Tree-free TP: Bamboo vs. Recycled Paper

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 readily available in most grocery stores – and bamboo fiber paper products are just an e-store click away. For your dollar, which tree-free option is the best choice? It’s close – but there is a winner.

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. 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. 

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. The recycled paper sourced 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 paper, emit methane which is 120 times more heat producing in our atmosphere.


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 percent 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.

Recycled Paper vs. 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.

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! And remember, soft paper like tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper are not recyclable because the fibers are too short – but they are compostable!

Swedish Dish Cloths

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

Made from organic cotton and cellulose (sawdust), Swedish dish cloths 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. Wash in the dish washer (top rack) or laundry as long as you avoid heated drying. I find that rinsing them well and air drying does the trick. Stash one in every room with a sink. I just cut up and composted my kitchen sink Swedish dish cloth—which has lasted since the beginning of the pandemic!

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.







* jGj is not a sponsored blog publication in accordance with editorial standards. Product suggestions in this post are not remunerated outside of green design GOODS.


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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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