Sneeze Guilt-Free with Greenpeace Tissue Guide

“Did you know? Americans could save more than 400,000 trees if each family bought a roll of recycled toilet paper — just once.” — Greenpeace Tissue Guide

Joe is sitting in our office, coughing and blowing into a tissue (Kleenex). He’s got a mound of them in the wastebasket on the floor next to him. One after another, he blows and performs the other functions that go with a bad upper respiratory illness. Without the tissues, we’d need a dresserful of handkerchiefs, hot water, and detergent — to say nothing of the tolerance required for washing cloths filled with virus-borne nasal fluids. I’m grateful (as he is) for the ready convenience of facial tissues.

Cold and flu season shouldn't destroy ancient trees.  Photo: J Wasson

Cold and flu season shouldn't destroy ancient trees. Photo: J Wasson

Last night, we used paper napkins at dinner (Green Forest). I pulled a single paper towel (Bounty) off the roll to clean up a spill from the floor. And, like the rest of the developed world privileged to have the conveniences of modern hygiene, we’ve also used our share of toilet tissue (Charmin) in the past 24 hours. What we haven’t done — till now — is to look carefully at the environmental costs of the particular tissues we’re using. If you could see my face, you’d know I’m embarrassed at the enormous impact the two of us are having on the ancient forests of this planet.

Whether you’re already a smart eco-consumer or as clueless as we have been on this step in the journey to leaving a tiny footprint, you will find the new Greenpeace Tissue Guide to be an invaluable shopping companion. Greenpeace has rated many of the most popular paper products on grocery store shelves. They evaluated four types of paper products based on three criteria:

  • 100% recycled content
  • ≥ 50% post-consumer recycled content
  • No toxic chlorine compounds used to bleach the paper

Rankings are based on how many of the criteria each product meets:

  • 3 of 3: Recommended
  • 2 of 3: Can do better
  • 0 or 1 of 3: To be avoided

Joe and I were chagrined to see (but probably shouldn’t have been surprised) that most of the products we use are among the big offenders, according to the Greenpeace list. The one exception is our napkins, which were manufactured by Green Forest. They’re made from 100% recycled material, 90% of which is post-consumer waste. The bleaching process is PCF (processed chlorine-free), which uses none of the toxic chemicals known to cause cancer. So we can feel okay about our paper napkins. Better yet, we could use cloth napkins on a daily basis, and just toss them in with the rest of the laundry.

Paper or cloth? It's not just about diapers. Photo: J Wasson

Cloth or paper? It's not just a question about diapers. Photo: J Wasson

My lone paper towel last night had 0% recycled content, 0% post-consumer content, and had been bleached using an elemental chlorine-free (ECF) process, which is better than the old chlorine method, but not, according to Greenpeace, as good as Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF) or Processed Chlorine-Free (PCF). Most of the time, I use small rags or dishcloths to clean up our kitchen messes. So I can either switch to using cloth for every spill, or buy paper towels that score high on the Greenpeace list. An easy choice for me.

[Please bear with me while I take a little side trip here, because in researching ECF on the web, I found a site that claims ECF is “the clear environmental and economic winner” (the Alliance for the Responsible Use of Chlorine Chemistry, whose participants include Dow Corning, the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the Chemistry Council, and Kimberly-Clark — the makers of Kleenex). In fact, there are so many sites claiming how wonderful ECF is that I’m hard-pressed to find info to the contrary. So, I have to rely temporarily (while I continue my research) on the adage, “Consider the source.” Hmmm… in matters of the environment, do I trust Greenpeace or Kimberly-Clark? Another easy choice.]

It turns out that Charmin toilet tissue is made from O% post-consumer content. In fact, it includes NO recycled content at all. And, to make it even worse, our chosen TP is bleached using ECF (chlorine compounds). Secretly, I cry, “But I like Charmin! It’s soft and absorbent. I don’t want to give it up.” Yet, that’s a sacrifice I’ve got to be willing to make. With every flush, my family now sends a small part of our virgin, ancient forests to the sewer. That’s not a fitting end for a grand and dignified old-growth tree.

And what about those boxes of tissues Joe’s been using up faster than a kid can eat a bag of M&Ms? Kleenex is a definite loser on the Greenpeace Tissue Guide scale: 0% recycled content; 0% post-consumer content; and ECF used for bleaching. We haven’t tried the Green Forest alternative or any of the other eco-friendly options. But now that we’ve been publicly shamed into doing so, we’ll be loading our shopping cart with better choices for the planet. Will they be soft on Joe’s oft-rubbed nose? Probably not as soft as what he’s used to. If he’s still on the frequent-nose-blower program by the time we run out of tissues, he may even opt for handkerchiefs rather than rough tissues. But the truth is, we don’t even know if the more eco-friendly tissues are rough, because we haven’t tried them. That’s about to change.

When we switch to more environmentally friendly tissues and a more sustainable lifestyle, we may not find them as soft as what we’ve gotten used to. But we’ll both feel better knowing we’re making wiser choices. It’s a question of honoring our values, which isn’t a question at all, come to think of it. You could call it a no-brainer. We were just slow to catch on. How about you?

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)


4 Responses to “Sneeze Guilt-Free with Greenpeace Tissue Guide”

  1. Anne Russell on March 3rd, 2009 9:05 pm

    Handkerchiefs are the answer. They are soft, washable, and based upon the stock we have, if you don’t lose them (which does happen), they will last almost forever.

    The BIG question with handkerchiefs is 100% cotton (which I like) and polyester/cotton (which my husband likes). He thinks his are softer, I think mine are.

    I did buy a big bunch of “shop towels” last year at Costco for the kitchen. I’m trying to get off of my paper towel dependence (it’s difficult, but I’m getting there).

    So, do I use more water? Maybe, but I’m doing laundry anyway, and handkerchiefs don’t take up much room. Am I saving a quarter or half a tree over the course of a year? A branch? Maybe. I hope so.

    Thanks for the tips. I’m going straight to the Greenpeace site, but I’ll be back.
    You guys are great!

  2. Julia Wasson on March 4th, 2009 9:17 am

    Anne, thanks for your comments. Joe is trying a soft rag now, instead of tissues. It’s definitely easier on his nose — and, as you said, won’t take up much space in the laundry.

    Keep saving those branches; they’ll add up to a tree before you know it.

  3. on March 8th, 2009 1:52 pm

    Sneeze Guilt-Free with Greenpeace Tissue Guide : Blue Planet Green Living…

    Joe is sitting in our office, coughing and blowing into a tissue (Kleenex). He’s got a mound of them in the wastebasket on the floor next to him. One after another, he blows and performs the other functions that go with a bad upper respiratory illnes…

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