Monday, October 15, 2007

Tissue for thought

Today is blog action day and in support of this day and the environment, the monkey wishes to bring everybody's attention to the most insignificant, often overlooked daily hygiene product that you cannot live without.

The Toilet Paper.

Tissue Paper, Tisu, Kitchen Towel, Kleenex, Toilet Roll, Facial tissue, or whichever name you know it by. All of the above.

In a survey conducted on 1683 students and staff of the National University of Singapore, 21% (353) said that they "love soft, strong and white tissue paper". Only a miserable 5% disagree with the statement while the rest of the 95% weigh heavily on strongly agree (21%), agree (31%) or neutral (34%).

Why does this matter? What's the big deal with liking some comfort on my sensitive skin? It's just a piece of paper which we wipe and throw away without even thinking of it. Personally, I am guilty of consuming large amounts of facial tissue due to my chronic sinus problem. In fact, every time I visit the toilet, I could am flushing a forest down Singapore's excellent sewage system.

According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF):

"Every day, about 270,000 trees are flushed down the drain or end up as garbage all over the world.

In fact, every time you use a toilet roll or other tissue products you might be directly contributing to this environmental destruction.

Source: WWF

Tissue products, such as toilet paper, handkerchiefs, kitchen towels and napkins cannot be recycled after their use, for understandable reasons!

So it is important to ensure that the tissue products you buy contain a high level of recycled content.

To make your facial tissue, large areas of virgin forests may have been cut and burnt to make room for fast growing Eucalyptus plantations."
When I first read this website, that image above woke me up. But it was not until I was in Sabah, that the image of deforestation from Borneo's virgin rainforest that really sank it in.

Scenes of deforestation in Borneo. Photo taken in Feb 2007

Every single dead tree lying there are potentially going to end up in our toilets, on our toilet roll and before you know it, flushed down the pipes!

Lumberyard in Sabah Borneo. Photo taken in Feb 2007

Lumberyard like these were easily seen in Borneo. Scenes of deforested areas were dime a dozen. Had it been for something less trivial a reason, perhaps it wouldn't seem so senseless. But did you know that while 25% of the wood fibre imports for tissues in Europe come from regions with mainly plantation forestry for pulp (US, Brazil, Chile, South Africa), and a significant part comes from countries where illegal logging is a big problem like Indonesia, Russia, and the Baltic States. (Source: WWF)

At the same time, it is paper pulp mills that is potentially causing the haze in Singapore due to the scorching of land in Indonesia? It could even be burning to clear the land for paper plantations! A tropical rainforest is high in its diversity of plants which then provide homes to an equally high diversity of wildlife. Do you think a monoculture of tree plantation can provide the same?

On the way to being shipped to... Singapore?! Photo taken in Feb 2007

And guess what? The whiter your tissue paper is, the more bleach is being used in your paper. That bleach not only can be harmful to our bodies but also to our water supplies when we dispose of the paper.
"Toxic emissions - dioxins and other organochlorines - are produced as by-products of chlorine bleaching, a process that is used by the pulp and paper industry to whiten papers. They are released in waste-water from pulp and paper mills using chlorine chemistry. These harmful chemicals spread everywhere - in our water supply, food chain and bodies." - WWF
Of course WWF kindly provided a list of companies and the amount of recycled fibre they use in their paper products. However, the list does not include Asian brands. As such, I made a point to contact Kimberly Clark which produces the brand Scott and Kleenex which my mother purchase fatefully.

This was their reply:
"Yes, we do use recycled as well as 100% virgin fibre. As a general rule, all tissues bearing our Scott branding, have some recycled material in them with the Scott Extra toilet roll being 100% recycled. However, pls note that the Scott Deluxe is the only exception here, being 100% virgin fibre.

For Kleenex facial and toilet tissues, they are all 100% virgin fibre."
For their honestly, I applaud them. But for their use of 100% virgin fibre, I shudder at how many trees I've been killing without knowing. Understandably virgin fibre just means that no recycled materials are used but whether the fibre came from virgin forests or plantation trees, we don't know. But the impact, though not the same, can be reduced by our action!

