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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

If That Toilet Paper Is Brown, It Must Be Green

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: business, marketing, sustainable business, paper products, greenwashing, brownwashing, Keith Goetzman, Wall Street Journal, environment,

Chipotle napkin 

It’s hard to enter a store these days without being visually assaulted by labels, logos, and signs that appeal to our environmental consciousness. It turns out that there’s an even more powerful way for marketers to signal an environmental product to shoppers: Make it brown.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Dunkin’ Donuts and Target’s in-store cafes have switched from white to brown napkins, while Seventh Generation even adds brown pigments to its eco-friendly diapers “to drive home the environmental message.”

And Cascades Tissue is about to enter a new frontier with its U.S. rollout of a beige toilet paper called Moka. It might be a hard sell for fussy Americans, though. Writes WSJ:

Consumers in regions outside of North America are more accepting of recycled toilet paper and more readily embrace colored or fragranced rolls. Kimberly-Clark’s local brands sell apricot-colored paper in the U.K., green in Poland, “sunny orange” in Switzerland and “natural pebble” in Germany, the company says.

It’s a different story in the U.S. When Cascades pitched its Moka toilet paper to distributors at a recent trade show, “faces showed disgust” at first, says [Cascades marketing director Isabell] Faivre. “Then they would feel the product and it was, ‘Oh, wow, that would be perfect,’” for customers who want softness, but also want green credentials, she says.

Let’s not kid ourselves, however: Most Americans prefer bleached-white, super-cushy toilet paper, and the vast majority of the stuff we buy is highly unsustainable. As of 2009, 98 percent of the toilet paper sold in the United States came from virgin wood, according to Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, as reported in The Guardian in a story that explores “the tenderness of the delicate American buttock.”

As Hershkowitz put it:

“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.”

Christophers Mims at Grist has a solution: Stop using the stuff. I’m going to let him make the case:

The solution is straightforward: Do away with T.P. Think that sounds unsanitary? Not as unsanitary as our current approach. This is how a friend put it: What if I pooped on your arm and you wiped it off with a paper towel. Is it clean now?

There’s nothing even weird about the idea — lots of cultures don’t share our freakish obsession with sticking paper up our bums. The French invented the bidet in 1710.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Grist 

Image by CorruptKitten, licensed under Creative Commons. 

7/30/2014 4:54:28 AM

I think it really need to change the quality and color of napkin and tissues. Hope people use it and also good for environment. http://groupspaces.com/WebDesignandDevelopmentService/announcements/

macdonald gay
6/5/2012 2:03:52 PM

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blind boy grunt
5/30/2012 5:02:58 PM

GREEN? What the hell does that mean anymore? The whole 'movement' (pun intended) just seems like the snake eating its own tail.

denise levine
4/22/2012 10:36:59 AM

An inconvenient truth about recycled paper is that the greater the recycled content, the greater the amount of BPA from the receipts and paper with heat sensitive ink. Is THAT what you want to be wiping with? Years ago when the first unbleached toilet paper came out, it was simply unbleached, but in the last twenty years, BPA has become ubiquitous and is in all the recycled paper bags, tp, etc. Don't forget a lot of virgin pulp comes from actively growing certified forests that are sequestering carbon dioxide, pulling it out of the air and sequestering it in the trees which are used as NEW carbon.

dave sabold
2/21/2012 8:25:35 PM

My sister suggested a hairdryer!

david sabold
2/20/2012 9:29:03 PM

I sit on the floor towel that drapes over the edge of the bathtub.

allen tyson
2/20/2012 9:06:09 PM

I take it other countries/cultures don't have any stigma associated with walking around with a big wet patch on you pants? I'm sure I'm missing something, but wouldn't that be the result with using either a bidet or other washing method, without then drying it off with a paper product?

jen steele
2/20/2012 5:29:22 PM

It does seem stupid to use virgin wood to wipe your bum. I will certainly try the brown paper if it becomes available here. I am kind of confused by other options, though. How about an article and the particulars of how other countries treat this issue. Education would help change the norm here.

david sabold
2/20/2012 3:42:38 PM

While traveling in Thailand we learned to love the kitchen dish squirter installed by most of the squat toilets. When I came home I installed one and we use it every time - usually after using one square of toilet paper. I then wash my hands in the sink with soapy water, since I clean with my fingers. I'm pretty sure I'm the cleanest person in any room!