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The role of the... toilet

Written By: Jennie French

Toilet paper is the one thing that we always seem to be running out of in our house: I live with five other people and with me included, I'd say we go through about 18 rolls a month. This high consumption means that no one seems to notice when we're running out and leads to an emergency trip to the shop to stock up on this essential item.

A trip to a supermarket

A couple of weeks ago, while doing the weekly shop, I was browsing the toilet paper section for the best value for money and my eyes fell on the words 'recycled toilet tissue.' I was delighted and instantly bought a pack of nine rolls to tide us over for a bit.

My reasoning behind the purchase was purely for environmental purposes; buying recycled toilet paper could only be a good thing surely? What I wasn't sure about was the processing that went into this supposedly environmentally friendly product. What has been recycled to make it? Why was it still wrapped in plastic packaging? Was the process environmentally friendly? Was it 100% recycled and truly environmentally friendly?

Is recycled toilet paper worth it?

I discovered some staggering stats on my tour of the not-so-humble toilet roll: an average British person will go through 50 toilet rolls a year. One tree will produce nearly 200 toilet rolls and so in terms of my house, we flush just over 1 tree a year down the toilet. Scary.

On a global scale, every day, 27000 trees are used to make toilet roll. You get the picture; toilet roll is bad for the environment and I haven't even touched on the emissions produced in the toilet roll process. Deforestation alone causes 10% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and felling trees is obviously essential to make the array of paper product we use every day.

Most articles I read suggested that switching to recycled toilet roll would help the environment in some way but there are some drawbacks.

Firstly, the packaging and the central cardboard tube. The package that I bought was wrapped in plastic which I think negates any claims of the product being environmentally friendly! Further readingshowed that despite the plastic packaging, the cardboard tube was indeed recycled. This might not apply to all recycled toilet rolls; the spotlight is on the toilet tissue itself and not the packaging or holder. It's a clever tactic to help people forget some of the important issues that surround all parts of a product being environmentally friendly!

People are incredibly accustomed to seeing stark white toilet rolls; it's what makes bathrooms so instaworthy isn't it? That obligatory pile of beautiful, soft toilet rolls in a wicker basket can make or break that clean bathroom feel. Unfortunately, white = bad. Just like whitening your teeth, whitening toilet roll with a chemical bleaching process is unhealthy for both the environment and us.

There's also the fact that paper doesn't have an infinite life span. After being recycled 4- 6 times, the structure of the paper becomes too weak to be useful again, which leads me nicely onto the next section.

Will any old recycled toilet roll do?

In short, no. Not all recycled toilet paper will be 100% recycled because of the strength of the recycled paper being used. Most recycled toilet paper will contain what's known as 'virgin pulp'. This is essentially wood pulp that has never been used before and is not recycled. This is used to strengthen the recycled paper, but the amount that is used varies from brand to brand and therefore affects the product's impact on deforestation and the environment.

Are there any complete alternatives to toilet roll?

You might have read this and though, "blimey, toilet paper seems bad on all accounts, I don't want to use it anymore!"

Luckily, for the dedicated environmentalist, there are a lot of alternatives. If you still want a toilet paper experience, you could use rolls that are made out of alternative fibres such as the current favourite: bamboo. Other alternatives such as cloths are available and quite a few articles suggest bringing back the bidet- a part of my grandma's bathroom that my six year old self once mistook for a tiny sink installed especially for little people.

What would I do?

Well, I'm going to do my best to buy environmentally friendly toilet roll. I'm going to make more effort to check what I'm really buying and think about the consequences of being lazy and going for the easy option. It could be as simple as reading the back of the packet- a habit that many people have got into when making choices about food but doesn't quite extend to other household commodities.

I think the secret to becoming more environmentally friendly is to make more effort. Shopping is already a lot easier with supermarkets selling everything our hearts could possibly desire. Why not take a little extra time, perhaps a minute or two, to discover what we're actually buying instead of putting it straight in our baskets.

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Twitter/Instagram: @jenniefrench95


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