Why I Refuse to Buy Costco Toilet Paper (and what I use instead)

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2022 UPDATE: In the years since I wrote this post, there are some new pieces of information about eco friendly toilet paper I need to share with you.

  1. A few months after I wrote this article, I received a comment that Costco DOES have bamboo toilet paper now!

After watching the Costco website for this for about a year, the product is not available consistently at all. You might be able to find Seventh Generation recycled toilet paper there, which is actually a better choice.

2. Some people also see bamboo paper towels at their Costco stores. Unfortunately, I do not recommend bamboo paper towels, including the ones from Costco.

3. Even more importantly, I need to change my recommendation for toilet paper. Although I initially recommended specific bamboo toilet papers based on the research I read, I need to change my position.

According to the National Resource Defense Council, the bamboo toilet paper I recommended in this post scores a D for sustainability. See the 2021 ratings here.

The good news is that the Who Gives a Crap recycled toilet paper scored the highest out of ALL the recycled toilet papers they tasted. It received an A+ rating. You can order this recycled toilet paper here.

If you still need bamboo toilet paper, you should know there are brands that are better than others. Click here to see the most sustainable bamboo toilet paper brands.

Our Favorite Bamboo & Recycled Toilet Paper

Although you may be able to find eco-friendly toilet paper at Costco, I am keeping this post up so you can continue to learn about why you need eco-friendly toilet paper, the pros and cons of different green toilet paper options, and some brand choices. Keep scrolling to learn about the brand we’ve used for 2 years!

most ecofriendly toilet paper review

Eco-friendly toilet paper is a thing! Except, the product in your bathroom most likely does not fit the bill. Most conventional toilet papers are made using unsustainable methods. One company that could be helping American consumers make the switch is Costco.

I’m a BIG fan of Costco. Honestly, I sometimes think I could buy everything for my whole house from there. I’ll search around town to find the perfect _____________ (kitchen mat, hand towels, silverware, water filter, etc) only to find it at Costco for the best price and quality. It’s kind of frustrating until you decide to give in and accept that Costco just does it right!

I buy lots of stuff at Costco…

  • Olive oil
  • Rice
  • Organic flour
  • Bulk nuts
  • Canned chicken
  • Frozen chicken
  • Fresh produce
  • Ground beef

The list goes on.

But there is one item I REFUSE to buy at Costco.

Kirkland brand toilet paper.

It’s NOT because of price, ply, or product quality.

It’s because of its low sustainability rating. (Costco updated some of their practices in 2019. Scroll down to learn more.)

eco friendly toilet paper alternative

I have been searching for the best eco-friendly toilet paper for YEARS.

Every couple of years, I go on a deep dive into different toilet paper brands, sustainability ratings, and issues. It is very frustrating because even when you think you find a perfect solution, you realize that it has cons, too. There are no perfect solutions here.

However, just because this issue is complicated doesn’t mean it’s not important. American toilet paper habits are harmful to the environment and climate. We are well-trained to buy the fluffiest, no lint toilet paper we can afford. Our toilet paper companies make enough money to run national ad campaigns and commercials! This is a profitable business.

Recommend for you: Simple & Effective Zero Waste Cleaning Swaps

Problems with Conventional Toilet Paper Production

When I was in college waaaay back in 2006-2010, I remember learning about issues with Kimberly Clarke, the maker of Kleenex, regarding unsustainable foresty practices. I was adamantly anti-Kleenex back then (and generally still do not support them). In fact, they were some of the earliest adopters of sustainability practices, like becoming Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified.

Most major brands of toilet paper still cut down virgin timber from critical forests to produce the soft, fluffy toilet paper Americans like.

The National Resource Defense Council’s 2019 Report

In 2019, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a 31-page report called “The Issue with Tissue: How Americans Are Flushing Forests Down the Toilet.

In the report, the NRDC claims that many major producers of toilet paper, paper towels, and other disposable paper products follow this cycle:

“…centuries-old trees are hewn from the ground, converted into tissue pulp, rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes, and flushed or thrown away. The consequences for Indigenous Peoples, treasured wildlife, and the global climate are devastating.”

