Is bamboo or recycled toilet paper better for the environment?

Who Gives a Crap founder Simon Griffiths spoke with Yahoo Lifestyle about how to make the right toilet paper choice. Interview: Michael Dahlstrom

Video transcript

SIMON GRIFFITHS: The order of what's best for the environment starts with recycled, and then bamboo, and then virgin, if you assume that they're all produced in the same factory, which is an important assumption, because the way that different factories will operate will vary from one factory to another. But if they're all produced in the same factory and sourcing raw materials locally to that factory, then it's recycled, bamboo, and virgin.

And there's a lot of other variables that come in. But if we just think about those raw materials to start with, recycled is better for the environment, because it's a waste material that's getting upcycled and turned back into a tissue paper. And so in our instance, we're usually sourcing office materials or used school textbooks, which are a soft material, and sort of turn that soft material into a paper pulp and then into a tissue.

That's actually a relatively energy-light process, because pulping this soft paper material doesn't require huge amounts of energy to turn it from what is already a soft material into tissue paper. But when you pop bamboo or timber, it's a much more energy-intensive process, because you're pulping a-- or trying to pulp a very hard material and turning it into a soft tissue material, which takes a lot of energy to make that happen.

And that energy causes carbon. And so we found that when we looked at our-- examined our production processes, a recycled tissue used about 80% of the carbon compared to a bamboo tissue when we were manufacturing it. And a virgin timber tissue uses roughly the same amount of carbon as a bamboo tissue.

And then on top of that, there's land usage. So when you think about a virgin timber, you're taking a forest. And that forest could be used for enjoying people's weekends in. Or if it's a plantation forest, you're putting pressure on the productive land that we have access to as a society, which ultimately results, probably, in further deforestation somewhere else in the world if we're putting pressure onto that productive land nearby.

And so using a recycled material, because you're upcycling waste products, there is no pressure on productive land from the upcycling of a waste material. And so that's much better in terms of land usage. And bamboo, you can harvest bamboo in a much more dense environment than you can virgin timber or trees. And so you only require about 1/10 the amount of land space to create a bamboo field that can be harvested to create the same amount of tissue as 10 times the size of land space that's required for virgin timber to make that same amount of tissue.

So from a land usage point of view, again, recycled is the lead. Bamboo's second. And then virgin timber is the least preferable of all of those scenarios. And importantly, bamboo is a fast-growing grass. So not only does it grow incredibly quickly, which reduces the amount of land that you need to use, it also can be cut rather than torn out of the ground. And so that keeps the soil intact, which stops a lot of carbon being released into the atmosphere through that process. So bamboo is a very good material to make paper from compared to trees. But if we can, we'd still prefer to use a recycled tissue instead of a bamboo tissue.

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