Tissue products such as toilet paper, paper towels, and facial tissue are cheap and convenient—but they cost the planet a great deal. The vast majority of the tissue products found in our homes are made from wood pulp, the use of which drives the degradation of forests around the world. Their everyday consumption facilitates a “tree-to-toilet pipeline,” whereby centuries-old trees are hewn from the ground, converted into tissue pulp, rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes, and flushed or thrown away. The consequences for Indigenous Peoples, treasured wildlife, and the global climate are devastating.
These impacts are compounded by the fact that the United States is a particularly voracious consumer of tissue products. The U.S. tissue market generates $31 billion in revenue every year, second only to China, and Americans, who make up just over 4 percent of the world’s population, account for over 20 percent of global tissue consumption.1,2 Much of the tissue pulp in the United States comes from the boreal forest of Canada. This vast landscape of coniferous, birch, and aspen trees contains some of the last of the world’s remaining intact forests, and is home to over 600 Indigenous communities, as well as boreal caribou, pine marten, and billions of songbirds. Yet, industrial logging claims more than a million acres of boreal forest every year, equivalent to seven National Hockey League rinks each minute, in part to meet demand for tissue products in the United States. This loss of intact boreal forest is impacting Indigenous Peoples’ ways of life. It is also driving the decline of species including boreal caribou, which, as an “indicator species,” serves as a barometer for the health of the boreal forest more broadly.
Maintaining an intact boreal forest, which acts as a massive storehouse for climate-altering carbon, is also vital to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Tissue products made from virgin fiber pulp, which comes from trees, are a clear threat to our climate. When the boreal and other forests are degraded, their capacity to absorb man-made greenhouse gas emissions declines. In addition, the carbon that had been safely stored in the forests’ soil and vegetation is released into the atmosphere, dramatically undermining international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.Source: https://www.stand.earth/sites/default/files/StandEarth-NRDC-IssueWithTissue-Report.pdf
There can be a lot of reasons why swelling or irritation happens: An infection, injury, or even intense sex. And yep, experts agree that toilet paper can also cause some of these issues. “Toilet paper can irritate your vulva and your vagina, especially if you have sensitive skin,” says board-certified ob-gyn Pari Ghodsi, M.D. Michael Ingber, M.D., a urogynecologist at The Center for Specialized Women's Health, agrees, noting that toilet paper actually can cause all kinds of infections if you don’t use it properly.
Don't freak out—odds are you're already using toilet paper in a very safe, effective way. We asked the experts what below the belt issues toilet paper is most likely to cause and what to do about them.
Technically, you can be allergic to certain chemicals, like fragrance, used in your toilet paper. This can cause a case of vulvitis, a condition which often shows up as itching, burning, redness or swelling. If you notice these symptoms after using a new type of TP (especially if it's scented) switch brands.
This is a common reason to avoid scented toilet paper. The chemicals used to create the fragrance can disrupt the normal pH of your vagina and lead to a yeast infection, says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. If you think your toilet paper might be the cause of repeat infections, switch to a hypoallergenic type, Ghodsi recommends.
Yeah, wiping too roughly or with a harsh toilet paper can create little cuts on your vulva. “The tissue in that area is very delicate, so you should make sure you’re not being too rough when you wipe,” says Shepard. These microcuts can lead to irritation, swelling, and even an infection if they’re not treated appropriately, Ingber says. That’s why experts also recommend that you dab instead of wiping whenever you can.
It might seem weird that the stuff you use to clean urine off can also cause a UTI, but here’s the deal, per Ingber: The female urethra (the spot where pee comes out) is short, and bacteria don’t have to travel far to get into your bladder. When you wipe from back to front, you can push fecal particles, which can contribute to a UTI, forward and into your urethra where they can travel up to your bladder and cause an infection. That’s why Ingber (and most doctors) recommend wiping from front to back, which keeps that bacteria in the back where it should stay.
A lot of toilet papers have fragrances, dyes, and other chemicals that can irritate your skin and cause you to puff up or notice a swelling, says Ingber. And, he points out, if your toilet paper is white, it may contain bleach, which can bother your vagina. Excessive wiping can also cause you to puff up, Ghodsi says. If you notice swelling, one option is to try a softer toilet paper.
If you notice your vagina is having issues like any of the above and you recently changed toilet paper brands, the first step is to stop using the new one, says Ghodsi. If the problems persist, it might be time to visit your doctor—she can prescribe something to help with the symptoms and look into whether something else more complex than your toilet paper brand is the culprit.
Using a bidet will make a huge difference. For one, it's more environmentally friendly. The bidet uses only one-eighth of a gallon of water, while it takes about 37 gallons of water to make a single roll of toilet paper. Americans spend $40 to $70 a year on average for toilet paper and use approximately 34 million rolls of toilet paper a day. Investing in a bidet seat or bidet attachment can lower your spending on toilet paper by 75% or more. You'll also be saving some of the 384 trees that are cut down to make a single person's lifetime toilet-paper supply.
By now, you might be wondering about wet wipes. Don't they do pretty much the same thing? Well, no. Constantly wiping can irritate the skin and give you rashes. And it can still leave residue, because you're really just smearing with paper. Not only that, but wet wipes are actually harmful to the ocean and can cause sewer damage.
So give the bidet a try. Maybe start off with a toilet-seat attachment. Because, in the end, it's just washing yourself without hopping into the shower!