Around the world, more and more people emphasize knowing precisely what materials are used to produce the products that they use. This doesn’t just include consumables like food and drinks – it also covers other products, including clothes and common household goods like toilet paper.
Toilet paper is usually made from “virgin” tree pulp. Other ingredients include water, bleach, chemical sulfates, and more. However, some manufacturers have started to make toilet paper using hemp, bamboo, sugar cane, and recycled raw materials.
In this article, I’ll go into further detail about what toilet paper is made of and what chemicals go into the production of toilet paper. I’ll also examine what recycled toilet paper is made of and what goes into making some of the major toilet paper brands.
Most toilet paper is made from pulpwood trees. The paper used for making toilet paper is usually made from a combination of softwood and hardwood trees. Additionally, the tree pulp is often “virgin” tree pulp, meaning it is made using new trees.
In the United States, the trees used for making toilet paper commonly come from forests, including both old-growth and second-growth forests. However, between 22% and 48% of all toilet paper is also made using trees from tree farms.
In general, the proportion of hardwood to softwood trees used when making toilet paper is 70% hardwood to 30% softwood. The most common hardwoods used are oak and maple, while fir and pine are the common softwoods.
Toilet paper is generally made from wood fibers, not cotton (or cotton pulp). However, some toilet paper brands like Cottonelle include cotton in some (or all) of their products. Additionally, you can also buy reusable toilet paper made of cotton.
Reusable toilet paper is exactly what it sounds like – toilet paper that you can wash after using, which allows you to reuse it in the future. While this option has been available for some time, it became especially popular following toilet paper shortages during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As discussed above, toilet paper is made primarily from trees in general and wood pulp in particular. But where do the trees come from?
The trees used to make toilet paper come from either tree farms or forests (both old-growth and second-growth). These forests and tree farms are usually located in the United States, Canada, South America, or Russia.
Once the raw ingredients are sourced, they are transported to toilet paper manufacturers. Most manufacturing takes place in the United States. Major centers of toilet paper manufacturing in the country include Mehoopany, Pennsylvania, and Clatskanie, Oregon.
What Chemicals Are in Toilet Paper?
Toilet paper manufacturers use various chemicals to exact fibers and process the paper. These include fillers, retention agents, wet and dry strength agents, dyes, and biocides. Some of these materials, such as formaldehyde, petroleum-based oil, and bisphenol A (BPA), are toxic.
Toilet paper manufacturing also involves using bleach to ensure the final product is pure white in appearance. There are two types of bleach that are used in the production of toilet paper:
- Processed Chlorine Free (PCF): Indicates that no bleach is used during toilet paper production. However, it’s essential to remember that bleach may already have been applied to the paper fibers before it reaches the factory.
- Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF): Indicates that chlorine dioxide is used during the process, rather than pure elemental chlorine. Elemental chlorine has been banned in toilet paper manufacturing since 2001 because it contains high levels of carcinogenic dioxins.
Recycled toilet paper manufacturers use other ingredients for the same result, including:
- Sodium hydroxide
Additionally, some toilet paper brands add fragrances to their products.
Some of the ingredients used in the manufacture of toilet paper can harm people using the final product. For example, one 2010 study found that the formaldehyde found in toilet paper may be one of the causes of chronic irritation.
People who are concerned about the environmental impact of toilet paper but cannot make the change to using a bidet often opt for recycled toilet paper instead. But what is this toilet paper made of, and is it really eco-friendly?
Recycled toilet paper is made using “post-consumer recycled content,” or PCR. This is, essentially, paper that has previously been used in homes and offices. Some examples of PCR paper include the paper that goes into textbooks, and the paper used when printing documents in the office.
Not only does the option to use PCR paper for toilet paper reduce the number of trees cut, it also impacts the rest of the manufacturing process.
Recycled toilet paper is made using 50% less energy and 90% less water than toilet paper made from virgin tree pulp, making it a more eco-friendly product overall.
If you’re looking to buy recycled toilet paper, you’ll probably be surprised to find that numerous big toilet paper brands also offer product lines made with recycled materials.
I recommend the Seventh Generation White Toilet Paper from Amazon. This toilet paper is made using 100% recycled paper, and it contains no additional dyes, inks, or fragrances. Therefore, your exposure to harmful chemicals is as low as possible. Additionally, this pack of two contains 24 rolls per pack and 240 sheets per roll, so it’s sure to last a long time.
If you’re looking for other eco-friendly toilet paper options, you should also consider bamboo toilet paper. It is exactly what it sounds like – instead of being made with a combination of hardwoods and softwoods, bamboo toilet paper is made from the bamboo plant.
The manufacturing process for bamboo toilet paper is similar to that of regular toilet paper. However, where this product differs is in the raw materials.
The trees used in the manufacture of standard toilet paper take years to grow to a size that makes them useful in TP manufacture. These trees take up a lot of water and energy during the growing process, which means that the final footprint of the toilet paper is very high.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is an extremely fast-growing plant. Bamboos can attain the growth that would take a conifer a year to reach within an hour. Additionally, unlike conifers, bamboo plants can be grown pretty much anywhere.
These factors mean bamboos produce significantly fewer emissions than virgin trees do. In fact, the manufacture of bamboo toilet paper results in 30% lower emissions when compared to the manufacture of conventional toilet paper.
If you’re looking to make the switch to bamboo toilet paper, I recommend Betterway Bamboo Toilet Paper. This product is incredibly soft and comes with 360 sheets per roll. It comprises 12 double rolls, so it’s sure to last you for months!
Given the considerations that go into buying toilet paper – and the fact that it is used on some of the most sensitive parts of a person’s body – many people prefer to buy from well-known brands. These brands boast a good reputation and are often more affordable as well.
However, before you consider buying from them, you should first ensure you know what ingredients each brand makes their toilet paper with.
Charmin toilet paper materials differ according to the product line. Their Ultra Strong, Ultra Gentle, and Ultra Soft lines are all made with virgin wood pulp and water. Additionally, they use conditioners to make the product more appealing and a water-based adhesive to keep them together.
Charmin’s Flushable Wipes use other ingredients in their formulation, including regenerated cellulose and citric acid. However, this product is technically wet wipes and not toilet paper.
Cottonelle toilet paper is made using water and wood fiber. The wood is sourced from “responsibly managed forests,” and Cottonelle does not use any recycled fiber in its formulation. Some lines of Cottonelle products contain a small amount of cotton.
Scott brand toilet paper is made using virgin wood fibers. These fibers are sourced with the help of the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) fiber certification standard, which ensures the sustainability of the forest the wood is taken from.
However, the cardboard cores in Scott brand toilet paper — as well as their paper towel rolls — are made with recycled materials.
Toilet paper is generally made using wood pulp from virgin wood. This tree pulp is made from a combination of softwoods and hardwoods and is one of the main reasons people are concerned about the sustainability and eco-friendliness of toilet paper.
However, some manufacturers are shifting to making their products from recycled materials or bamboo, both of which are better for the environment. Additionally, you can also find “reusable” toilet paper you can buy if you want to reduce your environmental impact as much as possible.