Toilet Paper: Paper, or Plastic?

Last updated on June 16, 2024.

frog figurines next to toilet paper
Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay.

Toilet paper is one of those things that we all buy and use. But have you ever noticed that the vast majority of brands wrap it in plastic? We throw that plastic in the trash because it’s not recyclable. My family used Quilted Northern (or other brands if they were on sale for years) and threw away the plastic packaging every week. Some, like Charmin brand, have packs of 4 wrapped in plastic and then 3 or 4 of those grouped and wrapped in plastic, again, to make a 12 or 16 pack. Plastic wrapped in plastic.

I’ve looked almost everywhere locally, and the majority of toilet paper is plastic-wrapped, sadly.

“It turns out that regular toilet paper—at 1.5 pounds of wood and thirty-seven gallons of water per roll—is surprisingly wasteful.” -Eve O. Schaub, author of Year Of No Garbage1

Plastic-Free Toilet Paper

I discovered a company called Who Gives a Crap, which makes toilet paper from recycled paper and bamboo, meaning they use no virgin paper and don’t cut down any trees to make their products. Their products are plastic-free and they don’t use inks, dyes, or scents. The company also gives back: “We donate 50% of our profits to ensure everyone has access to clean water and a toilet within our lifetime.”2 So plastic-free and toxin-free, and the company does good for the world? I don’t normally buy anything in bulk, but I had to give them a try.

Who Gives A Crap toilet paper
My Who Gives A Crap toilet paper order. Photo by Marie Cullis.

The result is that we’ve been using this toilet paper exclusively since 2018. The company makes recycled toilet paper from “post-consumer waste paper (things like textbooks, workbooks, office paper, etc) and a small percentage (around 5%) of post-industrial paper.” Using recycled paper allows them to reduce their carbon dioxide and particulate matter emissions, and it also saves water. It is also free of BPA because they use recycled paper that is free from BPA.

Who Gives A Crap’s bamboo toilet paper is the one I prefer. Bamboo, which is a grass, is a sustainable option because it grows fast, is very renewable, and needs no irrigation or fertilization. Their bamboo is mainly grown in remote areas of Sichuan Province in China by farmers who plant bamboo on the outskirts of their family farms in order to supplement their income.

For extra fun, you can reuse the paper from the rolls to make gift-wrapping paper! Who Gives A Crap also offers blog posts about other crafts you can make with their paper wrappers.3

Who Gives A Crap’s Mission

When the founders discovered that 2.4 billion people don’t have access to a toilet and that contaminated water from lack of toilets contributes to over 1 million deaths per year, they wanted to do something about it. Here’s how they describe it:

A toilet could make all the difference, but billions of people worldwide still live without one. Without a loo, waste ends up in local waterways – the same place people collect water for drinking, cleaning and bathing. That’s why toilets are an integral part of a bigger health initiative called WASH, which stands for water, sanitation and hygiene. Together, these three elements strengthen communities and save millions of lives.4

This is a really great cause and one we don’t think of much in the U.S. We take toilet access for granted!

Who Gives A Crap recycled toilet paper.

Affordability

Who Gives A Crap’s bamboo rolls cost $68 for 48 rolls, which equals about $1.42 per roll. Their recycled rolls are about $1.29 each. Their rolls are double length, so I’m comparing ‘mega” sized toilet paper rolls in the other brands:

        • Charmin 30 mega rolls $32.98, or $1.10 per roll
        • Target brand 30 mega rolls for $20.49, or $0.68 per roll
        • Great Value brand is $21.84 for 24 mega rolls, or $0.91 per roll
        • Angel Soft 24 mega rolls at $15.46, or $0.64 per roll
        • Quilted Northern $20.98 for 24 mega rolls, or $0.87 per roll

So the average cost for Who Gives A Crap is slightly higher than regular store brands, but their products are forest friendly, plastic-free, toxic-free, delivered to my door, and half of the company’s profits go to help others across the globe. Keep that in mind!

UPDATE, June 13, 2024: Whole Foods recently started carrying Who Gives A Crap recycled toilet paper. It is sold in much smaller quantities than it is online, so it costs more per roll to buy it in person (4 rolls at $1.75 per or 8 rolls at $1.69 per). But, this is still a step in the right direction!

