How many trees does it take to meet toilet paper demands?

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How many rolls of toilet paper do you think you use each year? Your household? Your neighborhood, city, or state? What about the entire country? QS Supplies wanted to know the answer and conducted a study to find out. The results are astounding.

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Unfortunately, it’s not something we often stop to contemplate, but when we do think about it, we know toilet paper comes from trees. In fact, studies estimate a single tree can produce up to 1,500 rolls of toilet paper. That sounds like a lot for a plant-to-product ratio but is much less impressive once adjusted for typical consumer consumption.

Related: The environmental problem with toilet paper and what to use instead

The usage number is important and varies widely from one country to another. We’re talking about a lot of waste here and not just the kind that goes down the toilet. To really have a picture of the impact, we must consider the entire product cycle of toilet paper.

The toilet paper production process

First, there are the workers that use heavy equipment to cut down the trees. This results in water and air pollution through fuels used for vehicles and chainsaws. Then we have transport emissions to processing plants, the impact of the manufacturing plants, plastic packaging, and further transport to the stores. Finally, we have to add in the transport emissions to individual businesses and homes.

How much toilet paper does each country use?

In the end, the roll count contributes to much more than just cutting trees and flushing them down the toilet. So what are those numbers? It depends where you live. Considering estimates that 70% of the planet’s population does not use toilet paper, relying on water alone, it’s evident certain countries hold a higher responsibility for this wasteful practice.

Starting with the United States, it requires 31.1 million trees to meet demands each year. That’s a massive number that directly contributes to deforestation, soil erosion and loss of forest biodiversity.

A graphic on toilet paper usage in the US

Across the pond, the United Kingdom uses 3,115,437 feet of loo roll annually. That equates to 5.7 million trees that leave large swaths of barren land when cut down for TP production.

China requires the most amount of trees in the world – a staggering 47 million annually. Even with replanting efforts, that kind of consumption leaves a scar on the environment.

Down under, where the toilet water may or may not flush in the opposite direction, it carries with it the 88 rolls that the average Australian uses annually. Hong Kong, Switzerland and Sweden all use about the same amount.

The cost of toilet paper use

Toilet paper usage is as much cultural as necessity. In fact, many argue toilet paper is to blame for a host of medical issues ranging from urinary tract infections to disease transmissions such as cholera, hepatitis and E. coli. So, it’s not the best cleaning method. Yet, while many parts of the world rely on water alone for bathroom clean-up, the numbers clearly show where TP usage is the norm. The average citizen in Portugal, for example, uses 11,323 rolls of toilet paper in their lifetime. In contrast, a citizen from Nigeria consumes just 56 rolls in the same amount of time.

The QS Supplies study synthesizes the resulting information in several different ways. In addition to simply calculating how much toilet paper is used, it converted that into the number of trees required to meet the need. The study then created visuals to highlight exactly how much toilet paper that really is.

Take, for example, the numbers in the United States where unrolled sheets would stretch over 2.65 billion miles, which would nearly reach Neptune. That number represents a single year of consumption for the country. The US is second only to China, a country that consumes over 4 billion miles worth of the stuff.

The numbers are nothing less than staggering, and it’s difficult to conceptualize the impact. That big tree that can produce 1,500 rolls, for example, is merely enough to meet the demands of 10 people in the United States. A tree that takes decades, if not generations, to grow is converted into bum wipe for less than a dozen people, based on the average 141-roll usage per citizen per year.

Finding solutions

All this data crunching makes one thing crystal clear – toilet paper usage is putting a heavy weight on the planet’s resources. Replanting is only part of the answer. Reducing consumption is another. One way to knock out the puffy cotton squares is by using a bidet. Of course, it uses extra water, another sacred natural resource. But, even if everyone used bidets, the water consumption would be less than that required in toilet paper production. In addition, a bidet eliminates the need for the plastic film around toilet paper that further contributes to environmental waste and petroleum usage.

You can see the full report with images and research methodology here.

+ QS Supplies

Lead image via Pexels

Images and graphics via QS Supplies



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