So what can we do? Find out how to make a conscious consumer decision to stop buying 100% Soft Strong and White toilet rolls. In addition, we can also, very simply, reduce our use.

Source: WWF

How about handkerchiefs? Or washing with water and drying with a towel? In fact, did you know that a simple hand dryer in the public toilet would potentially help you reduce your impact on the environment compared to that one square of hand towel you would otherwise use?

It has become quite a trend recently to install hand/face towel dispensers in public toilets. I admit, I do prefer that much more to burning my hand on the hand dryer. But this blog comes up with a detailed accounting of why hand dryers are much more beneficial than hand/face towels. It can be easily concluded by this statement:
"The truth is paper towel is one of the things where the useful part of its life is far smaller chunk of its total life (unless large part of such towels is recycled, which is not the case today). Such things are rarely environmentally friendly. So even though, in restroom, electric hand dryer consumes more electric energy than paper towel roll, if you see the big picture, you are better off with electric hand dryer both financially and environmentally." - Saving Energy Blog
This is not even taking into consideration the amount of energy you use to produce the paper!

Or as a green website suggested - why not be patient and just dry your hands off by evaporation as life intends it to be!

So next time you picked up a piece of tissue, think about where it came from. Or perhaps like me, I think I'll go invest in a handkerchief today.


eredux said...

Check out this US Carbon Footprint Map, an interactive United States Carbon Footprint Map, illustrating Greenest States to Cities. This site has all sorts of stats on individual State & City energy consumptions, demographics and much more down to your local US City level...

Sivasothi said...

What happened to the manly use of our sleeves?

Cloudywind said...

yah... i so agree on the handkerchief part! at least i'm using it! :D

niki said...

I'm one of those people who dry their hands in the air, or, if I'm really really in a hurry, in the clothes I'm wearing, lols.

I shudder at the thought of the number of forests we have to destroy for our sanitation and vanity purposes.

I wish I was able to write a post as well-researched as yours for blog action day. =)

Monkey said...

im one of those monkeys that use sleeves and then air to dry. But that makes me a grubby monkey so... where's that handkerchief.. mmmm

Ivan Chew said...

Hmm... I used to use handkerchiefs but I decided they were less hygenic than tissue. Sorry, but I can't complete not use tissue. What I can offer is to use less and only when necessary.

Matt said...


Your intent strikes a chord, however the target needs changing.

Most of the pulp which composes tissue products gets produced from sawmill residue woodchips and not directly from trees.

The recycled component of tissue comes from reclaimed office paper waste, book papers and other post-consumer printed/converted papers.

Here's the rub, no pun intended. If you want to make a big difference, stop or significantly reduce the use of office copy paper. This paper is hugely energy intensive, water intensive and, from a use standpoint, very wasteful in this age of digital documents. It also is often produced from sawmill wood residue chips.

As office paper use declines, the amount available to be recycled will go down as well, leading producers of tissue to pay more to satisfy our recycled desires as consumers of personal tissue products.

In the end, again no pun intended, tissue products improve quality of life and reduce illness transmission.

If you want to "chat" a little about this let me know.

Monkey said...

Thanks for the headsup matt :)

I do acknowledge of course that tissue is sometimes a indispensable "invention" of humankind - here I am sitting here using one as we speak!

Likewise, I know that most recycled components come from recycled higher grade paper like office supplies but if many of these companies are NOT using recycled components in their tissue manufacturing then how would they see any level of reflection in cost when we stop using office papers?

Still, minimization of any and everything in our consumerism driven world is needed at every level.

But very interesting point you brought up. Perhaps I will blog about it another time :)

Still you know it's like the shock effect. We all hear about recycling paper but have we thought about toilet paper or tissue paper? Honestly my family goes through them like water.

ZengRonG said...

Hi november

How can i Link this whole page to my blog ?
interesting blog

have always been using only one ply and saving the rest in front of my friends.

Probably most ppl dun care so much about these cheap stuff .


chang said...

Nov, perhaps you can also tell us a little bit more on paper recycling. And most importantly educate us on how and where our papers are recycle in singapore.