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A roll of toilet paper on the ground with an endless field of deforested forests behind it highlights an environmental message about sustainability.

How Does Toilet Paper Production Contribute to Deforestation?

The top global causes of deforestation include agricultural expansion, logging for timber and paper products, infrastructure development such as roads and urbanization, mining, and wildfires exacerbated by human activities.
Additionally, factors such as unsustainable land-use practices, illegal logging, and clearing land for grazing and palm oil plantations contribute significantly to deforestation worldwide (1-6).

Toilet paper production is a contributing factor to deforestation, particularly in areas where virgin wood pulp from natural forests is used as a primary raw material.

Estimates suggest that toilet paper production accounts for a relatively small but non-negligible portion of global deforestation, with other factors such as agricultural expansion and logging playing larger roles in overall forest loss.

Determining the precise percentage of deforestation attributed specifically to toilet paper production can be challenging due to the complexity of global supply chains and varying practices across regions. 

In 2019, NRDC published "The Issue with Tissue," highlighting the connection between major U.S. tissue manufacturers and boreal forest destruction. The report featured a consumer scorecard ranking brands for forest sustainability and estimated that toilet paper production was responsible for 15% of global deforestation. 

The 15% figure was subsequently used by several eco-friendly toilet paper brands in their marketing activities. However, in 2023, BBC Radio 4’s More or Less scrutinised this statistic and found that determining the precise percentage of deforestation attributed specifically to toilet paper production is complex.

NRDC has since updated its report and whilst the 15% statistic has been removed, it still highlights toilet paper production as playing a significant role in deforestation. “All five editions of The Issue with Tissue have now found that the “Big Three” U.S. tissue producers—Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, and Georgia-Pacific—make their flagship household tissue brands almost exclusively from forest fiber, consistently earning them failing scores”. 

The exact issue with toilet paper production and deforestation lies in the sourcing of wood pulp, a primary raw material for manufacturing toilet paper. This wood pulp is often obtained from natural forests, including ecologically sensitive areas like the boreal forest of Canada. 

Harvesting wood from these forests contributes to deforestation, habitat loss, and biodiversity depletion. Additionally, the conversion of forests to industrial plantations for pulpwood production further exacerbates environmental degradation. The demand for toilet paper, coupled with the reliance on virgin wood pulp, perpetuates this cycle of deforestation, posing significant ecological and social challenges globally.

References

  1. Lambin, E. F., & Meyfroidt, P. (2011). Global land use change, economic globalization, and the looming land scarcity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(9), 3465-3472. (Agricultural Expansion) 
  2. FAO. (2020). Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 – Key findings. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome. (Logging for Timber and Paper Products)
  3. Laurance, W. F., & Arrea, I. B. (2021). Roads to riches or ruin? Science, 371(6525), 834-836. (Infrastructure Development and Urbanization)
  4. Asner, G. P., Llactayo, W., Tupayachi, R., & Luna, E. R. (2013). Elevated rates of gold mining in the Amazon revealed through high-resolution monitoring. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(46), 18454-18459. (Mining)
  5. DeFries, R., Hansen, A., Newton, A. C., & Hansen, M. C. (2005). Increasing isolation of protected areas in tropical forests over the past twenty years. Ecological Applications, 15(1), 19-26. (Unsustainable Land-Use Practices and Illegal Logging)
  6. Carlson, K. M., Curran, L. M., Ratnasari, D., Pittman, A. M., Soares-Filho, B. S., Asner, G. P., & Trigg, S. N. (2012). Committed carbon emissions, deforestation, and community land conversion from oil palm plantation expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(19), 7559-7564. (Clearing Land for Grazing and Palm Oil Plantations)
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