The NRDC investigated 18 popular toilet paper brands, placing many of America’s favorites at the bottom of the list with an F rating: Kirkland, Quilted Northern, Charmin Ultra, and Angel Soft.

They did rate producers that incorporate recycled content or wood pulp from FSC certified forests with an A including Seventh Generation, Everyday Value, Natural Value, and Green Forest.

eco friendly toilet paper brands

Toilet Paper Production, Deforestation, and Climate Change

They continue to explain that the Canadian boreal forests and large forests in the Southeastern US are logged for these disposable paper products. With the dangerous connection between deforestation and climate change, these practices are outdated and harmful. In fact, some believe that, “….the loss of forest canopy is the greatest in the Southeastern United States of any place on the planet.”

The NRDC also review the fuel waste from logging, pulping, processing, and shipping and the impact of bleach, part of the toilet paper processing process, on the environment.

Simply put: as the global demand for toilet paper grows, producers need to switch to timber from FSC certified forests. Although not perfect, this program tries to ameliorate some of the harm and take stakeholders into consideration.

“In Canada, to obtain FSC certification in a given area, a logging company must promote conservation, maintain biodiversity, and seek input from local and Indigenous communities.”

Although some larger producers have become FSC certified, the NRDC says that is not enough. We must incorporate recycled paper content and turn to alternative paper sources, like straw.

Sustainable Timber Practices

While doing research for this post, I found MANY websites and sources that explained how the paper industry is actually low waste and highly sustainable. As someone who lives in a large logging community, I do recognize that there are positives to using wood as a natural resource.

However, almost every source I found was from someone connected to the industry. Even non-profits offering research and data were connected to the paper and logging industries.

Plus, more research is showing that older trees sequester more carbon than younger trees. I’m sure there are ways to balance this with the need for wood products, but it does mean that we need to leave many of our forests alone to age.

The NRDC recommends these three changes:

  • Reduce overall paper consumption
  • Mix in at least half postconsumer recycled content
  • Blend recycled content with alternative fibers

For their scoring, the NRDC gave higher scores to toilet paper companies using postconsumer content and not virgin fiber.

best eco friendly toilet paper

Costco Toilet Paper Sustainability Stats

Now, Kirkland did not have the lowest score of all: those went to Up & Up (Target’s home brand), Quilted Northern, and Angel Soft. These companies were all scored 0 points out of a possible 100.

But, Kirkland did get a score of 50 due to the use of virgin fiber with FSC-Mix certification. They do not use any recycled paper content and use an elemental bleaching process.

2022 Update: Kirkland was rated an F by the NRDC in 2021, which is just as bad as Up & Up, Angel Soft, Charmin Ultra, and more. It was recorded as using 100% virgin fiber now, which is a reduction from when this post was first written.

Costco’s 2019 Commitment to Sustainable Sourcing for Paper Products

In 2019, Costco published that they changed their toilet paper, paper towel, and bath tissue guidelines. Here is the text from their website:

“In 2019, we completed the conversion of Kirkland Signature™ Bath Tissue, Facial Tissue, Paper Towels and Napkins sold worldwide to certified programs of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). More information can be found on the Kirkland Signature page.”

However, the NRDC explained in their report that the FSC is “a floor, not a ceiling.” It is the first step in becoming more sustainable and not an end result. They also explain that the SFI and PEFC programs are less stringent than the FSC so even if it looks like Costco is revolutionizing their practices, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are changing in a major way.

Most importantly, Costco is still not incorporating recycled postconsumer content into their toilet paper. We know that America bought the story that toilet paper needs to be soft and fluffy hook, line, and sinker. But, nothing will change until the market starts to change.

For that, Americans need to reconsider their preferences. We already use recycled paper content at hospitals, grocery stores, airports, and more. Sure, those products are created more for basic performance than comfort and can be downright scratchy!

That does not mean that all recycled toilet paper is scratchy. It may not make you want to sing a song about hygiene, but it is soft enough and will do the job just fine.

