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I get lots of emails a day, and lately many of them seem to be on the topic of bums. Specifically, on which is the best plastic-free toilet paper for our bums and for the environment.
I’ve got young kids, so I’m used to speaking about bums on very regular, sometimes too regular basis. Frankly, it’s refreshing to be asked about the environmental credentials of toilet paper rather than fielding such classic questions as “Mum, why do we fart” and “Mum, where does poo come from”.
To be honest, we were using supermarket own brand recycled toilet paper until the start of this year, so this is an area fairly new to me. I hadn’t given loo roll much consideration before. It turns out, however, softness aside, there are a whole host of environmental and social factors of toilet paper to consider. From what the paper is made of, where it’s made, how it’s packaged, and how it got to your bathroom, and more.
I’ve been able to find three plastic-free toilet rolls. Let’s dive in and take a look at the environmental credentials of the various plastic-free toilet paper brands available in the UK:
Which Is The Best Plastic-Free Toilet Paper?
Greencane Plastic-Free Toilet Paper
Cost: £25.20 for a box of 48 rolls (53p per roll)
UK shipping cost: £4.44
Roll size: 300 sheets of 2 ply paper
Made in/ships from: Southern Asia
Packaged in: Cardboard Box, rolls arrive ‘naked’
Greencane was my first foray into plastic-free toilet paper. I ordered a box at the end of January and was delighted when, a few days later, a box of 48 toilet rolls arrived unwrapped in a cardboard box. I loved the fact that the box was sealed with paper tape. In fact, the only plastic that I found was a small bit of plastic on the outside of the box containing the invoice.
The only thing I hadn’t accounted for was the fact that 48 toilet rolls would be arriving on my doorstep. Let’s just say that this is a little bit more than the pack of nine toilet roll that I normally bought from the supermarket, and I hadn’t anticipated what 48 rolls would actually look like. We had to get a bit creative with where we would store all this toilet roll. Something to consider before you order!
Greencane isn’t the softest toilet paper I’ve ever tried – it’s no 3-ply quilted luxury loo roll – but then again, it’s not scratchy or worse, like tracing paper. It simply does the job perfectly fine, and I’ve had no complaints from any of my family.
Greencane toilet paper is made from a mix of materials. 70% is made from a mix of recycled sugarcane and bamboo fibre (bagasse), a byproduct of the sugar refining process. The other 30% is wood pulp, which is added for softness. Greencane says this wood pulp is certified but don’t say what this certification is.
Greencane does bleach their toilet paper to make it white, but say they don’t use chlorine in the bleaching process. They don’t say what they do use in its place and ambiguously state that “we believe that the assurance of having ISO14001 Environmental Certification ensure correct and safe bleaching & environmental manufacturing“.
Our box from January is still going strong, and as of the end of May, we have enough rolls for one to two more weeks. We’re a family of four, and in this period went through potty training our littlest and having builders (sometimes as many as five) in for 6 weeks – so I’d guess normally a box could last around 5 months.
Who Gives A Crap
Cost: £36 for 48 rolls of recycled toilet paper (75p per roll) or £40 for 48 rolls of bamboo toilet paper (83p per roll)
UK shipping cost: Free over £20
Roll size: 400 sheets of 3 ply paper
Made in/ships from: China
Packaged in: Cardboard Box, Each Roll Individually Wrapped in Paper
In the interests of full disclosure, I haven’t used Who Gives A Crap before, beyond a single roll of the recycled paper that I bought in a bulk shop for what felt like a hugely expensive £1 for a single roll of toilet paper, mostly because I’ve always been pretty skeptical about Who Gives A Crap.
Who Gives A Crap sell two types of plastic-free toilet paper in bulk boxes of 48 – one made from virgin bamboo and the other made from recycled paper, with each roll being individually wrapped in jazzy paper. As well as being plastic-free, 50% of Who Gives A Crap profits go to clean water charities such as WaterAid Australia and WaterAid America.
I know what you’re thinking here – what’s not to love Wendy? I do deeply admire the charitable giving nature of Who Gives A Crap, and of course the plastic-free element. What doesn’t sit well with me is the fact that each roll of toilet paper is individually wrapped. That’s a lot of unnecessary paper from one box of 48 toilet rolls.
Paper, whilst plastic-free, isn’t environmentally neutral. A recent study showed that a paper bag has to be re-used four times before it’s more environmentally friendly (in terms of carbon emissions) than a plastic bag. Whilst people do say they re-use the paper wrappers to light their fires, or to wrap gifts, how you can get four uses out of a toilet paper wrapper to make it more environmentally friendly is likely to be a stretch.
Who Gives A Crap say that the individual wrappers are for both hygiene reasons and to keep the paper moisture free, however, if Greencane can manage it then it’s a bit of a hollow excuse.
I had a feeling there was probably more to it, then I found the answer in the Who Gives A Crap FAQ:
“We think they look cute. They work wonders as an online product because they’re eye-catching and shareable. We know this because our customers are constantly sharing snaps of their deliveries on social media, and gifting rolls to friends. This is really important because the more people share what we’re doing, the more we can grow and the more toilet-building and sanitation projects we can fund! (plus, it’s cheaper than paid advertising)“.