Blue boxes of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper on a grocery store shelf.
Who Gives A Crap is now sold at Whole Foods. Photo by Marie Cullis.

“Throwaway tissue products don’t have to destroy forests…tissue products made from 100 percent recycled content have one-third the carbon footprint of those made from 100 percent virgin forest fiber.” -filmmakers and authors, Laurie David and Heather Reisman

Sustainable Toilet Paper

Many toilet paper brands are damaging to forests and the environment in general. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issues an annual report rating toilet paper brands by sustainability called Issue with Tissue. They are rated with a grade between A-F. In 2023, Who Gives a Crap recycled toilet paper got an A, while Whole Foods’ 365 brand received an A+. Among the companies that received the worst rating, an F, were brands by ALDI, Target, Publix, and Wegmans.6

There are 4 rated A+, but all but one are packaged in plastic, which is also as harmful to the environment. The exception, Natural Value, is packaged in paper but costs much more than Who Gives A Crap brand. So I’m going to stick with Who Gives A Crap for now. Unfortunately, I may have to switch from their bamboo toilet paper to their recycled toilet paper, since the former only received a B rating with the NRDC.

I’ve linked the NRDC scorecard under Additional Resources below. For those of you who cannot buy 48 or 60 rolls at a time, try to buy a brand rated well – avoid all of those brands that received a C, D, or F. There are still plenty of budget or storage-friendly products rated A and B to choose from.

“Toilet paper may represent one of the most egregious and wasteful causes of forest loss. The largest US toilet paper brands drive a dangerous tree-to-toilet ‘pipeline’ that is contributing to an unsustainable loss of trees, including the boreal forest in Canada.” -filmmakers and authors, Laurie David and Heather Reisman

Alternatives to Toilet Paper

Modern bidet.
Modern bidet. Photo by Basan1980 at German Wikipedia/Wikimedia.

Yes! Bidets are like an additional toilet used for washing your nether regions. “The classic bidet is a miniature, bathtub-like fixture situated next to the toilet, with taps on one end. Its tub is filled with water, and the user straddles themselves over it to wash below the belt,” an article in The Atlantic described.8 An article on how to use a bidet explained that you should “Always use the toilet before you use the bidet. A bidet is intended to help you wash and clean up after using the toilet, but the fixture is not an actual toilet.”9 But they are more popular in Europe and Japan than in North America. 

Does the use of a bidet reduce toilet paper consumption, and hence save trees? Yes, according to an article in Scientific American, they save trees and also they save water, from the production of toilet paper!10

Personally, I’d be willing to try this but there is just no room in our small bathroom. But in a future residence, perhaps!

Reusable Wipes

Don’t buy disposable wipes. They are made of plastic, are not biodegradable, and cause major damage to sewer systems. “Once flushed, the wipes glom together with any fat from food waste and can form what are called “fatbergs”—iceberg-style blockages that can clog a whole system.”11 They are expensive to extract and repair the damage they cause. Disposable wipes also end up in waterways, the ocean, and beaches.

If you must buy these, please throw them in the trash even if they are advertised as ‘flushable.’

Cloth wipes, sometimes referred to as family cloths, are reusable cloth wipes that you launder after each use. I had a family member who made her own to use while she was pregnant because she was peeing so frequently – brilliant! Many people have strong opinions for and against this process.12 I sewed some family cloths for our home to use instead of disposable wet wipes. I simply took cotton flannel scraps and old t-shirt fabric and made two-layer rectangular wipes. We have found them very useful as a supplement. We rinse them out after use and then wash them in the washing machine.

Toilet paper rolls in a white basket.
Photo by Vlada Karpovich.

Other Ideas?

Have you found other brands of plastic-free toilet paper? Or have you tried one of these alternatives, or another that I did not cover? I’d love to know if you’ve thought of something else, leave me a comment! Thank you for reading and please share and subscribe.

I did not get paid or receive gifts to write about Who Gives A Crap’s products. The opinions in this article are honest and mine.

 

Additional Resources:

Issue with Tissue scorecard, Natural Resources Defense Council, updated September 19, 2023.

Footnotes: