Toilet paper roll mounted on green tiles.

Go Green with Your Paper Products to Help Save Virgin Boreal Forests

A couple of months ago, the newsletter from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) featured a story about paper products. You know, the stuff we use day in and day out — facial tissues, paper towels, and, yes, toilet paper.

I was surprised to learn that the manufacturing process of nearly every major brand of paper products uses “virgin pulp from old-growth forests like Canada’s boreal forest.”

You can read the full report on the NRDC website (The Issue with Tissue), but — in summary — the non-profit environmental advocacy group scored numerous brands on sustainability. Below is a partial list of brands that received an F grade:

  • Toilet Paper
    • Name brands: Scott, Cottonelle, Charmin, Quilted Northern, Angel Soft.
    • Store brands: Kirkland by Costco, Amazon Basics, Walmart, Target Up & Up.
  • Paper Towels
    • Name brands: Viva, Bounty, Sparkle, Presto.
    • Store brands: Target Up & Up, Kirkland by Costco, Walmart.
  • Facial Tissue
    • Name brands: Kleenex, Puffs, Quilted Northern.
    • Store brands: Kirkland by Costco, Target Up & Up.
2021 Scorecard
Odds are high that NRDC gave a failing grade (on sustainability) to one or more paper products in your household. (image source: NRDC)

Moreover, in the same report (or maybe it was from my subsequent research), I discovered that the Koch brothers own several well-known paper products. One of their companies, Georgia-Pacific, manufactures the following brands:

  • Quilted Northern
  • Angel Soft
  • Brawny
  • Sparkle
  • Dixie
  • Vanity Fair

Depending on your political leanings, you may not want your hard-earned cash to funnel into the Koch brothers and their right-wing agenda.

We generally try to be as green as possible in my household (e.g. most of the family is vegan), but paper products were a blindspot. I mean, I knew buying them at all was less than ideal, but I had never researched the sustainability of the products we use daily.

After reading the NRDC report, I had to give our household a big fat F when it came to our buying habits. We use Kleenex-brand facial tissue, Kirkland and Charmin toilet paper, Bounty Paper Towels, and Vanity Fair napkins (ouch, a double whammy).

Fail Stamp on Toilet Paper
All the paper products in our house earned F grades, and one was also politically objectionable.

Since I woke up to the environmental costs of our buying habits, I’ve been on a mission to switch over to more sustainable products. I reviewed the paper products which earned A grades from the NRDC and narrowed down a few brands to try.


Toilet Paper

Candidates

I decided we’d try two brands: Everspring by Target and Seventh Generation. Both products are 100% recycled (bleach-free) bath tissue and both earned an A grade from the NRDC.

Verdict

The Target brand was okay, but not quite as soft as other brands. While not as soft as Charmin, the Seventh Generation toilet paper was soft enough and superior to Everspring. We’ve now switched over to Seventh Generation and removed toilet paper from our Costco shopping list.

I found the best price at Amazon: $0.29/100 sheets at the time of my purchase. Unfortunately, that’s nearly twice as costly per sheet compared to the Kirkland brand we previously used. For us, it’s worth the additional expense to go green, and we are fortunate to be in a position where we can absorb that extra cost without much thought.

Note: Surprisingly, Costco Online was not a good deal for Seventh Generation ($0.40/100 sheets).

Toilet Paper Rolls
A new staple in our bathrooms.

Paper Towels

I’m not super fussy about paper towels, as long as they don’t immediately disintegrate when they get wet. We’ve mostly used Kirkland and Bounty brands in the past.

I decided to try Everpring by Target, since we shop there semi-regularly, the price was right, and they score an A+ from NRDC on sustainability. They are 100% recycled and bleach-free.

We don’t use paper towels often, but we “test drove” a roll of Everspring, and it seemed fine. When our last remaining rolls of Bounty run out (from a previous Costco trip), we’ll switch over.

Paper towel rolls.
We go through only about a roll of paper towels a month, at most. Hopefully, using a greener product won’t feel like a license to increase our usage.

Facial Tissue

We’ve always been partial to Kleenex-brand facial tissues, but, alas, they get an F grade from the NRDC.

On the other hand, Trader Joe’s facial tissue scores an A. Like the other paper products NRDC recommends, their tissues are 100% recycled and bleach-free.

We shop at TJ every few weeks, so it was easy enough to pick up a few boxes to try. Switching away from Kleenex (especially their ultra soft variant) is probably the hardest change for us.

For occasional use, Trader Joe’s facial tissue is good enough. But the texture is rough and the two plies separate easily. If I had a cold and was using it multiple times a day, the tissue would be too abrasive. However, in the age of masking, we haven’t been getting colds, so this has not been an issue so far.

Even so, I’d love to try other products that might be better for heavy use. Next time I’m at Target, I’ll pick up a couple of boxes of Everspring facial tissues.

Trader Joe's Tissue Box
TJ facial issues are okay for occasional use.

Napkins

For reasons unknown, the NRDC report does not cover paper napkins. But I was eager to stop buying Vanity Fair since they aren’t recycled and are associated with the Koch brothers.

Since NRDC gave high grades to Everspring toilet paper (A) and paper towels (A+), I figured that their 100% recycled bleach-free napkins should be equally sustainable.

We try to get multiple days of use from paper napkins — until they get wet or become too soiled. I’m happy to report that Everspring napkins, while not as soft as Vanity Fair, are just as sturdy and perfectly good for everyday use. They’ll become our new staple after we finish off our last batch of Vanity Fair napkins.

Paper Napkin Packet
Target now offers a full line of 100% recycled paper products under their Everspring store brand.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that I didn’t do a price analysis for paper towels, facial tissue, and napkins. Unlike toilet paper, we don’t use these products in high volume. Also, we are switching from name brands (Bounty, Kleenex, Vanity Fair) to store brands (e.g. from Target). That alone should decrease our cost, even if we are no longer buying in bulk at Costco.

In the grand scheme of things, my family’s buying habits aren’t going to make a dent in environmental preservation. However, if enough households started practicing this type of “wallet activism,” then in aggregation, we may be able to decrease deforestation. Also, with more demand, prices should come down for green products due to the economies of scale.

Boreal Forest
I’d rather preserve forests than have the softest possible paper products.

Your Turn

How about you? Have you gone green with your paper products? Do you have brands you recommend? Please let me know in the comments.

(Note: I moderate all comments so you may experience a delay before your comment appears on the post. For any SPAMMERS out there, don’t waste your time submitting as I will reject your comment.)

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