Ta da! The big reveal. Turns out, you don’t need to harm a single tree to get the best TP. Yup, tree-free toilet paper will do the job just as well, with fewer carbon emissions and without causing deforestation.
We created Flush to highlight the traditional toilet paper industry’s threat to the world’s remaining forests. Companies have been clearcutting trees for over 150 years to create a product that gets used once and then flushed down the toilet. And consumers are tired of it. In a recent survey for Stand and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 85% of respondents said they wanted companies to offer more sustainable toilet paper options.
On Earth Day, we take a look at how toilet paper drives deforestation, forests in danger around the world, and provide you with five ways to take action. Spoiler alert— the first step is to go with tree-free toilet paper!
How Traditional Toilet Paper Drives Deforestation
Traditional toilet paper manufacturers use virgin trees to make their products. In many forests, these trees are old-growth— meaning it took them at least 100 years to reach maturity. Every day, 27,000 trees are logged to make toilet paper. Add paper towels to that and the number tops 40,000.
Logging from old-growth forests doesn’t just wipe out trees. Forests are networks of plants, animals, insects, microbes, and fungi that operate as a system. Remove one part of the system and it upsets the delicate balance.
Deforestation caused by traditional toilet paper companies leads to the following consequences:
- Harms traditional territories of Indigenous communities
- Loss of biodiversity
- Endangerment and extinction of entire species
- Soil runoff pollutes waterways
- Increases risk of forest fires
- Releases carbon dioxide stores into the atmosphere
Deforestation accounts for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Traditional toilet paper companies are directly responsible for these emissions by continuing to log pristine forests for single-use paper products.
Which forests are they destroying? Let’s take a look.
Toilet Paper Causes Deforestation in 3 Key Forests
Trees for making toilet paper can come from anywhere around the world, but there are a few key forests that are clearcutting hotspots.
The Boreal Forest
The boreal forest is a vast swath of life encircling the Arctic on the northern edge of Europe, Asia, and North America. Also known as the “taiga,” it’s the world’s largest land biome and the largest carbon-dense forest. Scientists estimate the boreal holds about 12% of the world’s carbon stores.
The boreal covers 6.6 million square miles of the Earth’s total land surface and is home to plants and animals adapted to survive the harsh climate and extreme cold. Mammals here include wolf, moose, lynx, and the threatened woodland caribou.
Indigenous communities inhabit areas near the boreal and depend on the forest for food, medicine, shelter, and income. In Canada alone, more than 600 communities have formed deep connections with the boreal and have centuries of practice in forest management.
The boreal forest is coniferous, meaning evergreen trees thrive here. Dominant species are larch, fir, spruce, and pine. Trees are key to the boreal’s massive carbon sequestration abilities, as they capture carbon dioxide from the air. But the soil and wetlands in the boreal also store carbon— through soil carbon sequestration.
Toilet Paper and Deforestation in the Boreal
The boreal forest acts as a carbon sink, meaning it stores more carbon than it releases. Every acre of forest holds about 2 tons of carbon dioxide a year— or two cars’ worth of yearly emissions. This doesn’t seem like much— until you consider that one square mile equals 640 acres, and the boreal covers 6.6 million square miles.
Humans have been logging the boreal since the turn of the last century. In just 19 years, the Canadian boreal has lost an area the size of Ohio to clearcutting for paper products and other consumer goods. Sweden’s boreal forest faces many of the same challenges— because of lax regulations over half of Sweden’s forests are less than 60 years old, and the landscape has been scarred by decades of clearcutting.
Clearcutting doesn’t just kill trees. It upsets the delicate balance in an intact forest, affecting microbes in the soil and bird and animal habitats. Logged areas are more prone to erosion and landslides. Muddy runoff near streams and rivers releases metals and other toxins into the water supply, polluting human drinking water. It also releases tons of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
Southeastern United States
The forests of the southeastern United States are varied and span 214 million acres across 13 states, from Texas to Virginia. Unlike the boreal, these forests are separate from one another. But they do share some common characteristics.