Why I’m Focusing on Costco

As I said at the beginning of this post, I love shopping at Costco! They truly offer high-quality products and are an almost one-stop shopping location for many families with over 780 stores worldwide.

They’re a local company to me based in Seattle and their sustainability commitments are to take care of their employees, operate efficiently and responsibly, source products sustainably, and support their store communities.

If this is true, why are they not offering recycled content paper products for home use?

There is a growing market of people who look for natural, eco-friendly and green products. These consumers will even pay more for sustainable products.

Since Costco already offers organic products and grass-fed meats, why not incorporate more recycled content paper products?

Costco’s influence in the marketplace is huge. Simply by branding this product as “green” or “sustainable,” people will want to buy.

Plus, retailers like Target and Trader Joe’s offer recycled content products. Sustainable consumers could stay at Costco longer and spend more money if they offered an eco-friendly toilet paper product.

Personally, I believe that simply improving their paper supply quality is not enough. Costco should at least offer a recycled content consumer toilet paper, if not an alternative paper source product as well. This goes for paper towels, too!

eco friendly toilet paper

Recycled Content Toilet Paper

Personally, I switched to recycled toilet paper content years ago. My preferred brands are the Trader Joe’s brand and Seventh Generation, which both received an A from the NRDC. Of those two, I prefer Trader Joe’s.

Recycled toilet paper may not be the perfect solution either. This academic report says that we should avoid recycled toilet paper because of bisphenol-A (BPA) found in the postconsumer content. This comes from thermal receipt paper that gets mixed up in the recycled paper content.

Yes, this means most receipt paper has BPA, too, which we touch often and cashiers touch all day long! We have room to grow with this product, too…

Fortunately, the same report says that the exposure to BPA is relatively low. However, for those of us trying to remove all endocrine disruptors from our households, this means that recycled toilet paper is iffy.

So if recycled tissue and virgin pulp tissue are off the table, what’s next?

It’s time for alternative paper sources!

Jump ahead to the most sustainable bamboo toilet paper brands based on 2021 ratings.

bamboo toilet paper review

About Bamboo Toilet Paper

There are different thoughts on the sustainability of alternative paper sources, like bamboo.

Some sources say that bamboo pulp is even more sustainable than using recycled postconsumer content!

Bamboo has some great benefits: it is great at sequestering carbon and “can thrive on degraded lands.” The plants will regrow quickly, it’s easier to get a harvest year after year. That’s a much different story than the traditional timber used that takes 10 years at the very least to regrow.

Major companies offer ship-to-home bamboo toilet products that come wrapped in paper, too, completely avoiding the unnecessary plastic packaging on conventional, even recycled, toilet paper.

There are other issues to consider with bamboo as an alternative paper source: processing and shipment.

We are still learning what the bamboo pulp process looks like as those facilities are not as prevalent as regular wood pulp facilities. In this way, bamboo and regular wood toilet paper may be scored similarly.

Learn more about the comparison between bamboo and wood paper products here.

The NRDC’s take on alternative paper sources

Back to the NRDC, they posted a questions and answers page about alternative paper sources based on all the questions they received as a result of their report. They explained that any brand that incorporates at least 50% recycled postconsumer content would score highly using their system.

They also had this to say about bamboo as a paper source:

“Bamboo-based products can be sustainable alternatives to those using virgin wood pulp, though they’re not quite as low-impact as post-consumer recycled products or alternative fibers from agricultural residue. When you buy products made from bamboo, you need to make sure the bamboo is sustainably sourced (read: FSC-certified); otherwise it could have come from areas that were deforested for the express purpose of growing bamboo.”

I interpret this stance to say that the NRDC positions bamboo paper products between recycled content and virgin pulp.

Issues with bamboo forestry for eco-friendly toilet paper

Similarly, bamboo forestry companies may have similar issues to the pulp industry: dangerous over-harvesting, poor labor practices, and monoculture cropping. There is an organization trying to promote sustainable bamboo and rattan production as these fibers become more common in consumer goods (INBAR).

One of my main concerns with bamboo is transportation. Most production bamboo is grown in China.

