Last updated on April 29th, 2024 at 05:18 pm


How to Pick Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper That Doesn’t Destroy Forests

We’ve all got to keep our nether regions clean and dry. But the way we are going about this comes with a hefty price tag, much more than the cost of black market toilet paper during the early stages of the pandemic.

The manufacture of toilet paper is something you probably haven’t spent any time thinking about, but it’s time to start. The sourcing of toilet paper, along with other single-use tissue products like paper towels and tissues, is having devastating effects on ecosystems.

And the sourcing isn’t the only problem. Despite living in an age of electronic everything, paper products still account for about 25% of all waste. It is the third most common type of material in landfills, behind food and plastic. Purchasing eco-friendly toilet paper and other tissue products is an important place to start.

NRDC: An Important Ally & Guide

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a report in 2019 titled, “How Americans are Flushing Forests Down the Toilet,” and an additional 2020 report “The Issue with Tissue 2.0: How the Tree-to-Toilet Pipeline Fuels Our Climate Crisis.”

These are fascinating, informational, and sobering reads definitely worth taking the time for. They contain a lot of information that we should all be aware of yet doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

The NRDC has taken the results from their reports and collaborated with numerous other environmental organizations to take on the giants of the toilet paper industry.

What You need to Know About the Production of Toilet Paper

infographic "Americans make up 4% of the world's population and consume 20% of the world's tissue"
  • Most of the pulp used to produce tissue products comes from Canadian forests, where 25% of the last intact boreal forests on our planet exist. These forests store 12% of the world’s carbon in the soil and vegetation, making it the most carbon dense forest on earth. Every year it is responsible for clearing carbon dioxide equivalent to the annual emissions of 24 million passenger vehicles.
  • One million acres of this forest is destroyed each year. When land is cleared, carbon is released into the atmosphere, decreasing carbon stores. The lack of trees decreases the ability to absorb existing carbon and regulate greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.
  • Canada ranked third globally in its rate of intact forest loss—behind only Russia and Brazil—with logging the leading driver of that loss. 90% of this logging is in the form of clearcutting, a practice which removes nearly all the trees in an area, leaving behind a barren landscape which can last for decades.
  • This deforestation has also resulted in declines of native wildlife species and negatively impacts the way of life for the 600 communities of indigenous peoples nearby.
  • Some companies are moving away from using virgin tree pulp, but the three largest companies that dominate the tissue market (Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, and Georgia-Pacific) still almost exclusively use virgin pulp in their products.
  • Instead of virgin pulp, companies should turn their focus to using recycled materials for their products, or more sustainable alternative fibers, such as bamboo or wheat straw.

NRDC Report Card

The NRDC creates a yearly scorecard grading the sustainability of tissue brands. This is a great tool to help you find the right choice for your household. The most disappointing find for me? Costco’s ‘Kirkland Signature’ tissue products that I had been buying for years receive an F grade in all tissue categories!

Brands that get an ‘F’ on their scorecard rely entirely on virgin tree pulp for their tissue products, which have a carbon footprint three times higher than those made from recycled paper. In addition, many also use unsafe bleaching processes. 

Eco-friendly toilet paper infographic from the NRDC entitled "Toilet paper sustainability scorecard"

Other Toilet Paper Considerations

Water Use

It takes 37 gallons of water to produce a single roll of toilet paper. An average family uses 400 rolls of toilet paper per year…that equates to 14,800 gallons of water!


Bleach is used to whiten, strengthen, and soften tissue products. This process emits large quantities of dioxins into the water and air. These chemicals do not degrade easily and build up in the food chain and can cause significant health problems. Therefore, choose products that are unbleached or chlorine-free. Hydrogen peroxide and ozone are used for these products.

PFAS, aka “forever chemicals”

A new study published in March of 2023 discovered that toilet paper is a source of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These cancer-causing chemicals have garnered a lot of attention as of late, as they tend to be found in a wide variety of products, and are extremely difficult substances to break down, earning them the moniker “forever chemicals.”

Paper production processes often include PFAS as additives during the wood-to-pulp conversion process. I was unable to find much more information on how to discern which brands include this chemical as part of their manufacturing process. I think sending an email asking this of your favorite TP brand is a great place to start.

“Flushable” Wipes

Just don’t use them. Ask any plumber and they will tell you they hate these things; they are a major cause of clogs. Besides, they are in no way eco-friendly and frankly don’t do a very good job of cleaning.

Choosing Eco-friendly Toilet Paper

As consumers we need to be taking a stand with which products we buy and refrain from supporting the companies who cause such catastrophic damage to our planet by continuing to rely entirely on virgin wood pulp in manufacturing methods that have changed little since the 19th century, despite other technologies and resources being readily available.

According to the NRDC report, recycled paper products and those made from alternative materials are the best options.

Benefits of Recycled Toilet Paper

  • Eliminates deforestation.
  • Production uses half the amount of water as virgin pulp.
  • Air pollution emitted decreases by half, including one-third the amount of greenhouse gas and 40% less sulfur dioxide, which is responsible for acid rain.
  • Avoids harming wildlife and indigenous peoples.
  • Recycled tissue uses far less toxic bleaching methods that uses little to no chlorine bleach.

According to the NRDC, “Not all recycled content is created equal….

Postconsumer recycled content comes from the paper and fibers people throw into the recycling bin—materials that have been used and would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Pre-consumer content, often otherwise known as manufacturing waste, is made up of recovered trimming scraps from in-house manufacturing operations and from previously manufactured but unsold paper products, such as printers’ overruns or obsolete stocks.

