Before we start talking toilets, let’s chat about the zero-waste journey. Remember, zero-waste is a philosophy that seeks to re-imagine our use of products, using only that which can be reused or composted, rather than sent to landfills or incinerated. It’s an often long and arduous process, and we’ve come a long way since the early days, when we first adopted zero-waste as an ethos and attempted to stop using plastic.
While there is no “finish line”, at some point we progress far enough that we have to start examining the inevitable (and icky), including the hardest area to achieve zero-waste: the toilet.
Did you know the average person actually spends 3 years of their life on the toilet. No sh*t (pun fully intended). The fact is, everybody poops! And everybody needs to clean their bottom to maintain basic health and hygiene, no matter how dedicated to the zero-waste cause you are. The problem is traditional toilet paper is incredibly wasteful.
Not only is toilet paper itself a waste product, ending up in sewers and landfills, but the process used to make it is also incredibly wasteful, consuming 37 gallons of water, 1.5 pounds of wood, and 1/3kWh of electricity to produce ONE ROLL. That’s not even considering the fact that we use chlorinated bleach to whiten the paper, using 253,000 tons per year.
Now consider America alone, according to Better Planet, uses 12 billion rolls of toilet paper per year! One tree only produces about 1,000 rolls, so a single American will use 384 trees in their lifetime, just by wiping their bum.
And of course, toilet paper often comes wrapped in soft plastic which is most often not recycled and definitely does not fit in with a zero waste lifestyle. So, what to do about the doo? We’re going to get down and dirty and talk about sustainable butts and eco-friendly toilet paper. Believe it or not, there are more options than you might think!
Since we’re already getting pretty personal, let’s dive in deep with what many zero-wasters consider the purist option for zero waste toilet paper, and one most would find a little outside of their comfort zone (us included): family cloth aka reusable cloth wipes.
They work pretty much how you’d imagine. You’ll place a bin or hang set of clean cloths next to your toilet, and use one rag per potty, then toss it in a sealed, waterproof “wet bag”. When you start to run low on clean cloths, just toss the wet bag and its contents in the washing machine. If possible, wash on hot to really disinfect!
That said, this method is not for those who do not have washing machines, as that’s pretty much a necessity to properly sanitize the cloths and prep them for reuse which then brings into question consumption of water and electricity…
Again, this method simply isn’t for us, but we admire the brave zero-wasters who commit to it, like Erika, a zero-waste warrior who lives with a chronic illness and IBS that increases her bathroom use.
In our view, there isn’t one right way to go zero waste with toilet paper. Find your boundaries and learn what works best for you. For those of you less faint of heart, we would love to hear about your experience with family cloths and if you have tips to make transitioning to these seem a little less traumatic.
Recycled toilet paper sounds pretty gross at first. But fear not! This isn’t toilet paper made from used toilet paper, but instead from other recycled paper products, or “post consumer recycled content”.
Some companies use a blend of post and pre-consumer recycled content, or paper scraps that never went on to private use (i.e. extra newspapers, scraps trimmed off finals products, etc.). This is different from regular toilet paper which is made from virgin tree pulp (i.e. made from the pulp of trees or cotton with no recycled content).
In America, by far the highest consumer of toilet paper, 98% of rolls come from these virgin woods because ultra-soft toilet paper has become the most desirable (remember those commercials where puppies sell soft toilet paper?)
While technically recycled fibers are shorter than virgin fibers, we forget that “luxury ultra soft” papers are not exactly natural and aren’t good for the earth, or our spetic systems. Recycled toilet papers are much better for your tank as they come without the bulk of the ultra soft options.
So what exactly makes recycled toilet paper zero waste? Well, of course it’s not zero waste in the strictest sense of zero wasting… but there are are recycled toilet paper options that come wrapped in paper, instead of plastic! They are therefore, at least, plastic-free and therefore not contributing to the huge plastic problem that has motivated the zero waste movement.
This is a super easy option because it feels just like your normal routine! No ick-factor involved. Small changes can mean big impact. According to Dr. Greene, if every US household used just 1 roll of recycled toilet paper per year, we could save 423,900 trees. Imagine how many we can save if we fully commit?
We use ‘Who Gives A Crap’ recycled toilet paper and we absolutely love it! We buy huge 50 roll boxes (which break down to only $1 per roll), each of which is wrapped in super cute compostable paper, which you can also reuse in lots of ways (we use them for our dog’s poop when out and about)!