These temperate forests are home to 3000 species of plants, nearly 600 species of birds, and almost 250 animal species. Southern forests also provide the ideal climate for reptiles and amphibians to thrive— nearly 400 species are adapted to the warm, moist climate.
Trees here are a mix of hardwood and softwood species. Hardwood trees shed their leaves in winter and include hickory, oak, and cyprus. They take 80-100 years to reach maturity. Softwood trees are evergreen and include spruce, fir, and pine. They need at least 100 years to reach maturity. The mild climate of the South has resulted in the largest variety of tree species in the United States.
Toilet Paper and Deforestation in the Southeastern United States
Since the first European settlers arrived on the North American continent, more than 99% of old-growth forests no longer exist.
You read that right. Nearly all of the original, old-growth forests in the Southern United States are gone. This area has been subject to centuries of intense logging for development and consumer goods like toilet paper. Other causes include wildfire and climate change.
Currently, southern forests supply about 19% of the global paper and pulp supply, including pulp intended for toilet paper and paper towels. From 2001 to 2014, the South lost 18% of its tree cover.
Forest loss in the South carries the same consequences as in the boreal— loss of biodiversity, loss of Indigenous land, released carbon stores, and an increase in global warming.
The Amazon Rainforest
Talk about lush. The largest collection of plant and animal species in the world, the Amazon covers nearly 3 million square miles of land across eight countries in South America.
Scientists estimate 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and around 2,000 birds and mammals live in the rainforest. Only a fraction of those has been cataloged.
The trees of the Amazon are so diverse that they’re divided into 16,000 species. Palm, brazil nut, and rubber trees are common— although scientists admit it’s difficult to determine the ratio of trees due to the size of the forest.
The tropical forest is also home to over 350 Indigenous groups, of whom 60 remain isolated from modern culture. These communities live in the forest and rely on its abundant resources for food, shelter, and income.
Toilet Paper and Deforestation In the Amazon
By now, you should be seeing a theme. The Amazon stores around 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in its trees and soil. It used to be known as a carbon sink— just like the boreal. But a recent report concluded that the rainforest now emits more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.
And the primary causes are deforestation and wildfires.
Deforestation in the Amazon is mostly caused by human settlement, agriculture, and land development. But the paper industry has had a hand in destroying the forest as well.
Traditional toilet paper companies are clearing unsustainable amounts of pristine forest to make way for eucalyptus plantations. The eucalyptus is logged, turned into paper pulp, and sold to companies around the world.
This has devastating effects not only on the forest but on the Indigenous communities living in the Amazon. Companies have taken over their land, forcing them out of their traditional villages, preventing them from planting crops, and condemning them to poverty.
To date, the Amazon has lost about 18% of its tree cover. If that number nudges up to 20-25%, scientists fear the lush rainforest will reach a tipping point. On the other side? A dry savannah.
The stories of these forests are sobering. The world has already lost 46% of its forests, and traditional paper companies are part of the problem. Their claims of sustainability and logging from “responsibly managed forests” are nothing more than greenwashing. While some of the big toilet paper companies have dipped their toes in more sustainable offerings, it’s a matter of too little, too late.
Our forests can’t wait for them to do the right thing.
5 Ways to End Deforestation
Ending deforestation involves a commitment to personal action as well as holding traditional paper companies accountable. We’re not waiting around for them to change their ways, but we’re not letting them off the hook either.
Here are five steps to take to save the world’s forests:
- Go with tree-free paper products. Cloud Paper is on a mission to end deforestation, and we want you to help us. We worked hard to develop quality bamboo toilet paper that’s gentle on your skin and on the planet.
- Support Indigenous rights to manage traditional territories. The best way is by donating to organizations working directly with Indigenous communities:
- Donate your time or money to your local forests. The United States National Forest Service has been underfunded for decades. Send a message to the government that you care about saving local forests by volunteering for trail work, education roles, and clean-up.
- Demand traditional toilet paper companies end logging in virgin forests now. The NRDC has helpful information on how to get involved.
- Share this post with friends and family to maximize your impact.