Inspired by Greenpeace’s new wallet-sized guide to environmentally-friendly toilet paper, the New York Times and the Guardian Unlimited ran stories on February 26 about how U.S. consumers are literally flushing Canada’s ancient boreal forest down the john by using toilet tissues made from virgin wood rather than recycled fiber.
Tissue manufacturers claim that only standing trees can give them the long wood fibers they need to make fluffy luxury tissues like Cottonelle, whose ad campaign features cute puppies and slogans like “Be kind to your behind.” But Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says, “Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution." He confirmed that more than 98% of toilet paper sold in the U.S. comes from virgin forests.
The Times and Guardian both emphasized “the tenderness of the delicate American buttock,” in Guardian writer Suzanne Goldenberg’s words. But Greenpeace isn’t just bent on convincing consumers to forgo anal pampering for the sake of the planet. With the Natural Resources Defense Council and other allies, Greenpeace launched the Kleercut campaign (kleercut.net) to pressure Kimberly Clark, the world’s largest tissue-maker, to increase the amount of post-consumer recycled fiber in all its products, stop purchasing virgin wood fiber from endangered forests, and buy it instead from sustainably harvested forests, eco-certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Kimberly Clark, which produces Kleenex, Scott, and Cottonelle, among other brands, is “greenwashing” its image with glowing sustainability reports, while Greenpeace and other organizations have clear evidence that the company is still stockpiling massive numbers of old-growth logs.
Colleges and universities have been among Kleercut’s most eager supporters. So far, thirteen bastions of higher ed have purged their campus buildings of Kleenex and other Kimberly Clark products. On Friday 13, 2009, Purchase College joined the list of participating schools, including Harvard, University of Miami, Rice, American University, Wesleyan, University of California-Berkeley, University of Vermont, University of Florida, and Northern Arizona University.
Meanwhile, Marcal, the nation’s oldest recycled paper producer, is investing $30 million in what it claims is the first national ad campaign for eco-friendly toilet paper. Marketing may indeed be the key to greener bathroom habits. The American butt is as susceptible to advertising as the American mind.