We love WGAP because the paper is 100% recycled and free of dyes and perfumes, but it’s super soft and (at 3-ply) super strong, meaning we can use less of it. Plus the company donates a wopping 50% of the their profits to help build toilets for those in need – 2.3 billion people (40% of the world’s population) do not have access to proper toilets and hygiene.
Find them here: Who Gives a Crap
Natural Value: A bit thinner than the above, but great for the more minimalist wipers who want to further reduce their consumption.
Find them here.
Continuing on the important theme of saving trees, a staggering 270,000 trees are flushed or trashed every day worldwide, and according to to the World Wide Fund for Nature, about 10% of that is toilet paper alone. That’s 27,000 trees destroyed each day that can take decades to regrow and replace. Taking the paper out of the toilet paper is huge way to make your bathroom habits more sustainable.
Rather than slow-growing trees, “tree-free” toilet paper is still made from fast-growing plants like bamboo, begasse, sugarcane, or eucalyptus, which grow from start to maturity in only 3-4 months, making this a far more renewable source. Plus, bamboo can actually be harvested without killing the core plant, which in turn reduces soil erosion.
Bamboo, in fact, is considered “one of the most successful plants on earth,” according to The Guardian, producing 35% more oxygen than trees.
Plus, tree-free toilet paper escapes that little concern that recycled toilet paper may contain trace amounts of BPA (due to the presence of recycled receipts, shipping labels, and other laminated types of papers used to produce it), according to am Environmental Science and Technology study. While these amounts are so trace (as in you absorb more BPA touching a standard credit card), it’s one more little thing you don’t need to worry about exposing your body to.
Just ensure it’s certified cruelty-free! Just because bamboo can be harvested more sustainably, doesn’t mean it always is, so pay attention to ethical sourcing when talking about a plant closely linked to endangered animals like the Giant Panda.
Like the recycled toilet paper option, you can find tree-free, zero waste toilet paper that comes wrapped in individual paper sheets.
- Who Gives a Crap: Yes, these guys also make Premium 3-ply Bamboo Rolls, which they claim to be their softest yet: “like wiping with couds”! Note that Who Gives A Crap state that recycled paper is more eco-friendly than the Bamboo (and cheaper) but not as strong or as soft. We have tried this Premium range from WGAP and aside from looking super fancy in our bathroom, we didn’t notice much of a difference in functionality. Find them here: Who Gives a Crap
You know that weird second toilet found in many hotels around the world? Believe it or not, those things are a great zero-waste wipe solution, eliminating the need for zero waste toilet paper altogether. To many western societies, especially the U.S., bidets get a pretty bad rap (they shoot what where?!) but they’re really common in many eastern and European cultures. Plus, they’re far cleaner than the normal practice of wiping, not to mention far less wasteful.
Plus, modern technology has made them easy to attain. Just get a bidet attachment to upgrade your existing toilet, no second hunk of porcelain necessary, and no extra electricity, either They’re even super easy to install all by yourself; the only plumbers crack involved will be your squeaky clean one 🤭
Not only are bidets good for the environment, but they’re good for you. Proponents of the bidet do admit they don’t always get everything but they do get almost everything, making them a great primary cleaner to then pair with a minimal amount of eco-friendly toilet paper or family cloth.
If bidets are so great, WHY DON’T WE USE THEM?! Aside from the general mistique about the whole bidet business, a common misconception is that bidets waste water. In reality, the average toilet uses 5 gallons per flush while bidets only uses about 1/8 of a gallon to clean and flush. In America, universal bidet usage could save 3.6 billion gallons of water a day!
- Tushy Classic: Aside from having a charmingly reassuring name, this sleek and modern looking bidet attachment is self-cleaning and non-electric. Also, check out Tushy’s marketing, it’s particularly fun… Find it here: Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU)
- Brondell Thinline SimpleSpa (US Only): Super small, easy to install, and non-electric! Find it here: Amazon (US)
- For those often going on the go, try an affordable and portable TRAVEL BIDET. You can get a soft-squeeze hand pump models and rechargable battery operated models. You could even go ultra-simple and make your own portable bidet with a spray bottle. Find it here: Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU)
We hope we’ve helped wipe away 🤭 some of the misgivings and misconceptions about zero-waste toilet paper. Talking our bathroom habits can be uncomfortable, but implementing a more sustainable change to them doesn’t have to be.
If the whole thing still make you cringe, start by making small adjustments to your normal routine (just like everything zero waste!). Cut down your ply amount, or try to be conscious about the number of sheets you use. According to Better Planet, the average person uses a wopping 57 sheets per day, can you improve on that?
Any other ideas? We’d love to hear from you, let us know in the comments below!