Lately I’ve had paper on the brain. I had the pleasure of moderating a publishing industry sustainability panel, and one of the panelists (of excellent eco press New Society Publishers) shared a third-party database evaluating all kinds of paper products. Longtime readers will not be surprised that before long I was in as deep as a bodega cat in a chips display.
We’ve already talked about the importance of trees and know that preserving existing forests is one of the best things we can do to protect biodiversity and keep the climate a little more chill. Climate scientists say we need to have 30–50% of the world’s forests conserved or in restoration if we’re going to meet our climate goals. That means using less paper and buying products made from recycled pulp and alternative fibres (bamboo, straw husks, flax) are important ways forward.
But greenwashing abounds, and when you’re standing in the grocery aisle, thinking about COVID variants and smelling your own breath, it can get a little overwhelming. So this week I’ve taken a dive into the database and I’m serving up product recos for some of the most common paper products in our homes and offices. So if you’re ever thought, Jen, just tell me what to buy!, strap in.
But first, a moment for bamboo, because this is something that comes up a lot in the pulp and fibre space and in the products I’ll discuss below. Bamboo, you likely know, is a giant grass: it grows quickly, ready to harvest in four years, and thus can be a sustainable alternative to cutting down trees. Sometimes demand for bamboo leads to deforestation, though, so it helps to know where the bamboo is grown, and under what conditions. Happily, bamboo crops can be a great choice for degraded lands. If you’re buying something with bamboo pulp, you’d want the product to be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. Processing the pulp is also chemical and water intensive. Overall, better than pillaging virgin forests, but not as sustainable as recycled products.
Okay, let’s see if we can green-up our paper consumption. I’ll give you options for home and at the office, because if you’re willing to speak up at work, you could scale up your impact in a big way.
This may not be a major paper product in your home, but if you normally work in an office, forests are going through your photocopier all the time.
Reduce: Though offices aren’t likely going to stop printing, this pandemic has shown us how many things can work virtually. I’m still a Luddite who does my heavy-duty editing on paper, but I’d say we’ve cut the paper in our editorial process by over 70%. If we ever go back to offices, try setting a collective goal (e.g., cut paper by 25%), which is easy to track if you monitor frequency of paper orders.
Buy better: Staples FSC-certified 100% recycled copy paper or multipurpose paper is the real deal and available from a supplier many workplaces are using anyway. Their 30% recycled content product is $10 cheaper per box, but I’d see if your employer will pony up for the extra recycled content, which can have a big ecological impact. If you pair it with a paper-reduction strategy, you’ll still come away with savings. (There are plenty of other solid copy paper choices: just look for 100% recycled content and, if you’re using the database, a “superior” ranking.)
Reduce: Most North Americans are literally wiping our butts with forests. Americans alone use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper a year — that’s 15 million trees turned to pulp. But many Asian, European, and South American countries are way ahead on this tissue issue, thanks to the bidet. Now, you may say, is using all that water to squirt your bum any greener? Absolutely. Setting aside the trees themselves, making all that TP uses 473,587,500,000 gallons of water. A typical roll uses 37 gallons, whereas a bidet flush uses about 1/8 of a gallon. Plus the forests stay standing, and there are no chemical inputs for bleaching or emissions from processing, packaging and transportation.
Bidet attachments got a big boost from the great TP shortage of 2020 and there are plenty on the market. When shopping around, check to see if it washes front and back (some are just one or the other), and whether it adjusts water temp. Tushy is a big brand with lots of great reviews, but people have good experiences with other models. Some cloth diaperers also use their diaper rinse attachment. And if (like me) you wonder, But what about your wet butt?, know it’s common to still use a little TP to pat dry if you’re in a hurry.
Buy better: I’m a fan of Cascades, which is 100% post-consumer waste, a Canadian company, and doesn’t feel flimsy or like you’re exfoliating your undercarriage. It’s available at many grocery stores, but the best value is the giant pack you can get at Costco. Those rolls are thicc!
I’ll admit, though, I’ve been seduced by Who Gives a Crap, whose website I perused with an enthusiasm I once gave to Boxing Day sales. I came to them because they’re a top-ranked TP in the paper database, and I soon found a lot to love about the company: 50% (!!) of profits donated to sanitation non-profits so that more people can have clean water, toilets, hand-washing facilities, etc.; certified B Corp status (which means they do right by their employees and the planet); 100% recycled paper content or sustainably grown bamboo products; carbon-neutral shipping; plus cheery, sustainable, punny packaging (when the delivery arrived, my partner dubbed it “your sassy little box”). This is tested not just by me but by a friend, whose nethers are more discerning than mine: we’re both happy with it. (If you want to try it, the link above gives us both a $10 discount! The U.S. site ships to Canada for an $8 fee.)
