The Big Impact of Going Tree-Free

Of the many eco-conscious, consumer choices that we can make to protect our environment, switching to tree-free paper products is arguably one of the easiest. After all, 100 percent recycled content toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, and napkins are available in most grocery stores – and bamboo fiber paper products are more readily available than ever. With the digital revolution you’d think that we use dramatically less paper, and you’d be wrong. Yes, demand for paper that’s used for printing and writing has declined about 50 percent, and demand for newsprint has declined by about 90 percent, since 1990. But e-commerce and online shopping has only increased the demand for paper-based products, which include cardboard boxes, shipping labels, and packing paper – all of which could be produced using post consumer recycled content. The trouble is, only about 43 percent of non-durable paper gets recycled.

Aug. 2023 Canadian Wildfires

Why Go Tree-Free?

The short answer  – if you’re using virgin tree fiber products, you are literally flushing our forests – the lungs of the planet – down the toilet. On average each U.S. citizen uses about 140 rolls of toilet paper per year, the most of any country, and only about 2% of what we use is 100% recycled. That means 137 of those 140 rolls use at least some freshly cut trees. With the constant wildfires burning globally, we need to protect our precious forests now more than ever. The summer fires in Canada have destroyed 37 million acres. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has long reported that toilet paper from 100 percent virgin fiber “generates three times as much carbon as products made from other types of pulp.” Most virgin tree pulp used here in America comes from deciduous hardwood and coniferous trees of Canadian old growth boreal forests. Old growth forests are the most precious to the environment because of the carbon sinking capability of large, seasoned trees. These forests also regulate climate by sequestering water – as well as providing a biodiverse habitat for wildlife.

Recycled Paper Products

Recycled paper products require 50 percent less water to produce, while emitting one third the greenhouse gases associated with virgin paper production. In case you need clarification – recycled content toilet paper does NOT come from used toilet paper! Soft paper like tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper are not recyclable because the fibers are too short – but they are compostable! If not composted, soft paper is flushed, entering the waste water sewage stream, or landfill or incinerator bound. Paper sourced for recycled paper content is derived from post + pre-consumer paper waste, reducing a significant amount of methane by capturing paper waste before it enters landfills. Remember, rotting organic material, like food and paper, emit methane which is 120 times more heat producing in our atmosphere.

The Winner!

If you are after the definitive eco-tissue choice, recycled content paper is the most environmentally conscious option at this moment. As with many products, upcycling post consumer waste for practical items, particularly single-use products, has the edge over creating new products with virgin materials. I can recommend Who Gives a Crap (Certified B Corp) post consumer recycled paper products. They carry bamboo fiber products as well – so if you’re like a friend of mine who can’t abide by recycled content paper towels but has no problem with the recycled content toilet paper, it’s a one stop shop!


The pulp to make paper can come from a variety of sources: Recycled paper, bamboo, wheat straw, hemp… to name a few. The two most common single-use soft paper product pulps come from trees or bamboo. Look for 100% post consumer content if  not a bamboo or other fiber paper. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification does not necessarily mean that you are using a eco-friendly paper product. FSC certification is important to insure that wood comes from managed forests grown and replanted for durable consumptive goods, like furniture or construction materials. FSC wood is not ideal for single-use products like tissue, napkins, or toilet paper. 

“Tissue sourced even from FSC certified forests has three times the carbon footprint of recycled tissue. The good news is that FSC is working to increase the rigor of its standards for protecting boreal caribou habitat. But as demand for tissue products grows and the climate crisis grows more urgent, we need to reduce the pressure on our forests. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century we still rely on trees at all for throw-away products like toilet paper.” NDRC 

Don’t be surprised to see alternative pulp fiber materials entering the paper market in the near future. Wheat straw, hemp, recycled cotton, jute, sugar cane… and more, may all be incorporated in future single-use paper products – which will hopefully further reduce water & land use, and greenhouse gas emissions in the production of single-use paper products.

The Skinny on Bamboo

While bamboo is a highly regenerative plant, requiring little water and zero pesticides/herbicides, the popularity of this crop is creating bamboo monocultures, which like with any crop, is detrimental to biodiversity. Monocultures inhibit natural bacteria and fungal growth essential to a flourishing ecosystem for a variety of vegetation, insects, and multiple animal species. If bamboo soft paper products are your preference, be sure that the brand is sustainably sourced to insure that it is not harvested from areas deforested for the express growth of bamboo. NRDC claims that if sustainably sourced, bamboo paper products have “a fraction of virgin fiber’s impact on forests and the climate”, due to requiring far less land for growth and emitting 30 percent less greenhouse gas than virgin wood paper production. Check out Public Goods for sustainably sourced bamboo paper products. Public Goods offers low waste and exceptionally earth conscious products.

Consider a Bidet

Although bidets are considered to be exotic in America, throughout Europe and Asia they are are de rigueur. A bidet drastically reduces the need for toilet paper and wet wipes. Americans use and average of 3 rolls of TP a week – or 28 lbs. a year! It may seem counterintuitive, but in addition to saving forests, bidets actually save water when you factor in how much water is needed for paper production. Tushy makes a popular, affordable bidet attachment for your toilet. Tushy also offers bamboo tissue & stand for the one square needed to pat dry.

The Mighty Swedish Dishcloth

If you just can’t quit your paper towels, try Swedish Dishcloths!

Made from organic cotton and cellulose (plant pulp), Swedish Dishcloths absorb twenty times their weight in liquid, replace over 1000 paper towels, can be washed at least 200 times, and are compostable! Swedish Dishcloths are more hygienic than sponges because they won’t crumble or pill – and they air dry quickly, so they resist breeding bacteria or odor. They may be washed in the dish washer (top rack) or laundry but they last longer if you avoid heated drying. I find that rinsing them well and air drying does the trick. Stash one in every room with a sink. They are 100% biodegradable, so just cut up and compost at end of life.



BYOB – Bring Your Own Cup!

If you’re in the habit of buying coffee throughout your day, remember those paper coffee cups are not recyclable because they’re coated in plastic. Have a reusable cup or bottle with you for your pit stops. An insulated bottle will keep your beverage hot or cold for hours, saving you money!



Switch to Cloth








Using cloth napkins and dishtowels are one of the best ways to reduce your dependence on disposable paper. Most dish towels are used multiple times before washing – and crumb catching cloth napkins can be shaken and reused more than once if not too messy. If you must buy paper napkins, make sure that they are 100% post consumer waste content and they are composted. Please don’t throw in the garbage.




Tree-Free Swaps

Tree-free products at green design GOODS

There are a host of everyday products that you can swap out for tree-free options beyond toilet paper and napkins. Seeking out durable goods made with bamboo or wheat straw rather than wood – like dish brushes and soap dishes. Bamboo cotton swabs replace paper and plastic versions. Cotton market bags replace paper bags. A silicone baking mat replaces parchment paper. Look for the solutions and be a steward for our forests and a sustainable planet.

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About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have. Also visit the Green Design Goods store for my favorite environmentally sustainable products.

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  1.' Laura says:

    Hi, thanks for all the great info on saving paper waste. Gave me lots of ideas!

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