(NaturalNews) Environmentalists are increasingly pushing for people in the United States to change their toilet paper buying habits, in recognition of the fact that the soft, fluffy toilet paper widely preferred in the United States for home use can only be made by logging wild forests throughout the Western Hemisphere.
"No forest of any kind should be used to make toilet paper," said Allen Hershkowitz of the Natural Resource Defense Council.
Toilet paper can easily be made from recycled paper, but only at the cost of a coarser final product. Manufacturers admit that the primary factor that keeps them making toilet paper out of freshly cut trees is the fact that standing trees yield longer fibers than recycled material does. Longer fibers, in turn, make for softer, fluffier toilet paper.
Environmental groups estimate that depending on the brand, between 25 and 50 percent of the pulp used to make toilet paper comes from U.S. or South American tree farms, with the remainder coming from wild forests. These forests are ecologically important not only as ways to remove greenhouse gases from the air, but as water purification systems and habitat providers for thousands of different life forms.
It's not just the previously logged, second-growth forests being cut to make pulp for toilet paper, either; a major source of pulp for the U.S. toilet paper market is Canada's endangered, old-growth boreal forest. According to an estimate from Greenpeace, Cottonelle and Scott parent company Kimberly Clark acquires up to 22 percent of its pulp from companies that log these forests. The company admits to sourcing 14 percent of its pulp from the Canadian boreal forests.
Other environmental costs to premium, plush toilet paper include higher water use, higher use of toxic chlorine bleaches and an overall larger waste footprint than recycled paper.
Greenpeace has issued a guide for consumers to the relative environmental friendliness of various different brands of toilet paper. Along with many other environmental groups, it is hoping to persuade U.S. consumers to purchase more recycled paper.
The popularity of plump, soft toilet paper is a distinctly U.S. phenomenon. Less than 2 percent of the toilet paper purchased in the United States for home use is composed of 100 percent recycled fibers. In contrast, 20 percent of the at-home toilet paper market in Europe and Latin America includes recycled content. Consumers in other countries are also more willing to accept a rough toilet tissue.
U.S. consumers, on the other hand, "demand soft and comfortable," said Georgia Pacific spokesperson James Malone. "Recycled fiber cannot do it."
Furthermore, the United States uses more toilet paper than any other country in the world -- an average of 23.6 rolls per person per year.
Toilet paper companies insist that consumer desire is driving their decision to keep sourcing pulp from wild forests. Kimberly Clark Vice President of Product and Technology Research Jerry Baker noted that the company uses recycled fibers in the paper it sells to its "away from home" customers, such as offices, restaurants and schools.
Recycled paper advocates are hoping to capitalize on the global recession to introduce more consumers to the advantages of coarser toilet paper. Already, the cost difference between premium and recycled toilet paper has caused U.S. sales of the former to drop 7 percent in the last few months.
Tim Spring, chief executive of recycled paper manufacturer Marcal, said that recycled toilet paper has other benefits too, beyond its lower price tag.
"People want to know what happens to the paper they recycle," he said. "This will give them closure."
Marcal recently launched a $30 million campaign to advertise the environmental benefits of recycled toilet paper.