NRDC Releases 2021 The Issue With Tissue Scorecard
Today we're so honored to receive the highest score possible for bamboo brands from the annual NRDC (National Resource Defense Council) Issue With Tissue Scorecard.
A brief overview: The Issue with Tissue
The Canadian boreal forest is the main source of virgin tree fiber used to make tissue products such as toilet paper, paper towels, and facial tissues in North America. The clearcutting of the boreal forest for these products has devastating impacts on biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and climate change.
For far too long, we wiped without thinking about where our tissue comes from, or the effect it has on our environment. Thanks to reports like the 2019 and 2020 Issue With Tissue, and the most recent UN report on climate change, consumers are better equipped than ever with the knowledge and sustainable alternatives to make conscious changes in our daily habits.
Below, we are going to go into detail on a few main points:
- The Canadian boreal forest
- Clearcutting, carbon, and our climate crisis
- The problem with Big Paper
- Bamboo versus recycled paper alternatives
The Canadian boreal forest
Stretching from coast-to-coast, the boreal forest is both the largest intact forest left in the world, and the most carbon-dense. Home to Indigenous communities, native wildlife, and migratory birds, it plays a critical part in maintaining a healthy ecosystem not just in Canada or North America, but for the entire planet.
The boreal forest is mainly comprised of conifers and birch trees, which is important because conifers are softwood trees. You are probably familiar with the terms hardwood & softwood to some extent. Hardwood trees are typically logged for building materials, for example Oak, Maple, or Hickory are often used for hardwood floors. Softwood, as the name implies, are soft, and thus have historically been considered a "great" choice for the production of toilet paper, where softness is prized.
Carbon and our climate crisis
Along with being home to a huge amount of biodiversity, the boreal forest also holds more carbon in its vegetation and soil than any other forest in the world. "Per acre, it holds nearly twice as much carbon as the Amazon" (The Issue With Tissue 2.0). Carbon sequestration works like this:
- As trees and vegetation grow, they absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and release oxygen in it's place
- Trees absorb carbon exponentially throughout their lives. The older a tree becomes, the more efficiently it can take carbon out of the atmosphere.
- The carbon is then sequestered in the roots and soil (more than 80% of the boreal's carbon stores are found in the slow-decaying soils)
- Carbon-rich soil stores water and nutrients which helps plants thrive, and feeds soil microbes that are essential to breaking down organic material, which in turn feeds the circle of life.
Clearcutting forests interrupts carbon sequestration by drastically reducing the number of old growth trees which are highly efficient at absorbing carbon. Perhaps more alarmingly, the process of clearcutting disturbs the carbon-rich topsoils, which releases the carbon stores back into the atmosphere (remember, the majority of a forest's carbon stores are in the soil). It is estimated that at least 26 million metric tons of carbon is released every year due to logging activity in the boreal.
This knowledge takes on new urgency with the recent UN report on climate change, which unequivocally states that human activity has released devastating amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, which has directly caused an global temperature increase of 2 degrees Fahrenheit, and fueled extremely deadly weather events. Unless we rapidly and drastically cut our carbon emissions—such as clearcutting the boreal which produces "the equivalent to more than a year of emissions from all of Canada's passenger vehicles" (The Issue with Tissue 2.0)—our current climate crisis will only continue to accelerate.
Big Paper and deforestation
When we say "Big Paper" we are talking about the top three producers of tissue products in the United States, as named in the 2021 Issue with Tissue scorecard. All of these brands make the majority of their tissue products from 100% virgin forest fiber, meaning there is no recycled or alternative fibers in the product, while one brand this year expanded their product line to include a recycled option.
In a tactic called "Greenflushing", Big Paper utilizes a repertoire of misleading claims to convince the public that their products are more sustainable and less destructive than they truly are. Some of the most common claims are:
- Planting a new tree for every one logged: Good in theory, as trees are a renewable resource, but poorly executed in practice. While these companies may plant new trees, the replacements are "fast-growing, even-aged monocultures that bear more resemblance to tree farms than to natural forests." Planting new trees in the place of old-growth forest is no substitute for biodiversity.