So what they are saying is that individually wrapped rolls are a marketing and money making decision, framed as a fundraising decision. Businesses, have to be profitable to be viable, but I think other planet-friendly advertising options exist that don’t require every single roll to be individually wrapped in paper.
There is also the argument that because Who Gives A Crap are double length, that you need to buy a lot less, so it may have a reduced environmental impact in that sense. Indeed, Who Gives A Crap are double length – 400 sheets – compared to EcoLeaf’s 200 sheets. Greencane sits in the middle with 300 sheets.
As I haven’t used Who Gives A Crap beyond one roll, I did a highly scientific poll on Instagram – asking Moral Fibres followers who used Who Gives A Crap a) how big their family is and b) how long a box has lasted them.
I received a load of responses (thank you if you responded), with on average a box lasting a family of four around 5-6 months. – maybe an extra month compared to Greencane.
In terms of quality, I didn’t notice a difference between Who Gives A Crap 3 ply paper, compared to the others, which are all 2 ply. The paper didn’t feel any softer or harder than the others either. After trying multiple types of toilet paper, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all a much of a muchness in terms of paper quality in the recycled eco-friendly toilet paper sphere.
UK shipping cost: £3.95 (also available in shops)
Roll size: 200 sheets of 2 ply paper
Made in/ships from: UK
Packaged in: Compostable Wrapper
Ecoleaf toilet paper is made in the UK from 100% recycled fibre sourced exclusively from the UK. Suma, the workers cooperative who produce Ecoleaf, have a long history of ethical trading and an equal pay policy for workers.
Ecoleaf is available in packs of 9 toilet paper rolls, and is packaged in a compostable bag. The bag is not home compostable – you will need to pop it in your kerbside food waste bin if you have one, and your local council allows you to place this type of material in your food waste bin. If your local council does not collect this type of material it will have to go in landfill, where it won’t probably won’t ever compost.
As well as a pack of 9, you can buy Ecoleaf toilet paper in bulk sizes – you can get 45 rolls for £21.96. This is delivered in 5 packs of the 9 rolls. Whilst I haven’t bought it in bulk, reviews on both Ethical Superstore and Amazon do mention that the bulk rolls come packaged together in a plastic bag. It would be great if Suma could find a way to do away with this plastic bag, as it does negate the compostable wrapper.
We have only just started using Ecoleaf so I couldn’t tell you how long it lasts for, but I will update this post on our experience in due course. The paper is neither super soft nor scratchy – again telling the difference between Who Gives A Crap and Greencane, or picking a clear winner, is simply too difficult.
The downside to Ecoleaf is that as it made of recycled paper, then, like all recycled paper (including Who Gives A Crap), is that it may contain trace amounts of BPA – bisphenol A – an industrial chemical with potentially negative impacts on health. This article on Grist provides a good and well-balanced overview on why BPA from recycled paper only accounts for 2% of our exposure to BPA compared to the 98% from food packaging, and why choosing recycled paper over paper made from virgin trees is overall better for us and the environment.
Other Plastic-Free Toilet Paper Options
If none of these options sound particularly environmentally friendly to you then there is the reusable route – sometimes ‘delightfully’ known as ‘the family cloth‘.
That’s All Great Wendy, But Which Plastic-Free Toilet Paper Do You Buy?
Oh you, with your tricky questions! Each toilet paper definitely has its pros and cons that I don’t think it’s possible to say with any certainty which is the most environmentally paper type of toilet paper. Hopefully, this post encourages people to think about their options.
Personally? I’ve tried all three, the quality of each is much the same, and so I’m sticking with Ecoleaf.
Both Greencane and Who Gives A Crap are both manufactured and produced in Asia, and shipped on boats to the UK, which depending on where you read is terrible in terms of carbon emissions or incredibly efficient in terms of carbon emissions. Either way, shipping a product all the way around the world to simply use once to wipe our bums and then flush down the toilet, seems to me such an incredible waste of resources.
Whether that fact that Who Gives A Crap rolls are 100% longer than Ecoleaf; and Greencane 50% longer than Ecoleaf; and thereby require fewer shipments makes them more environmentally friendly, I do not know.
What I do know is that there are huge unregulated issues with human rights when it comes to shipping and the people who work in the shipping industry – including abuse, slavery, and unsafe working conditions which are beyond the control and scope of both Greencane and Who Gives A Crap. Although sourcing everything in the UK isn’t always possible, where there is a UK alternative that I can afford then I’d rather support it.
The other key factor for me is money. When the default zero waste option involves spending quite a bit of money up front, it’s hardly intersectional. Not everyone has the financial ability to buy 5 or 6 months worth of toilet paper in one go. I personally can’t always afford to buy toilet paper in bulk, or even always find space to store it, so from the point of view of being able to pick up a pack of nine at a local shop is often a more doable option.
Whilst I really like the charitable element of Who Gives A Crap, donating directly to clean water charities such as Water Aid is always an option.
Have you found other types of toilet paper? Or do you use family cloth? I have to admit, I’m quite some way off introducing my family to this concept…!