Monday, March 16, 2009

The Product That Causes Some of The Worst Environmental Damage Is...

Gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing automobiles; fast “food” (I use the term “food” loosely); McMansions; plastics; the list is endless – all are polluters worthy of bricks and boos; but, which is the most polluting.

Surprisingly, possibly the largest polluter of all time is ***drum roll, please*** toilet paper. It would appear that the pampered posteriors of a privileged American public cause more environmental devastation than is known. The reason is because the public insists on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply products when visiting the facilities.

"This is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous," said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution."

Toilet paper has a two-fold impact on the environment. Forests are cut down for the raw material plus many chemicals are used in the pulp manufacture.

Greenpeace has launched a campaign to try to educate Americans/Canadians about the environmental costs involved. The campaign will also try to derail an aggressive marketing ploy by the paper industry giants to introduce new, luxury, brands promoted by celebrities.

More than 98% of the toilet roll sold in America comes from virgin wood, said Hershkowitz. In comparison in Europe and Latin America up to 40% of toilet paper comes from recycled products. Greenpeace this week launched a cut-out-and-keep ecological ranking of toilet paper products.
"We have this myth in the US that recycled is just so low quality, it's like cardboard and is impossible to use," said Lindsey Allen, the forestry campaigner of Greenpeace. In Canada (at least), recycled, unbleached toilet paper is of a very acceptable standard – at a lower price both to the consumer and the environment.

The New York Times reported a 40% rise in sales of luxury brands of toilet paper in 2008. This includes those brands with lotion; extra soft; quilted; extra layers; and air pockets. Paper companies are going all out to keep the buying public from defecting to cheaper brands as the recession deepens. Kimberly-Clark spent $25 m in its third quarter on advertising warning against the horrors of allowing inferior paper to touch their sensitive bottoms.

Kimberly-Clark, which touts its green credentials on its website, strikes back by rejecting the notion that it is foisting destructive products on an unwitting, unsuspecting American public.

Dave Dixon, a company spokesman, says that recycled tissue has been on the market for many years. The American public obviously does not want to buy them.

"For bath tissue Americans in particular like the softness and strength that virgin fibres provides," Dixon said. "It's the quality and softness the consumers in America have come to expect."

Dixon tried to lessen the impact by saying the company used products from sustainably farmed forests in Canada.

Americans already consume three times more per person than the average European, and 100 times more than the average person in China. Yet barely 1/3 of the paper products contains recycled materials.

"I really do think it is overwhelmingly an American phenomenon," said Hershkowitz. "People just don't understand that softness equals ecological destruction."

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