The Charmin Effect

We're wiping out forests more literally than we think

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Last Friday, Greenpeace released its first Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide.

“Why is Greenpeace reporting on the wiping habits of the world?” you may be asking yourself. “Shouldn’t they be off ramming Japanese whaling boats or something?”

Turns out that what we wipe with makes a huge difference. All those fluffy, quilted, squeezably soft gentle-on-your-tush powdery smelling rolls out there are made from a minimum of 50 percent old forests that serve as carbon dioxide processors, not to mention animal habitat. Some of the pulp comes from the last virgin North American forests. Really, wouldn’t you rather be hiking in that forest than wiping you butt with it?

If you answered yes (and I hope you did) you’re helping to buck the national trend. According to an article in the New York Times, sales of the fluffy, old growth based brands like Angel Soft, Charmin, Quilted Northern and Wal-Mart and Target house brands were up 40% in 2008.

Still not convinced? Consider this: turning a tree into toilet paper or any paper takes more water than turning paper recycling into fiber and back into paper. And while trees are required for fluffy (it’s the long, plumpable fibers), white wipe is an entirely separate issue. Bright white or pastel colored fleck free toilet tissue is generally made with polluting chlorine-based bleach followed by dyeing. Need more reasons to make the switch? The waste factor is another pro-recycled argument. Making virgin TP can waste up to 50% of the raw material, funneling it into the landfill instead of wrapping it around your roll so you can flush it yourself.

The handy Greenpeace pocket guide (please print it out on recycled paper before you go to the grocery store) lists ten brands from Green Forest to Trader Joe’s that use 100% recycled fiber. But as backpackers, I challenge you to do better. Not only do I ask you to never ever buy virgin tree-containing toilet paper so that we can keep our forest for hiking instead of solo user single use activities, but I ask you to think about if you really need to bring a wipe from home next time you go out in the woods. Snow, leaves, moss, sticks and rocks are all options. Sure, they all have their quirks and take some getting uses to, and no, sand is not a good choice, but how nice would it be to never come upon another soggy piece of toilet paper in an otherwise pristine spot in the woods? It would make me a happy camper for sure.

Have a personal preference or an insight into wiping in the woods? Personally, I am a fan of the snow wipe when available. Please share your comments on this delicate topic below, and please…keep it PG-13.