Green Toilet Paper Buying Guide: Be Kind to Your Behind vs. Hug a Tree?



Greenpeace recently released a tissue-buying guide for consumers to highlight the use of post-consumer recycled content and environmentally friendly bleach. Green Forest came in first, with Whole Foods’ store brand, 365, a close second.

The New York Times chose to frame this as a standard environmental cliche: Americans, with their unreasonable preference for soft, fluffy tissues and toilet paper, are destroying the Canadian boreal forest, and it’s up to environmentalists to guilt us all into buying the uncomfortable off-brand stuff we don’t really like. In this narrative, the big manufacturers’ hands are tied.

“Customers “demand soft and comfortable,” said James Malone, a spokesman for Georgia Pacific, the maker of Quilted Northern. “Recycled fiber cannot do it.”

But I talked to Greenpeace forest campaigner Lindsey Allen and she had a different story. They are targeting manufacturers, not just consumers. For example, they disrupted a Cottonelle viral marketing campaign: “They had set up a blue couch in Times Square and were asking passersby to tell a story; you were supposed to ‘let it out,’ get emotional, reach for a Kleenex. They were filming for a commercial. We had volunteers get in front of the camera, all miked, who said, we have something we want to let out: 
it’s really sad that you’re using North Ameican Boreal virgin fiber in your products.” You can check out the YouTube video here.

It’s common to frame environmental dilemmas moralistically, as small, personal choices where we all should try to do the right thing, even if it makes us a little uncomfortable. But maybe the tissue issue is really a matter of pressuring businesses to innovate and do a better job marketing products that are better for the planet. Is it really impossible to make a soft, fluffy paper with recycled content, and to make it an appealing brand? Marcal, the oldest manufacturers of recycled paper in the country, is giving it a shot this Earth Day, with the first line of nationally advertised recycled toilet paper.

About the author

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her 2011 ebook The Edupunks’ Guide was funded by the Gates Foundation.