If you’re ordering TP for an office? The best option for value is Scott Essential 100% Recycled Fibre (available through Staples).
Since you all know by now that frugality is my love language and we all need TP, I crunched the numbers for Canucks. (Americans, isn’t everything on sale for you?) Keep in mind that paper products are notoriously hard to compare: they even stump economist and expert comparison shopper Jacob Goldstein. But I did my best. Cascades (two-ply) at Metro comes in at about 0.33 cents a sheet. (The 12-pack is $9.99 and rarely goes on sale.) Who Gives a Crap (three-ply, but slightly smaller squares), 48 pack, including shipping and exchange rate, at 0.37. (If you use that $10 discount though, for a first-time buy or for signing up for a subscription, it comes out ever so slightly ahead — 0.3.) This is all to say it’s more or less a wash (or a wipe, I suppose). Choose based on which company you want to support and how much room you have to store TP — and whether you like it sassy.
Reduce: Rags can replace most paper towel uses, or if you’re fancy, try a biodegradable Swedish dish cloth. I use my disposables mostly for washing out the cat box and for greasy bacon. If you’re devoted to them for glass cleaning, an easy alternative is a little crumpled newspaper. (It works and is lint-free!) Also, if you use paper towel for napkins, let me recommend dark-coloured fabric napkins. I have black ones and never have to worry about getting a tomato sauce or curry stain out of them.
Buy better: Who Gives a Crap (bamboo-fibre), Cascades, Seventh Generation, and Scott 100% recycled are all good options. If it’s not a bamboo product, get as much recycled content as possible.
At the office, for hand drying I’d opt for the Cascades rolls or singlefolds. (Staples also has a cheaper, still-solid singlefold option, if price is an issue.) And for the kitchen, I’d go for the Cascades Pro Select, which are all 100% recycled.
And whichever one you use, don’t forget: paper towel goes in the compost/green bin!
Reduce: Hankies — not that gross, I swear! I have a bunch from my grandfather, but they’re also easy to make.
Buy better: If you want some disposable options, Who Gives a Crap has a bamboo-fibre variety, and Cascades and Seventh Generation are pretty good choices. (You won’t find 100% recycled here, sadly, because recycled fibres aren’t soft enough for raw little noses. So reducing is even more important.) For the office, I’d go with the Cascades Pro Perform.
Reducing and reusing are always best! Hankies, reusable napkins, cleaning rags, and bidet attachments can all help you reduce your forest footprint.
The Canopy paper products database is a great resource. The greenest products are made from 100% recycled content, use chlorine-free bleach (PCF, TCF), and are labelled “superior.”
Recommended workplace paper products: Staples FSC-certified 100% recycled copy paper, Scott Essential 100% Recycled Fibre toilet paper, Cascades paper towel rolls or singlefolds, Cascades Pro Perform facial tissues.
Recommended home paper products: products made by Cascades, Who Gives a Crap, or Seventh Generation.
My dad is renovating a house and saved over 100 pieces of lumber for reconstruction, even though it meant extracting old nails by hand. That’s good for many trees saved!
Running a sustainability panel for my industry conference was SUCH A THRILL. This is about as high as a scale-up can go for me, and over 100 people from publishers across Canada attended. We talked recycled content, offsets, green energy, ethical packing materials, and more. If just one of those publishers ups their recycled content, it’ll make a big difference, and my workplace is doing a deep dive on our paper practices this week.
Meg and others in the FMFP Facebook group filled out a survey to share their budget priorities with the feds! If you believe in things like climate policy, green jobs, and renewable energy, this is a great place to make your voice heard. It only takes five minutes, and if you love to complain about how the government spends its money, now’s your chance! It’s open until February 19.
Have you got a win you want to share with the class? I’m running low, so please do hit reply and let me know! Thanks, as always, for reading, sharing, and making the world a little greener, a little cleaner.
P.S. You may have noticed Loblaws announced some new sustainability policies. Though as we’ve seen, major grocery stores are not so sustainable in a lot of ways, I’m glad to see them making this move and hope other grocers swiftly follow suit. Something that wasn’t in the announcement, though? Their policy on hydrofluorocarbons, which are massively damaging human-made greenhouse gases, and something grocery stores use to keep their many fridges and freezers cool. Getting a handle on HFCs a top Drawdown climate intervention, and How to Save a Planet has a great episode on this. So I wrote them a note to ask them about their HFC policy. If you’d like to send a similar letter to Loblaws or another grocery chain, you can use my template, available here. (If you’re writing another chain, I’d be sure to ask if they’ll be following Loblaws’ lead on reducing packaging.)