Marketplace Scratch Pad

TP Talk

Scott Jagow Sep 25, 2009

There’s a reason why the toilet paper at the office, the airport or a restaurant is rough while your TP at home might be “ultra plush” or “extra fluffy.” They come from very different sources, one of which is not so good for the environment. We must get to the bottom of it.

Soft toilet paper has very little recycled material in it. It mainly comes from old growth trees. From the Los Angeles Times:

“It’s like the Hummer product for the paper industry,” said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We don’t need old-growth forests . . . to wipe our behinds.”

The reason for this fight lies in toilet-paper engineering. Each sheet is a web of wood fibers, and fibers from old trees are longer, which produces a smoother and more supple web. Fibers made from recycled paper — in this case magazines, newspapers or computer printouts — are shorter. The web often is rougher.

Clearly, many Americans are sensitive about their tushes:

“That’s a segment [of consumers] that is quite demanding of products that are soft,” said James Malone, a spokesman for Georgia-Pacific.

Sales figures seem to make that clear: Quilted Northern Ultra Plush, the three-ply stuff, sold 24 million packages in the last year, bringing in more than $144 million, according to market research firm Information Resources Inc.

Three-ply? Come on.

Toilet paper is only a small part of the forest-products industry, so it’s not a huge threat to forests. Still, as the Times points out, it’s “the ultimate test of how green Americans will be when nobody’s watching.”

You willing to give up a little softness to save some trees?

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.