The sound of a loud toilet flush is a mere angel’s whisper next to the roar of chainsaws and timber trucks and pulp mills that bring toilet paper from the rugged woods to your delicate parts.

I realized this after doing and redoing the calculations of toilet paper consumption, until it became clear that Americans reel out 400 million miles of toilet paper each year (itself a good reason to keep our asses out of space). That’s enough to reach to the sun and back twice. Or to circle the world 16,000 times, a challenge even for the famous wrap artist Cristo.

This requires over 40 million trees, a number that would push closer to 50 million if recycled paper weren’t being used in toilet paper. Sad to say, a lot of this paper is made from trees slashed out of virgin forests or from tree plantations, which are replacing stands of native forests.

Fortunately, even if you can’t use a few feet less every day, there are now toilet papers on the market with a very high recycled content. A number of big-name brands even contain 20 percent authentic recycled. But beware, because the term “recycled” is slippery. Always make sure the package indicates what percentage of the paper is POSTCONSUMER waste — that is, paper that’s been recycled AFTER it was actually used by people in the real world. Papermakers are allowed to use the word “recycled” for scraps and trimmings that never even left their factories.

To find recycled brands with a very high POSTCONSUMER recycled content, the Natural Resources Defense Council has a very usable guide to good and bad toilet paper that you can print out. Just go to

Among TPs with a high post-consumer waste recycled content are Seventh Generation (80%), followed by White Swan, Ecosoft, Marcal, and Acclaim. Ah yes, it’s good to see the marketers dreaming up soft and soothing names.

If you can’t find these brands locally, ask your store to carry them. If they don’t respect your request, you can order entire cases of respectable toilet paper direct from wholesalers like Treecycle.

April 10, 2007