Stop Wiping With BPA! Trade in Your Toxic T.P. for a Fanny-tastic Alternative.
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Welcome to week four in the 11 Weeks To A Green Home sustainability series! So far we’ve discussed how toxic plastic is, and how to eliminate the paper mess that is the mailbox. Today we’re taking the conversation to the next level by addressing their natural convergence: recycled paper. Wait, what?!? What does one have to do with the other?!? Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, recycled paper (even recycled toilet paper) contains the main endocrine disruptor commonly found in plastic: BPA. In this post, we’ll explore how this happened, and why recycled paper isn’t the best choice for non-toxic living. I’ll also give you three more sustainable alternatives you can feel good about.
What’s Wrong With Recycled Paper?!
Like most other eco-conscious peeps, I have long reached for recycled paper for all of our household paper needs be it printer, toilet or towel. It feels good to know we’re part of the tree-saving process by using recycled goods. Unfortunately, recycled paper is not as healthy as we’d hoped. It takes some pretty toxic chemicals to de-ink and re-bleach all those newspapers, catalogs, tossed school papers and memos about T.P.S. reports (a nod to one of my favorite movies). Most finished recycled paper products require more wood pulp to be added. Then there’s all the receipt paper and the health hazards in-tow. Thermal paper (like what receipts are printed on) contains high levels BPA, a major endocrine disruptor we learned about in It’s Time To Break Up With Plastic. Thermal paper is co-mingled with others (including more thermal paper) during the recycling process. The increased BPA content stays in the finished product. At this point in time, every recycled paper good contains some amount of BPA or its cousin BPS, both harmful and undesirable near our delicate parts.
How much do BPA and the chemical content in recycled paper really affect our bodies and health? Well, according to Rodale’s Organic Life, only two percent of our daily BPA exposure comes from paper products. That’s not taking into account the continued use of trees, toxic chemicals and how much paper you handle on a daily basis. Before you run screaming for the nearest Charmin package though, you should know that virgin paper is still worse. Let’s take a quick look at how virgin paper production stacks up.
Impact of Paper Production
We touched on the positive impacts of going paperless last week in Poof! Junk Mail Be Gone!. Let’s now glance at the effects of the papermaking process on our planet and fellow humans.
- Paper production is the 3rd largest industrial pollution source, releasing over 220 million pounds of pollution annually in the US & Canada.
- Paper production requires more water per pound produced than any other industry.
- Seriously toxic chemicals such as polyfluorinated compounds, caustic soda and chlorine (amongst others) are used regularly in the production of paper.
- Residents around paper mills have reported wheezing, increased sickness and released pollutants have been linked to heart and lung disease.
- 60% of harvested timber goes toward paper production globally, contributing to wide-scale deforestation.
So if recycled paper is toxic, and regular paper is toxic, wtf are we supposed to use?!? Ahhh, that’s a great question! Here’s how we navigate that now on the homestead.
Paper Alternatives That Work Well
With both virgin and recycled and paper being not-so-healthy, compostable tree-free paper is making quite the comeback! Did you know that up until the late 1800’s, paper was primarily made from cotton rags and non-wood plant fibers? Most require far less water and whitening to produce than their wood pulp or recycled counterparts. There are two main renewable sources other than wood-pulp to make our paper dreams a reality; non-wood plant fibers and agricultural waste.
Non-Wood Plant Fibers
Rapidly renewable plant fibers of hemp, bamboo, kenaf, and flax are grown specifically for paper production! Each has its benefits and disadvantages. I love hemp because it requires virtually zero pesticides or herbicides to grow. It does require a lot of water and time until harvest (comparatively), and it needs to be re-planted every year, unlike bamboo. Bamboo is extremely renewable, but there can be some question of sustainability in the processing of it. Depending on the species it can also impact native animals, like pandas, who rely on it as a food source.
