Love Rivers? Choose Sustainable Toilet Paper – Elemental Recycled Products

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Love Rivers? Choose Sustainable Toilet Paper

A few weeks ago, Elemental sponsored Harpeth Conservancy's annual River Swing fundraiser. Harpeth Conservancy is a great science-based conservation organization dedicated to clean water and healthy ecosystems for rivers in Tennessee. For the event, we donated some of our toilet paper and spent the evening talking to people about what they can do in their everyday lives to help protect our rivers. Our involvement with Harpeth allowed us to spend some time reflecting on the relationship between toilet paper and river systems.

Elemental's Founders and their spouses at Harpeth River Swing

Stephanie and Steve with their spouses, Mike and Molly @ the Harpeth River Swing Fundraiser
River systems are important for two main reasons: (1) they provide an important ecosystem for a huge number of plants and animals, and (2) they are a key source of supply for drinking water. Toilet paper generally interacts with river systems in two ways. First, paper production facilities are usually found near a river. Water is used extensively in the paper production process and this water is both taken from and then returned to the river system. Second, after toilet paper is used, it is flushed down the toilet and, if you are connected to a sewage system, this waste is passed to a wastewater treatment plant and then on to the river system. For River Swing, we created posters that summarize these interactions––we’ll dig deeper for the rest of this post. 
Paper Production's impact on rivers overview
Poster from River Swing summarizing how toilet paper and rivers interact 


Paper Production’s Impact on Rivers
According to the EPA’s 2016 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) National Analysis, the paper production industry is one of the top five industries in America responsible for releasing chemicals into our nation’s water system. Paper production accounts for 5% of all chemicals released into the water system (source). More disturbing, the paper industry is the largest releaser of toxic waste into water systems, accounting for 50% of all releases including 75% of all toxic waste released containing Hydrogen Sulfide in the U.S (source).   

In light of these alarming facts, using recycled paper, including toilet paper made from recycled paper, is a major benefit to our river systems. According to the Environmental Paper Network, making paper from recycled paper versus making paper from fresh cut trees uses 47% less water (21.4 kgal v 40.7). It also reduces sulfur emissions by 63% (.3 lbs/ton v .8) and total solids released by a whopping 79% (3.8lbs/ton v 17.9). Reducing sulfur emissions is important because exposure has been linked to headaches, watery eyes, nasal problems, and breathing difficulties. Reducing total solids is important because they can adversely affect bottom-living organisms and can carry toxic heavy metals and organic compounds into the environment (source).

Flushing Toilet Paper’s Impact on Rivers
The other big way toilet paper impacts our river systems is after it is used and flushed down the toilet. If you are curious, our website provides a great overview of this process here. After flushing, there are three things that can happen to toilet paper: (1) It dissolves back into organic material; (2) It is removed and disposed of in a landfill; (3) It is released back into the water system. The best of these outcomes is when toilet paper dissolves and the good news is that this is generally the case. The key is finding toilet paper that dissolves quickly, before it ends up in landfills or the water system.

As a consumer, using toilet paper made from recycled paper is your best bet. It consistently dissolves faster than other toilet papers—dissolving even faster than toilet papers specifically designed for septic system, RV, or boat use. This is because toilet paper made from recycled paper has gone through the paper production process two or more times. Each time it goes through this process, the wood fibers are shortened and softened, meaning they breakdown quicker when they land in toilet water. We recently published this video to demonstrate how fast our toilet paper breaks down in the sewage system.

So there you have it! Several more great reasons to make the switch from traditionally produced toilet paper to toilet paper made from recycled paper. If you love rivers, you can help protect them by using toilet paper made from recycled paper. Elemental Recycled Products makes the best recycled toilet paper available— give us a try!

Steve Poleskey - Founder


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