one for you, and your customers.

Is it worth the softer wipe?

Ah, the perfect roll of toilet paper; strong enough to do its job but soft enough to make you forget the primitive nature of what just happened. While that soft and fluffy texture leaves consumers feeling so good on the outside, it ought to leave them feeling rather guilty on the inside. Why? Because that soft and fluffy feel is a direct result of the fact that it is made from virgin trees and not recycled material.

In Canada, the trees that produce this type of paper are found primarily in the Boreal Forest, one of the world’s largest and most ancient forests, containing close to 40% of the entire planet’s carbon.  Each year, logging clears over 700 thousand hectares of Canada’s Boreal Forest. Ninety-percent of logging in the Boreal Forest is done by clear-cutting, a process which necessitates the cutting down of enormous pockets of forests, some of which can extend over 10,000 hectares.

This process can seriously disrupt existing ecosystems and threaten wildlife that thrives within the forest. In 2001 alone, over 85,000 migratory bird nests were lost due to logging, and the situation is only getting worse. In fact, according to an article in the Guardian, more than 98% of the toilet papers sold in America come from virgin wood.

The benefits of buying eco-friendly TP

In addition to saving the lives of millions of trees, when consumers purchase toilet paper made from recycled material, they are actually helping save energy as well. According to the Ecologist, it requires between 28-70 percent less energy to produce recycled paper than to create virgin paper. The process also requires less water: for every tonne of paper used for recycling, at least 30,000 liters of water, 3000-4000 kWh electricity, and 95 percent of air pollutants are saved.

It is also worth noting that while traditional toilet paper is often bleached using chlorine and other harmful chemicals which can pollute the waterways, toilet paper made from recycled material does not, making the water safer for both humans and the environment.

Fluctuating standards: Enough to drive you certifiably insane

Despite efforts to make it easy for consumers to choose the perfect roll, symbols designed to inform the general public can be misleading at best.

In 2011, the CBC’s Marketplace commissioned Leger Marketing to conduct a custom online survey in order to understand how customers perceived the SFI certification standard. The survey found that 57% believed the SFI logo meant no clear cutting, and 61% thought the logo mean that the toilet paper probably included recycled material, neither of which were true. Contrary to popular thought, the use of logos attributed to groups like the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), do not mean that toilet paper is made of recycled material, produced without the use of harmful chemicals or the use of clear-cutting.

Rating the rolls

While producing your own toilet paper made from recycled material may not be possible, supporting those companies that do is an easy way for restaurants to go green. In their recycled tissue and toilet paper guide, Greenpeace, the environmental watchdog, ranked toilet papers available in accordance with how well they meet the following criteria: contain 100% overall recycled content; contain at least 50% post-consumer recycled content; and are bleached without toxic chlorine compounds. Well, the results are in.

Which is the greenest toilet paper of all? The greenest toilet paper on the market is Green Forest, made with 100% recycled content and 90% post-consumer recycled content. In a 7-way tie for second is 365 (Whole Foods), April Soft, Earth Friendly, Fiesta and Fiesta Green, Natural Value, Seventh Generation and Trader Joe’s, each made with 100% recycled content and 80% post consumer recycled content.

Which is the worst toilet paper you can buy? Accumulating an all-around score of 0% recycled material, the worst toilet papers on the market are: Scott, Target, Walmart, Qualified Northern, Kleenex Cottonelle, Charmin, and Angel Soft. All products were also bleached using chlorine compounds.

More tips for going green

Now that you know which brands to buy and which to avoid, remember to promote your effort in-store. Just as today’s customers are interested in knowing where their food comes from, so are they inclined to support efforts at bettering the environment through the sustainable production of ethical and eco-friendly toilet paper.

Here are some more tips and reminders about what to look for next time you run out of toilet paper:

  • Choose toilet paper made with 100% recycled material and if you can find some made with post-consumer recycled material, all the better.
  • Don’t rely on forest certification logos, they can be deceiving. Do your own research regarding clear cutting or use a ranking system similar to that developed by Greenpeace to judge whether a product is 100% green.
  • If you really want white paper, look for recycled paper bleached without using chlorine that can produce dangerous dioxins. It should say on the package.
  • Choose paper that is made with only one ply (less paper)
  • Remember to recycle your old rolls in order to further the recycling circle

If you are interested learning more about the toilet paper industry, check out this series, produced by the CBC called The Toilet Paper Chase.

image credit: dolfi