- It is not actually deforestation: Deforestation is defined as a clearcut area of forest, wherein the land is then used for developments or agriculture and forest will never return. Forest degradation is defined as clearcut forest, left to regrow, which can take decades or centuries to return to its natural state. Because of this, Big Paper likes to claim that they do not contribute to deforestation, based on the technicality that what they are doing is actually considered forest degradation.
- Tissue is a responsible use of by-product: Alongside the tissue and paper industry, the lumber industry is also engaged in clearcutting forests. A common claim is that tissue pulp is sourced from lumber by-products, the smaller branches and cast-offs that cannot be used in building materials. In fact, "selling wood chips for pulp is so lucrative that even the logging industry refers to it as a "co-product" and not a "by-product". Additionally, in Ontario, 44% (nearly half) of wood pulp is made from whole trees.
Recycled versus Bamboo Tissue
If this report has compelled you to change your own consumer habits, thankfully there are now some great alternatives to traditional toilet paper and paper towels. The two that we are going to explore here are toilet paper made with recycled content, and toilet paper made with bamboo.
Toilet paper with recycled content has a smaller carbon footprint than traditional toilet paper, producing about one-third of the emissions compared to 100% virgin fiber toilet paper. Furthermore, there are two types of recycled content; pre-consumer and post-consumer. Pre-consumer recycled content comes from cast-offs and waste from the paper and pulping process, while post-consumer recycled content comes from our recycling programs. While both are preferable to virgin fiber, toilet paper made from post-consumer recycled content is the more sustainable choice. In the 2021 NRDC Scorecard, only brands with recycled content can score above a "B".
For the very first time this year, the NRDC has included bamboo brands in their annual scorecard. Cloud Paper is thrilled that we received the highest score possible for bamboo brands, thanks in part to our FSC certification that guarantees our bamboo is sourced from responsibly-managed land. Toilet paper made from bamboo is the route that we at Cloud Paper decided to go, for three compelling reasons.
- Bamboo is highly renewable: Bamboo is a type of grass, not a tree. It is the fastest-growing plant in the world, growing up to three feet a day in the spring, and reaches harvest maturity in 3 years. Compare this to softwood trees, which can grow 3 inches a day at most, and only reaches harvest maturity in 50 years or more. Similar to mowing your lawn, bamboo does not need to be replanted after harvest to grow again. This low-effort, high-yield crop is an ideal alternative to slow-growing, high effort reforestation programs in our public forests and tree farms.
- Bamboo is a carbon sink: Because bamboo grows so rapidly (biomass accumulation), it draws huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere to feed this growth. Studies have shown that about 50% of bamboo biomass is carbon stock, and the biomass of bamboo is approximately 3:1 above ground to below ground. Because the harvesting process leaves bamboo roots intact, bamboo farming is currently being explored by the scientific community as a method of carbon farming and trading.
- Responsibly-managed bamboo farms are sustainable: Known for its aggressive growth, resilience, and hardiness, bamboo is an excellent tool for land restoration and rehabilitation. Bamboo can quickly revegetate degraded soils, prevent erosion, and requires little fertilizer and pesticides. At Cloud Paper, we are proud to be the only bamboo paper company that has received FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification, as 100% of our bamboo fiber is sourced from responsibly-managed bamboo farms.
So what now?
If you have read this far, you probably feel the same way we do about ending deforestation caused by paper products, and there are some steps that you can take to help usher the world towards a more sustainable future.
- You can read the NRDC's 2021 Issue with Tissue 3.0 scorecard here, and view their past reports here.
- If you live in the continental USA you can switch to Cloud Paper's 100% bamboo toilet paper and paper towels. If you live outside of the continental states, you can explore other brands that may ship to you, like Who Gives a Crap. (Yes, we are recommending our competitors! Because at the end of the day, what is most important is we stop buying Big Paper products).
- You can also check out this blog post on additional easy and sustainable switches that you can make in your bathroom.
Issues as massive as deforestation and climate change can often seem daunting, if not impossible to address, and may have you thinking "nothing I do is enough to make a difference." However, if you only takeaway one thing from this blog post, let it be this
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
-Anne Marie Bonneau