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
- 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Try a variety of eco-friendly bamboo products for free with a $20 purchase at Grove Collaborative!
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 taking care of their employees, operating efficiently and responsibly, sourcing products sustainably, and supporting 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 consumer 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!
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!
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 that 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 recyled, 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.
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.
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 Toilet Paper Review
“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 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.
If you’d like to save $10 on a purchase of Who Gives a Crap toilet paper, click the image below! This is not an affiliate link, just the link any existing customer can use to share with friends. The deal is for new customers who spend $48 or more and expires October 26, 2020.
Reel 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 sells this type of toilet paper:
- Premium bamboo toilet paper (3-ply; 300 sheets per roll)
Who Gives a Crap vs. Reel
Personally, I’ve liked the quality of the premium bamboo products from both Who Gives a Crap and Reel! Both offer high quality products that although are not fluffy, are soft and durable. The rolls last a long time, too!
|Question||Who Gives a Crap||Reel|
|Products sold||– Premium bamboo toilet paper|
– 100% recycled toilet paper
– Paper towels
|– Premium bamboo toilet paper|
|Toilet paper roll size||– 370 sheets for bamboo|
– 400 sheets for recycled paper
|– 300 sheets|
|Toilet paper ply||3-ply||3-ply|
|Product packaging||– 100% compostable paper wrappers|
– Delivered in a cardboard box
|– 100% compostable paper wrappers|
– Delivered in a cardboard box
|Quantities available||24 count and 48 count||24 count|
|Price per roll and per sheet||Premium bamboo|
24 rolls = $34
48 rolls = $52
24 rolls = $30
48 rolls = $48
|24 rolls = $29.99|
|Company country of origin & country of production||Based in Australia; produced in China||Based in USA; produced in China|
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. I would rather get one big box once than smaller boxes over time. Also, I like that Who Gives a Crap sells other products, too. Both brands offer a good product!
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!
Try a variety of bamboo paper products at Grove!
Want to try bamboo toilet paper, but not ready to commit to a box of 24 or 48 rolls? Check out Grove! They have a free Home Kit for new customers who spend $20 or more. The free Home Kit includes:
- All Purpose Cleaner Concentrate
- Glass Spray Bottle
- Bath Tissue (3 Packs of 4 Rolls)
- Paper Towels (2 Packs of 2 Rolls)
- Facial Tissue (2 Boxes)
- Pocket Tissues (1 Set of 8)
- Free Shipping & VIP Trial
Which eco-friendly toilet paper I’m using right now
Personally, I am working through a big box of Who Gives a Crap premium bamboo paper right now and plan to try their recycled content later for comparison.
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.
Learn more about ethical toilet paper production at ethicalconsumer.org.
P.S. Don’t forget the DIY toilet spray! It takes just moments and will lock in those bathroom odors!