No Detail too Small, A Look at “Green” Toilet Paper

By Shih-Chun Tseng
The Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center was granted LEED Gold certification this spring, capping off a multi-year effort to sustainably rehabilitate the 1905 building.  But the dedication to sustainability didn’t stop there. The staff members at President Lincoln’s Cottage share an ongoing commitment to sustainable practice, starting with the green housekeeping program, put into place at the start of the project and developed and refined by the Preservation Manager, Jeff Larry. -E. Mast

At museums and historic sites, restrooms are often a place that visitors will remember if they have a bad experience.  Thus, the site wants to provide a clean and well stocked restroom for visitors, but in a sustainable way from recycled content countertops down to the toilet paper.

You might be thinking, “Toilet paper?” Don’t we have more important things to think about?  Toilet paper might seem minor, but it can contribute to waste and expense in a hurry. How does one reduce the impact of toilet paper on the site and the environment? You certainly can’t recycle used toilet paper, you have to start by looking at the production of the toilet paper you purchase.

There is a staggering amount of information out there on green practice and choices when it comes to something as simple as toilet paper. Here are some of the criteria President Lincoln’s Cottage uses when purchasing toilet paper, criteria you can use, too.

  1. Purchase toilet paper made from recycled materials
    Why kill trees based on a personal preference that lasts just seconds? A report in the New York Times noted that there is less then 2 % of the 100% recycled toilet paper in the conventional and premium brands in the U.S. (the largest market for toilet paper around the world) while recycled products make up 20 % of the at-home market in Europe and Latin American.
  2. Use toilet paper that hasn’t been bleached with chlorine.
    Chlorine can react with paper to produce dioxins; dioxins are bad for humans and the Earth.
  3. Buy toilet paper in bulk.
    It can save on packaging waste and save you money. 
  4. The more squares per roll the better.
    This also saves packaging waste, reduces the ratio of roll tubes to squares, and saves on transportation cost.
  5. Tear from the top.
    Could direction matter?  Funny as it may seem, it might actually make sense.  A 2005 “study” suggests that you can save a few squares on every toilet paper use if we pull toilet paper from the top instead of under.
  6. Recycle toilet paper tubes and any packing/packaging waste.
    These post consumer waste products can be recycled into other paper products.

Although buying green toilet paper is a small thing, it can be a building block to greener restrooms and a greener lifestyle.   Are you convinced this is the right direction for you?  The useful Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide from Greenpeace and the Shopper’s Guide to Home Tissue Products from the Natural Resource Defense Council can help you on your way to greener living.

President Lincoln’s Cottage uses Envision® one-ply toilet paper in our restrooms from Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products. It is safe for all standard sewer and septic systems, is composed of 95% recycled fiber and meets the EPA Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG).
Ms. Tseng is a Summer 2009 Intern for President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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