Sustainable Living

How to go Plastic Free with your Toilet Paper

Living a sustainable life means finding ways to eliminate unnecessary waste from our lives. So, speaking of waste, I decided to explore the idea of plastic free toilet paper and what that practically looks like in my life. Talking about what happens in the bathroom (and on the toilet particularly) isn’t the most comfortable thing for everyone, so plastic free toilet paper isn’t something I hear about very often. Let’s change that! And let’s talk about what it means to use environmentally friendly toilet paper.

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Why is toilet paper a problem for our planet?

When I first started thinking about alternatives to toilet paper, it was actually because of the plastic packaging toilet paper tends to come in. Plastic Free July is a great reminder why eliminating plastic from our lives is essential for our planet. The more I read, though, I realized that toilet paper poses an even bigger problem for our planet than I originally thought.

Toilet paper can seem like an inconsequential item that we all just have to use, but there is a lot to consider with this one product. From the packaging, the production, and the materials toilet paper is made of, there are many ways toilet paper can impact our planet.

Here is a quick snap-shot of some environmental impacts of our toilet paper:

  • Canada’s boreal forest, which is an essential carbon sink helping combat climate change, is being clear cut to make toilet paper.
  • Pulp used to make toilet paper is created in high-polluting mills, with virgin pulp causing substantially more pollution than recycled alternatives.
  • The bleaching process for toilet paper, though substantially better now than pre-1990, still releases gas byproducts into our environment.

To get a full picture of toilet paper’s environmental impacts, read on in the NRDC’s report The Issue with Tissue: How Americans are Flushing Forests Down the Toilet.

The surest way to reduce the tissue industry’s impact on the boreal and other forests is to lower our consumption of tissue products. Until the middle of the 20th century, reusable products such as kitchen cloths and fabric napkins were far more common. The reliance on singleuse products, encouraged by marketing around a culture of convenience, is needlessly driving tissue demand to new highs. If individuals returned to reusable wipes for kitchen counters, cloth napkins, and even bidets, which are favored by people in many parts of the world and by many doctors, it could considerably slow forest degradation.

The Issue with Tissue: How Americans are Flushing Forests Down the Toilet – NRDC
Toilet paper rolls

Low-Waste Toilet Paper Options

The reality is: everybody poops. It’s a fact of life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We are all on a daily basis going to be using toilet paper. Since it’s such a widely used product, it really should be something we consider in our journey to a more sustainable lifestyle.

These are a few options I’ve been exploring as I’m on this journey with you:

1. Bidets

Bidets got a huge burst of attention and grew in popularity during the pandemic when toilet paper shortages were happening. I love that they did! When I started exploring the idea of getting a bidet, my main challenge is that I’m a renter and, as a renter, there are limitations to what I can do in my suite. Even though there are a number of easy-to-install bidet attachments out there, I was too nervous to and did not want to fiddle with the old plumbing in my old building.

That’s when I found out there are small, portable bidet options. It was a great alternative for me and a cost-effective way for me to try out a bidet. Now, I understand the irony of me talking about going plastic free and then showing you a fully plastic travel bidet that I purchased, but I’m okay with that fact because this is not a disposable item. This is an item that can be used long-term and I can take it with me when I move–or even simply when I travel!

This is such a simple way to go plastic free with your toilet paper because it eliminates toilet paper all together. The travel bidet I purchased was the Brondell GoSpa Travel Bidet. It had great reviews and, honestly, for less than $15, the price was right. I’m really happy with it too!

Why I like my Brondell GoSpa Travel Bidet:

  • It is small and can easily tuck out of the way in my bathroom.
  • It is easy to use.
  • It allows for enough pressure from the stream of water to clean thoroughly.
  • It allows for enough water in its carafe to clean thoroughly.
  • It can be filled with water at a chosen temperature.
  • It’s portable and doesn’t involve any installation.
  • It reduces the amount of toilet paper I need to use.
  • While it is plastic, it is reusable and is made to last.

Getting started with your bidet

There is a learning curve to using a bidet. Since I have a little travel one, I could test out the sprayer without making a huge mess by taking it outdoors or going into the shower to see how the water angle worked. Because, let me tell you, I made a mess! Thankfully it’s just water, but I was in need of a bit of practice to get angles right.

Keep in mind this is your journey to zero waste toilet paper, so do what works for you. There are no rules against using the bidet to rinse after going pee to have your reusable toilet paper be less soiled in the laundry bin. You might not want to use the bidet every time you’ve used the toilet. The goal is progress not perfection, so make choices that fit your life. I find that as I get used to something, I am able to make further steps to reduce waste.

