How Much Toilet Paper Do You Use?

Sandra Folzer, Weavers Way Environment Committee

(This is a rhetorical question — I don’t really wish to know.)

I just cut 80 trees on my property upstate. I felt very sad seeing the logs piled up next to the road, like corpses waiting to be hauled away. I didn’t want to cut them, but the emerald ash borer was approaching, so I was advised to cut the ash trees while they still had some value and to help stop the disease from spreading.

This may seem shocking if you know me. When guests in my home ask for paper towels, I tell them I don’t stock any. I use sponges and rags. My guests then nicely request a paper napkin. Again, I tell them I don’t buy them. As for Kleenex, I carry cloth handkerchiefs. (I admit I do have a box in my guest bathroom so I don’t seem entirely inhospitable.) I do use toilet paper. I can’t match singer Sheryl Crow, who advocates one square per visit, but I’ve been challenging myself to use only a few squares. On average, people use 8.6 sheets each visit, according to a statistic quoted — but not sourced — on various paper products websites. One tree produces about 100 pounds of toilet paper. Since one roll weighs just over half a pound, and the average consumer uses about 23 a year or about 15 pounds, then six people use one tree yearly. Globally, toilet paper alone consumes 27,000 trees every day. Very sad.

Aside from using less toilet paper, each of us could buy toilet paper made from recycled paper, which is sold at the Co-op. Also, buy one ply instead of two, and don’t bother with the extra soft, fancy products.

I know many Co-op members already use cloth napkins in place of paper. I don’t know how many keep a stack of cloth handkerchiefs or avoid paper towels. For a while, Greenpeace asked, “Did you know that it takes 90 years to grow a box of Kleenex?” Kimberly Clark got the hint, and now collaborates with the Forest Stewardship Council to end deforestation and reduce greenhouse emissions and water use during paper production.

Sometimes social norms dictate waste. For example, when you order a drink or a glass of water at a pub or on an airplane, it is often served on a paper napkin. When I say I don’t need a napkin, they look at me askance. If I forget, I keep the napkin for future use, so it is not entirely wasted.

Unfortunately, we live in a waste culture, where consumption is encouraged. I invite you to pay attention to paper use in your own life. Even if you just cut down on toilet paper use, you will be saving some trees. Don’t ask me about wasteful automatic flush toilets — that’s for another time.