So what was the deal with toilet paper (tp)? Why was it so hard to find for a while at the start of the pandemic? Really, it was simply a temporary supply and demand issue: there are lots of Canadian companies, manufacturing toilet paper in Canada—there is no danger of running out1. The problem was that the regular production capacity of these and all the other companies that produce tp couldn’t keep up with the sudden spike in demand, as people stockpiled against the possibility of not being able to shop as usual.
It made us sit up and take notice though, didn’t it? Toilet paper is obviously important to us (even more than coffee apparently….) and we use a lot. In fact, while not among the top three countries in terms of our per capita use of tp2, Canada is right up there. In 2018, the average American used about 12.7 kg (141 rolls) per year, whereas per capita use in Canada was about 9.6 kg. Our rate of use seems to be increasing, however, so that in 2020 this figure is expected to be 9.8 kg3. That is a lot of tp!
So who cares—does that matter? YES! In 2019, the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) wrote a scathing report entitled “The issue with tissue: How Americans are flushing forests down the toilet” 4. And it is mainly Canadian forests they were talking about! The problem is so critical that they followed it up in June of this year with version 2.0 of the report, subtitled “How the tree-to-toilet pipeline fuels our climate crises”5. The basic issue is that the major tp producers still use virgin fiber pulp in their products—and are thus major contributors to the loss of Canadian Boreal forest, which some suggest is being clearcut at a rate of 1 million acres/year6. Intact, these forests hold nearly twice as much carbon per acre as the rainforests of the Amazon7. Cut down, they can not longer sequester, and actually start emitting carbon. In addition to its effect on the climate crisis, Boreal forest loss has a detrimental impact (to put it mildly) on Indigenous communities and biodiversity5.
What can we do about it? There are lots of options. First, find out about the tp you buy!4 Look for toilet paper made of recycled paper—with an emphasis on post-consumer recycled content (which not only reduces deforestation but diverts material from the waste-stream). This was easy to find in local stores before the pandemic—and now is back, if you look. (See the photo for a locally-available example). The fact it was hard to get for awhile was scary.
Second, take every opportunity to encourage companies to incorporate more recycled content into the tp they produce (sign petitions, join boycotts, protest!).
Third, look for tp made of bamboo or hemp, although this is not a perfect solution; some bamboo growers cut down native forests to plant their crop, and lifecycle analyses suggest paper from trees.
Fourth, consider installing a bidet. While these are commonplace in some countries, in North American, they seem to be rare8. But they make so much sense! Hands-free cleaning is more sanitary, reduces the amount of toilet paper used, and has a lower environmental impact in general8. Be honest—haven’t you given bidets at least a passing thought in the last few months? They seem to be much more visible—on TV, online—and even in the aisles of our local hardware stores. Installation can be even be DIY—check this out: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-install-a-bidet-toilet-seat!
Just something to think about while we await—and try to avoid—a second wave of COVID19…..