2. Reusable Toilet Paper

I first seriously considered reusable toilet paper (or unpaper toilet cloths) when Net Zero Co. and Basic Goods Co. reached out to us for a collaboration. On the one hand, using cloth instead of disposable tissue seems extreme, but on the other hand, it makes a whole lot of sense.

The main reason I was open to trying the reusable toilet paper was because of my experience with fabric period pads and fabric handkerchiefs (Kleenex). Both of those items could have an ick-factor with respects to seeing bodily fluids/material and with respects to cleaning the items. In both cases, though, it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. The long and short of it is, everything just gets thrown in the washer and it comes out clean. Added to that–especially for the menstrual pads–they just feel healthier. I go into more detail in my post about a plastic free period, but the difference in wearing fabric over plastic is huge in all the best ways.

Why am I going on about those seemingly unrelated things? Because the same clean and healthy feeling that came with using those products also came with using the reusable toilet paper. Using fabric felt so much better and more natural than tissue paper that can fall apart and seems much less natural.

When I first introduced the Unpaper Toilet Cloths, I mentioned a few things that would make using fabric toilet paper easier:

  1. Keep a wet bag or bucket by your laundry basket in your bathroom to place the soiled reusable toilet paper in. This way you do not have to place them in with your other laundry if that makes you uncomfortable or if it is not practical to have a wet item sitting for days in your laundry bin.
  2. Rinse the toilet cloths out before placing them in your wet bag if you want to. I sometimes do this with my fabric period pads as needed.
  3. Use a bidet to clean up your #2 and use the toilet cloths to dry the off the remainder of the liquid.
  4. Use a bidet to clean up #1, if that helps, and use the toilet cloths to dry off after.
  5. Store your fabric toilet paper in an easily accessible basket.

If you’re wanting to make the swap (this or any one!), you can shop with a discount!

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Reusable Toilet Paper Options

If you’re thinking of testing the waters with reusable toilet paper, you can start cost free by using scrap material from around your home.

Ideas for homemade fabric toilet paper:

  • T-shirts
  • Other soft clothing–dresses, underwear, leggings
  • Bed sheets
  • Thin, soft towels

Giving something a new life before sending it to the landfill or recycle bin is always a win!

3. Toilet paper in paper packaging

If going reusable isn’t for you, there are other steps you can take towards making your toilet paper choices more sustainable. One option is to find toilet paper in paper packaging instead of plastic packaging.

There are a few options for this type of toilet paper:

  1. Royale Paper Packs are toilet paper packaged in paper instead of plastic. These can be found online at Amazon and in regular grocery stores.
  2. Buy a bulk package of toilet paper that comes in a cardboard box. These can be found on Amazon or places such as Staples and Home Depot.
  3. A subscription service, such as “Who Gives a Crap” toilet paper that delivers a plastic free product.

4. Recycled Toilet Paper

As you start to consider and make changes to your toilet paper choices, eliminating plastic packaging is a great step. Another aspect to consider is what material your toilet paper is made of. Canada’s Boreal Forests are essential for our battle against climate change, yet every year this area is logged and clear-cut to produce toilet paper.

Clearcutting across the boreal forest releases on average more than 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. That’s the equivalent of the annual emissions of nearly 5.5 million passenger vehicles, or 3.7 percent of Canada’s total emissions in 2016.

Cutting it Close – NRDC Report

NRDC’s The Issue with Tissue report grades various toilet paper brands based on their environmental impacts. Looking for a toilet paper product with a high percentage of recycled paper content is far better than virgin material from the standpoint of saving our old growth forests and keeping these important carbon sinks intact. Further benefits to recycled toilet paper include less bleaching, less harmful pollutants being released into our environment from processing, and less water usage in product creation.

Toilet paper brands like Seventh Generation Toilet Paper have committed to using recycled content in their product. Simply searching out brands like these can be a huge benefit to our planet.

toilet paper landscape
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Making changes to your toilet routine

While diving into using fabric toilet paper might be too big of a jump for some, there are a number of options to consider when making more sustainable choices with toilet paper. I will say, though, that I was incredibly surprised at how easy and how comfortable it was to use reusable toilet paper once I got over my preconceived notions about it.

Have you ever thought about how to go plastic free with your toilet paper? What steps would you consider taking to make your toilet routine more sustainable?

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  • Michelle (Boomer Eco Crusader)

    It annoys me to no end that paper companies package their products in plastic. Why? We did buy a case of toilet paper in paper/cardboard packaging a few years ago, but my husband didn’t like it.

    I’ve never heard of a travel bidet. I’m going to investigate that one further.

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      That is one challenge to the bulk TP in boxes–it tends to be thinner quality and less desirable.

      I only stumbled across the travel bidet when I was looking for options for attaching to my toilet. It was such a perfect option for my situation and there are a bunch out there at various prices/qualities.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments!