Toilet roll. It’s an inconspicuous presence in our homes, workplaces, anywhere we might need to spend a penny.
Most of us use it every day and don’t think much about it, but the humble roll can come with a hefty price-tag for our forests, water, and climate. Those costs climb even higher when we factor in other daily tissue products, like kitchen rolls and facial tissues.
What are the main ways that paper tissue harms the environment, and are there better alternatives? Here’s our breakdown of the top five issues with tissues, and how we can do better.
One of the most apparent and alarming consequences of our global demand for paper products is deforestation. Paper is predominantly made from wood pulp, often supplied through extensive logging of forests. This practice disrupts ecosystems, destroys habitats, and contributes to the loss of biodiversity.
Tissue production may be a particular culprit - the soft toilet paper preferred in the UK is often sourced from virgin wood pulp. Sometimes this will come from farmed forestry but in many cases it is from virgin forests. This means the destruction of trees that have grown over decades for the sake of something that is going to be flushed or thrown away.
Choosing recycled or bamboo-based alternatives can help mitigate this issue, and it’s really important to check that your products carry FSC certification, so that you know that their forestry is being managed responsibly. Naked Sprout products have always been certified with the FSC, and we are proud to meet their standards.
Another great option to take the pressure off forests is to make use of the huge amount of cardboard and paper that already exists by recycling it. Using recycled material to make paper reduces the amount of waste heading to landfill and encourages businesses to work together so that company A isn’t throwing away material that their neighbors at company B could make good use of.
Bamboo and recycling both put us in a better position for the future, and so we offer both bamboo and recycled toilet rolls at Naked Sprout.
2. Energy Consumption
It takes a lot of energy to make tissue products, as pulp is dried into sheets using machines that are like giant hairdryers. If you've ever seen what happens to your smart meter when you’re running a hairdryer you’ll know where we’re going with this - the amount of energy needed is massive.
So producing this energy using fossil fuels, which most manufacturers do, adds a huge amount of carbon emissions into our atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Some more eco-conscious brands are trying to balance the books here with offsetting, but as we shared in our last post, this isn’t the way we want to go.
Our factory is extremely unusual in the industry because they only use renewable energy they generate on site to power their machines, and so our emissions stay incredibly low, only coming from the supply of our raw materials, transport, and waste management.
“But transport emissions aren’t nothing!” We hear you cry. And you’re right, but they are very small compared to the emissions we save overall by bringing our raw materials to one of the only paper mills in the world that doesn’t burn fossil fuels.
3. Water Usage
We all love tissue for its absorbency, but the sheer quantity of water needed to make it is often a drain on water sources, harming aquatic ecosystems and damaging the health of communities that live nearby.
So how do we make tissue products without working up a big thirst? We can make our processes so clean that our waste water isn’t really wasted.
Our factory was built on the banks of the river Fluvia in the 1880s, and we respect this long standing partnership with mother nature. With no bleach, no dyes, no microplastics and no harsh chemicals used in Naked Sprout we’re able to return the water back to the river in the same condition as when we borrowed it. The local environmental agency checks the river regularly to make sure all is in good order. So next time you reach for one of our bamboo kitchen rolls for a spill, you know that the water that made it hasn’t been wasted.
4. Excessive Chemicals
Traditional tissue production involves the use of a range of chemicals, including chlorine-based bleaches, to whiten and process the pulp. This is so common that we don’t even think about the bright white shade of most tissue products and what it takes to make it - people sometimes get in touch with us to ask if we dye our products to make them brown!
Bleach is so common we hardly notice it, but it’s far from harmless. When bleach or bleached products are flushed they can pollute water and harm aquatic life. And bleach isn’t great for people either. Recent studies suggest links between bleached toilet rolls and a range of minor and serious health concerns. Moreover, the exposure of workers in the paper industry to these chemicals can pose very serious health risks to their health.
You can help mitigate this damage by seeking out paper products that are processed using eco-friendly and chlorine-free methods. Those can sometimes be more gentle on the environment than chlorine bleach, but they still mean extra chemicals are being manufactured and transported, and extra processing is needed at the mill. Is it really worth all that for something that’s going to be flushed away? We don’t think it is, so Naked Sprout products come in the natural sandy shades of their raw materials which we think is beautiful just as it is.
5. Plastic Pollution
Finally, tissue products often come to us wrapped in plastic. We all know the score with this by now; plastic doesn’t break down and the use of single-use plastic in billions of everyday products is causing havoc in our ecosystem.
We founded Naked Sprout with the firm commitment to keep our products 100% plastic-free. This can make some interesting wrinkles for us to figure out. For example, customers who love our gentle, bleach free facial tissues often ask if we’re able to produce smaller “travel sized” packs. The difficulty here is in the filling. Normally these smaller sized packets are filled by machines. This is no problem when the tissues are being inserted into durable plastic sleeves. But paper and cardboard packets are much more delicate, and need to be filled by hand. The amount of time needed to do this is tricky to balance with the final pricing, particularly when you’re committed to paying everyone who works for you a living wage, as we are.
We’re still working on it, and if we can’t find a solution without plastic we won’t make them!
So there you have it – a candid rundown about how soft and gentle tissue products may be less than gentle on our planet. From deforestation to energy consumption, water usage, chemical pollution, and plastic, our love affair with tissue has a lot to answer for. .
But here's the good news – we can make a change. By choosing products made from sustainable materials, opting for better sources of energy, and rejecting plastic and harsh chemicals, we can care for ourselves, our homes, and our planet too.
Ready to move to a truly sustainable alternative? Shop our range of environmentally friendly tissue products today.