Getting bamboo to the US requires significant global travel. Since a lot of virgin pulp comes from the US and Canada, that’s a significant journey.

Are you ready to clean up your skincare products, too? Check out my Biossance review to see why you need to ditch the toxins and try something new.

Bamboo Toilet Paper Brands

From my experience, the two bamboo toilet paper companies I’ve tried, Reel and Who Gives a Crap, both offer high-quality products.

who gives a crap review

Who Gives a Crap Review

Who Gives a Crap is an Australian company. This brand is a certified B corp, and is known for social giving. They provided this information about the bamboo they source:

“Our bamboo is predominantly grown in remote areas of Sichuan Province, China by local farmers who plant bamboo on the outskirts of their family farms to supplement their income. Unlike industrial agriculture (like special forests created for toilet paper and other paper products) no vast areas of land is cleared. On top of this, the bamboo process is all very localised. Each village has their own bamboo co-op and after it has been harvested, it gets chipped and then goes to a local pulp factory.”

Who Gives a Crap also provided information about the environmental friendliness of their shipment practices and concluded that sea freight was a more viable shipping solution than road travel.

Who Gives a Crap’s bamboo toilet paper was rated a poor grade of a D by the NRDC in 2021. On the other hand, its recycled toilet paper received an A+ rating. (source)

This is why we are now switching to Who Gives a Crap’s recycled toilet paper instead. Also…we tried it and it is both softer and cheaper than their bamboo!

Who Gives a Crap sells these bamboo or recycled content toilet paper products:

  • Premium bamboo toilet paper (3-ply; 400 sheets per roll)
  • 100% recycled toilet paper (3-ply; 400 sheets per roll)

All products come packaged in 100% compostable paper wrappers – no plastic packaging at all! They sell their toilet paper in bulk quantities of 24 rolls to 48 rolls and also sell tissues and paper towels.

Reel Bamboo Toilet Paper Review

I’ve also tried Reel toilet paper. They are an American bamboo toilet paper company based out of California.

They also source their bamboo from renewable, protected forests in China.

“It all starts with the bamboo – our bamboo is grown in protected and renewable, naturally grown forests in Southwestern China – no pesticides or chemicals are used. Once the bamboo is ready, the stalks are taken to a facility to be converted into chips.”

They also share that the paper is made in China and that the companies they work with use ethical business and labor practices.

Reel’s bamboo toilet paper was rated as a C by the National Resource Defense Council in 2021. (source)

Reel sells this type of toilet paper:

  • Premium bamboo toilet paper (3-ply; 300 sheets per roll)
New Customers: Use Code “10REEL” and Get $10 Off!
who gives a crap toilet paper review

Who Gives a Crap Toilet Paper vs. Reel

Personally, I’ve liked the quality of the premium bamboo products from both Who Gives a Crap and Reel!

QuestionWho Gives a CrapReel
Products sold– Premium bamboo toilet paper
– 100% recycled toilet paper
– Tissues
– Paper towels
– Premium bamboo toilet paper
Toilet paper roll size– 370 sheets for bamboo
– 400 sheets for recycled paper
– 300 sheets
Toilet paper ply3-ply3-ply
Product packaging– 100% compostable paper wrappers
– Delivered in a cardboard box
– 100% compostable paper wrappers
– Delivered in a cardboard box
Quantities available24 count and 48 count24 count
Price per roll and per sheetPremium bamboo
24 rolls = $34
$1.42/roll
$0.0038/roll

48 rolls = $52
$1.08/roll
$0.0029/sheet

Recycled paper
24 rolls = $30
$1.25/roll
$0.0031/sheet

48 rolls = $48
$1/roll
$0.0025/sheet
24 rolls = $29.99
$1.25/roll
$0.0041/sheet
Company country of origin & country of productionBased in Australia; produced in ChinaBased in USA; produced in China

Cheapest Bamboo Toilet Paper Prices (Who Gives a Crap vs. Reel)

  • Cheapest price per roll and sheet: Who Gives a Crap 100% recycled content
  • Lowest price per roll for bamboo: Who Gives a Crap 48-count box of premium bamboo
  • Best price for a 24 pack of premium bamboo: Reel

Again, I’ve used both of these brands for their premium bamboo paper and like both! They each have great quality paper and packaging. Personally, I really like that Who Gives a Crap offers a bulk size of 48 rolls, which works for me.