While both types of recycled material are far more sustainable than virgin forest fiber, consumers should look for products that use a high percentage of postconsumer recycled content because these fibers help to create a market for the recycling industry—fostering a circular economy that generates jobs and provides a sustainable alternative to sending waste to landfills.”

Some companies mix recycled materials with virgin tree pulp, and in those cases, make sure the product is FSC-certified.

FSC certified.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the most creditable independent certifier of
responsibly managed forests. Their certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.

‘100%’ means the product is made from all virgin material; ‘Mix’ products are a mixture of FSC virgin fiber and recycled materials. ‘Recycled’ indicates products are made from 100% recycled fiber.

Tree-free Alternative Materials



Bamboo is technically a grass, and requires less land degradation than virgin wood pulp. It can grow more than 20 times faster than trees from northern forests. Some varieties can grow approximately two inches per hour, potentially reaching 60 feet in only 3 months!

Tissue products made from bamboo produce 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than those made from 100% virgin forest fiber, but a larger footprint than recycled fiber and some agricultural residues like wheat straw. Growing bamboo can create its own negative environmental impacts, especially if it is grown on cleared forestland. We should look for
products certified by FSC to ensure that the bamboo fibers used were not grown in recently deforested areas.

Bamboo toilet paper is usually quite a bit pricier than other types (learn why), but if you’re willing to fork out the extra money, browse comparisons of bamboo toilet paper brands. Not included is Caboo, available on Amazon, and is both the highest rated and least expensive of the available choices there; it receives a B grade from the NRDC.

Wheat Straw

wheat straw

Wheat straw is the dried stalk that is leftover after the wheat and chaff has been removed. It is one of the best alternative fibers available because it is a by-product that would otherwise
be incinerated. There is currently only one wheat straw pulp mill in the United States, so keep an eye out for these up and coming products. Wheat straw can also be used to made biobased plastic.


Toilet paper containing sugarcane may not be the best option. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the sugar cane industry has a long way to go towards becoming sustainable.

  • Water supplies are affected from silt and excess nutrients leached from fertilizers.
  • Sugar mills produce wastewater, emissions and solid waste that impact the environment.
  • Soil quality is affected by the cane planting process, which in turn creates more dependency on fertilizers.
  • Some farmers burn their sugarcane fields before harvesting in order to remove the unnecessary parts of the plant, creating large amounts of air pollution.

The Best Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper

See what grade your toilet paper received on the NRDC scorecard.

Brands earning A+ and A grades from the NRDC:

Plastic-Free Toilet Paper

Unfortunately, when it comes to eco-friendly toilet paper, only a few are packaged plastic-free. The brands from the previous list who do not use plastic packaging are Who Gives a Crap and Marcal.

Grove packages their bamboo toilet paper in a paperboard box, and Reel packaged theirs bamboo toilet paper rolls in FSC-certified recycled paper or bamboo wood pulp. Both of these brands received a B grade, but in my opinion, plastic-free packaging should be worth an extra point.

Judging Criteria and How to Decide for Yourself

There are many brands not included in the NRDC scorecard. Not all bamboo brands are covered, nor any made from other alternative fibers such as sugar cane bagasse or wheat straw. The NRDC urges us to evaluate these products according to the same criteria used in their scorecard. They have a whole formula to calculate the score, and if you are super excited about using your math skills, go for it.

I hate math more than most things, so I will simply list their criteria from the highest point earners to the least.

  • Postconsumer recycled content (the higher percentage of PCR gets more points, and so on)
  • Pre-consumer recycled content
  • Bamboo fiber with full FSC certification
  • Bamboo fiber without FSC certification
  • Virgin forest fiber with full FSC certification
  • Virgin forest fiber with FSC Mix certification
  • Bonus for unbleached fiber or non-chlorine bleaching methods

This criteria can be used for any paper tissue product, including paper towels, facial tissues, and napkins.

Toilet Paper Alternatives



Bidets are a great alternative or supplement to using tissue products. They use only 1/8th of a gallon of water compared to the 37 gallons of water it takes to make a single roll of toilet paper.

It is easy to install a bidet seat to your toilet. I’ve got this Bio Bidet that I purchased from Costco, and I highly recommend it.

Using a bidet can also decrease or eliminate the amount of toilet paper you use. Since you are cleaning with water just like a shower, you can simply dry yourself with a towel or washcloth. I purchased this reusable toilet paper on Etsy to dry with, but really any cloth will do.

Reusable Toilet Paper

Believe it or not, reusable toilet paper does exist. Again, any cloth will work, but there are products sold specifically for this purpose, like the one I purchased from Etsy for drying, or some made by Marley’s Monsters that includes a roll. However, for what it’s worth, one expert warns again this practice.

Final Thoughts on Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper

I really hope you will remember the ecological footprint of toilet paper when you are making your next TP purchase. Changing to a more sustainable toilet paper can really make a big difference. The average person uses 384 trees worth of toilet paper in their lifetime, and I don’t want anymore trees to fall for the sake of wiping my butt.

In addition to switching to greener toilet paper, take a minute to demand accountability from large corporations for their practices. Environmental organizations have made some noise, but there needs to be more uproar from consumers who have the power of the pocketbook. I just sent a letter off to Costco expressing my disappointment at their poor score. It might be a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start. I hope you join.

Click here for more sustainable paper products.

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