Bagasse Agricultural Waste
Even better than using new plant fibers in my opinion, is the further processing of agricultural waste like the left-over pulp, called bagasse [buh-gas] from sugarcane production! US sugarcane growth remains pretty steady at about 17.6 million tons annually. Once the sugar is extracted there’s a lot of leftover pulp and fiber that would normally go to waste. It’s from this that sugarcane paper is made. Turning bagasse into paper takes a waste product and turns it into usable secondary products! It’s versatile and requires less chemical processing to make it into paper. As wonderful as using a waste stream is though, not all sugarcane paper is created equal. It’s important to research the company behind the “eco-friendly, tree-free” paper product they’re offering.
Safe Paper Product Companies
Wouldn’t truth in advertising be AMAZING?!? Alas, it’s up to us to read between the lines and separate fact from fluff. Even in the world of tree-free paper production, chemicals and additives are used. When evaluating a tree-free paper product, look for 100% natural fibers such as sugarcane bagasse, bamboo, flax, etc… if it’s 98% bamboo and 2% post-consumer recycled materials, you’ve got some BPA laden paper on your hands. I also look into the company’s production process, raw material source, and manufacturing facility. I’ve researched a lot on this topic. What follows may sound a bit like an infomercial, lol! I promise I’m not being paid for my opinions on anything in this post. I just really like these two specific companies because of their sustainable practices and healthy paper products.
Toilet Paper & Paper Towels
Of all the companies I’ve researched that make sustainable toilet paper Caboo is my favorite and here’s why.
- They recycle at least 70% of the water they use in the production process,
- They pay attention to the carbon footprint of shipping and minimize environmental impact
- They use sustainable growing methods.
- Their paper products are 100% tree-free, BPA free, non-GMO and whitened with hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach. This makes them compost safe.
- The bamboo that they source is certified non-panda food
- Their facility is FSC certified, meaning they’re continuously monitored to ensure environmentally-friendly, socially responsible and economically viable practices.
The downside is that unless you want to buy a bunch of individually wrapped rolls, they do still package in plastic. Their plastic packaging is recyclable though and buying in bulk is a good way to reduce waste. Online, the cheapest place I find both Caboo toilet paper and paper towels is on jet.com. Try them! Is it weird that you’ll be thinking of this post the next time you’re on the john? Only if ya make it weird.
For printer paper (and DIY journal making), I use TreeFrog by Tree Zero. Not only do I love their paper, but the company is completely on-point when it comes to earth-friendly practices. Here’s what’s so special about them.
- Tree Zero paper is carbon neutral, meaning that the carbon dioxide produced during the harvesting/paper making process is rendered to zero because they offset it by removing the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in other ways.
- They use 100% sugarcane bagasse, unlike a lot of other tree-free paper producers who often mix their plant fibers with recycled paper which still has BPA.
- Their paper is still fully recyclable through mainstream recycling methods.
- They use no plasticizers, hormone-disrupting chemicals or secret ingredients in the production of their paper.
- They’re pretty cheap compared to some other “eco-friendly” papers. You can shop around for better pricing, but the cheapest I’ve found is on Amazon:
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Compost, Recycle
I don’t want to discourage recycling. It’s true that recycled paper saves trees, uses less water and pollutes less than virgin paper mills. As we’ve seen throughout the sustainability series so far though, recycling isn’t a stellar catch-all remedy for mass-consumption. It uses resources- lots of them and they impact our environment and our health. Please continue to recycle what waste you can but consider reducing your paper consumption, upgrading to a more sustainable paper source (like Caboo or Tree Zero) and composting before recycling.
Wanna Try Making Paper At Home?
Homemade paper always reminds me of my mom, cause she used to do this with me when I was a kid. It’s pretty easy and it’s a fun process to get first-hand experience of how to make paper. You’ll need to find a source of bamboo or bagasse. Any market that presses their own sugarcane should have a ready supply of bagasse for you to play around with. Here’s the full tutorial over at e-how.
Next week, it’s all about that spark! As in… electricity and how to save it. Saving electricity is good for the planet and it’s great for your bank account which will free up some extra cash to buy tree-free toilet paper or more chickens, you know… whichever makes sense!
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