Bamboo vs. Recycled Toilet Paper

At the end of the day, recycled toilet paper is the most sustainable option.

If you really want the most sustainable product AND to avoid plastic waste, consider the 100% recycled content toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap!

If you are cautious about BPA, bamboo is still a more sustainable option than conventional timber-based toilet paper.

However, the best rated bamboo toilet paper brands are not Who Gives a Crap or Reel. Instead, look for these:

Bim Bam Boo – B+
Cloud Paper
– B+
Grove Co Seedling – B
Cheeky Panda
– B

Which eco-friendly toilet paper I’m using right now

Personally, I am finishing a big box of Who Gives a Crap premium bamboo paper right now. When that is gone, we will be switching exclusively to their recycled toilet paper as it is more sustainable, cheaper, and softer than their bamboo line!

eco-friendly toilet paper pin

Eco-friendly toilet paper takeaways

We have learned a LOT about toilet paper today. Hopefully you have seen why we need to move away from virgin pulp toilet paper, like that used in most of American’s favorite brands.

We now know that recycled paper content is the most sustainable according to the NRDC. However, it may contain trace amounts of BPA.

For those looking for a solution that is more environmentally sustainable than virgin wood pulp, bamboo is a great choice. But, it is still not as environmentally friendly as recycled content.

If you really want the most eco-friendly solution to toilet paper…you actually need a bidet.

Happy wiping!

Learn more about ethical toilet paper production at ethicalconsumer.org.

P.S. Don’t forget the DIY Poo Pourri! It takes just moments and will lock in those bathroom odors!

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13 Comments

  1. I use “family cloth”. Now I know that some of you will cringe or go WHAT??? but it works for me. I have used this method for #1 for years, with no issues. I have a small step trash can I put the used cloths in, no water, NO SMELL! I buy the organic cotton wipes from Under the Nile on Amazon (the cost has gone from $13 to $20 over the years, but these are wonderful.) I use a homemade spray of 50% witch hazel and 50% aloe vera gel. spray the wipe, wipe and toss in the ‘receptacle’. When I have about 3 left, I wash the load, usually by itself, but I have put them in with other towels as well, with NO issues. SOMETIMES, I will use TP for #2, get as clean as I can and use the method explained for the ‘ultimate’ clean with the spray. There is no residue on the wipe doing this.
    But I DO keep TP on hand and have been stocking it up for barter *WHEN* the SHTF, (haha no pun intended) (I probably have over 30/48 roll packages, which came in handy when covid first hit, although it was not reachable as my house was 5 feet in the air having the foundation redone!!!) I will begin stockpiling the bamboo now, instead.
    People should try the family cloth idea. It is not as yucky as you might think, unless perhaps you have very small children (I don’t).
    There are MANY articles on how to do this. Just a thought. It took me quite awhile before I could do it, myself, so I do understand the hesitation for many.
    Many other cultures think using “paper” for our business is barbaric…..
    BTW, a bidet is a great idea, one I considered for a long time, but I have well water, which in winter is C.O.L.D.! Not using one!!!

  2. I came upon this page by chance, when I was looking for details on bamboo TP I bought at Costco a while back. I am wondering why there is no mention on this product in your post. I think they’ve had for at least 6 months now (or a year? time in quarantine is skewed) that seems to fit your bill of eco friendly and cost efficient. I actually got it the first time because it was a lower price than their signature brand.
    I know I’m not at all knowledgeable about this topic, so I’m wondering if maybe I am misunderstanding something.
    The brand is Caboo (I think) and we are in the northwest, if that makes a difference.

    1. Brianne, That’s great to hear that they sold a Bamboo product! I have not seen that at my local Costco and was not aware of it as an offering for them. I’ll check it out! Thanks for sharing!

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