Toilet Paper & Forests: Wiping Out Misconceptions

Georgia-Pacific

Q&A with Georgia-Pacific’s VP of Sustainability John Mulcahy:

Toilet paper is often misunderstood. Much of that results from a big misconception: that toilet paper (and other paper products) harm and shrink the world’s forests. Georgia-Pacific’s VP of Sustainability, John Mulcahy, explains why you can feel good about TP and sustainability.

Q: Why is toilet paper taking such a bad rap?

A: Many people are justifiably concerned about our world’s natural resources and the use of trees to manufacture single use products, like toilet paper. It can seem as if society is being asked to make a choice between trees and products such as toilet paper, paper towels and coffee cups. But you don’t have to choose – toilet paper doesn’t negatively affect the environment the way people assume it does.

Q: What do you tell people who think toilet paper is bad for the environment?

A: As a sustainability leader, the first thing I tell them is that it’s great that they are being conscientious of their environmental impact. We all should think this way. The next thing I tell them is that the forest products industry is one of the most sustainable industries out there, as the demand for forest products creates economic incentives for landowners to take care of their forestland and replant trees after harvesting them. A little-known fact is that the total amount of forested acres in the U.S. has grown by 6% since 1920, in a period where the U.S. population has more than tripled.  

Q: So, is deforestation really an issue?

A: It absolutely is an issue. The question isn’t whether deforestation is happening (newsflash: it is happening), but why it’s happening and where it’s happening. Much of the deforestation occurs in areas of the world such as southeast Asia, South America and the horn of Africa. These regions have issues with unclear land ownership, weak property rights and inconsistent laws – all factors that contribute to deforestation. Fortunately, the United States and Canada have strong property rights in place that minimize these risks. In the US, the risk of deforestation is not from paper production but by alternative land uses, such as development and urbanization.

Q: When selecting toilet paper, how can consumers know if they are making environmentally responsible purchases? Should they be looking for eco labels? Is 100% recycled toilet paper the only way to go?

A: Georgia-Pacific, like some other tissue manufacturers, produces both toilet paper made from 100% recycled fiber and toilet paper made from 100% fresh fiber. However, there’s no “right” or “wrong” fiber choice when purchasing toilet paper to tell you if it’s environmentally friendly. The best way to choose is to understand the sustainability practices of the company who manufactured it – if that company is operating in a sustainable way all along the supply chain, then you are making an environmentally-responsible choice. It’s more than just what the product is made of.

Q: What does Georgia-Pacific do from a sustainability perspective? What measures are you taking to protect the environment?

A: We’re 100% committed to being good stewards of the environment, which includes being efficient with resources and reducing our waste. Some of our efforts include generating half of our energy needs from renewable sources, recycling over 2 million tons of recovered paper a year and using industry-leading practices to ensure that our fiber comes from responsible sources.

Our fiber is grown on sustainably managed private and industrial forestlands, and harvested under widely accepted forestry best management practices to protect water and wildlife habitat.

And when you think of forest areas with unique attributes that should be conserved, we do as well. We have an Endangered Forest Mapping Program that just celebrated its 10th anniversary, on which we announced that we have completed the mapping of 6.6 million acres of endangered forests and special areas in the 19 U.S. states where we source wood. You can read more about the huge difference this program is making here.

We have several other sustainability initiatives in the works, including a project to reforest land in California that was devastated by wildfire in 2018 and working with a group to manage longleaf pine habitat in the southeastern U.S., a fire-dependent ecosystem that is home to many important species.

In addition to being environmentally responsible, the products we provide help people improve their lives with societal benefits including shelter, hygiene and convenience. Being an environmental and social steward will always be a part of GP’s vision, so you can feel good about buying a product you love – any one of our great toilet paper brands.