From Forest to Toilet Paper… and Back Again

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Published on July 30th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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When nature calls, how do you respond? Just 2 percent of us in the United States use 100 percent recycled toilet paper at home, according to a recent New York Times article on the “Charmin effect”. Yet somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent of people recycle other products regularly. 

We buy local when possible, we bring our own bags to the grocery story, and many of us even offset a portion of our carbon emissions. But when it comes time to head to the WC, we regress into eco-horrors. “Ahem, Ms. Mother Nature, uh, could you please wait outside? I’m going to be a minute…” 

Why? Softness. That’s right. We’re willing to sacrifice nearly anything to save the Earth, except our quilted comfort. Hey, we do enough, right? Can’t we just keep this one little luxury? 

I get it. I was just like you. But then I went to the Atlantic Forest — the other Brazilian rainforest, the one you may have never heard of — and I met Pedro Agustin. 

Pedro is a tree planter helping to restore Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, which has been destroyed over centuries — for development, for ranching, for farming, and yes, for non-native eucalyptus plantations that in turn are regularly harvested to make rolls and rolls and rolls of pillowy, soft toilet paper

Extrema,-MG-(37)-croppedThanks to donors contributing a dollar per tree to The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees campaign to rebuild the Atlantic Forest, Pedro and his co-planters each put about 300 seedlings back in the ground every day during the planting season.

As impressive as that is, it’s no match for the trees our toilet habits are demanding be cut down every day in the Atlantic Forest and in North American old-growth forests, just to keep our keisters well caressed.

But after visiting the Atlantic Forest and seeing what’s at stake, and how hard Pedro and the other planters are working, I decided to give up the plush stuff.    

Of course I still miss it—who wouldn’t? But Pedro inspired me. Not just with his planting talents, but because he used to spend all day yanking trees out of the ground for a eucalyptus plantation—perhaps even one that supplies paper pulp to TP manufacturers. Now he devotes his days to putting them back in.  

When I learned that, the last bits of my stubborn commitment to cottony rolls were flushed away, and I made the switch. You can too. Learn more about Pedro’s planting and how you can support the Conservancy’s efforts to bring the Atlantic Forest back from the brink

Cara Goodman is a marketing specialist/writer with The Nature Conservancy’s Latin America program.

(Image 1: Toilet paper rolls. Source: Limeydog via a Creative Commons license. Image 2: Author Cara Coodman and tree planter Pedro Agustin plant trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. Source: Adriano Gambarini.)

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4 Responses to “From Forest to Toilet Paper… and Back Again”

  1. Patrick says:

    I made the switch a few years back and have yet to regret my decision since. It’s really sad that so many people use toilet paper that is made from virgin trees. I think the problem has to do more with the price of buying recycled toilet paper retail. Since the price is so comparable, people tend to just choose the brands that are softer. I see recycled toilet paper in commercial settings all the time and it doesn’t have to do with the fact that they are going eco-friendly. The big change that needs to take place is the price of recycled toilet paper. Let’s hope that the price will come down a little on a retail level so that more and more people will buy recycled and make a huge difference.

  2. Diana Bailey says:

    Sounds like a great place for Costco etc to jump in. I don’t think it is even available in the big box stores. I was horrified to hear the statistics regarding TP – an easy switch!

  3. Jack says:

    For personal printing use the back of paper printed on one side

  4. Jack says:

    Toilet paper that is not heavily contaminated, i.e. used to “blot” urinary orifice can be placed in a trash can & recycled. Could use washrag & handtowel to clean up the rear end.

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