During the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, you probably started poking around to see if there were any options available – at all, anywhere. And during your search, you may have come across the fact that bamboo toilet paper exists. Companies like Cloud Paper and Who Gives a Crap sell it as an alternative to traditional toilet paper, touting it as a more earth-friendly way to wipe your bum.
Let's answer the first question first: Is bamboo toilet paper really made of bamboo? Like, the same stuff pandas eat? Yes indeed, it is. Most of the toilet paper sold in the store is made from tree pulp, but bamboo toilet paper is made from bamboo pulp instead. No trees are harmed in the making of this toilet paper.
Which sounds great, maybe. Is it? Here are five facts about bamboo toilet paper to help you decide if it's the right way for you to wipe:
1. Bamboo Is Sustainably Grown
Bamboo can grow as much as 3 feet (0.9 meters) per day, according to Ryan Fritsch, co-founder of Cloud Paper, in an email interview. It reaches harvest maturity in three years, while it can take trees 50 years or more.
While it's growing, "Bamboo toilet paper generates at least 30 percent less greenhouse gas emissions compared to tree-based toilet paper," says Fritsch. "It requires no tending, irrigation or fertilization, and only needs to be harvested once a year," said Farrah, a member of the customer happiness team at Who Gives a Crap, in an email. That saves on water usage and avoids the need to add chemical fertilizers to the soil. He noted that bamboo is technically a grass, not a tree. So basically these companies are mowing a very tall lawn rather than logging a forest. Speed is of the essence when it comes to toilet paper: Americans use 57 squares per day on average, which adds up to 50 pounds (23 kilograms) of toilet paper a year!
2. Processing Bamboo Doesn't Require Chemicals
"There has been some media coverage of chemically-intensive conversion processes for bamboo used for textiles and non-wovens (used in wet wipes or nappies etc.)," says Farrah. "Those products need a spinnable fiber (which toilet paper doesn't), and the process is very different as it relies heavily on breaking the fibers down chemically. That creates a set of challenges around chemical usage and disposal which, fortunately, we don't have to face!" Who Gives a Crap pulverizes the bamboo and heats it to break down the fibers rather than using chemicals.
3. Bamboo TP Is Safe for All Sewage and Septic Systems
As a matter of fact, it might even be safer than tree-based toilet paper. Not only does it break down, but it's also biodegradable and as we noted, it doesn't have the same harsh chemicals that other toilet papers use. For extra green points, make sure that the bamboo toilet paper you buy hasn't been bleached. Bamboo TP is quite strong, so it often uses one- or two-ply rather than the plush three-ply of high-end tree-based paper, though 3-ply is still an option. It's easier for fewer layers of paper to break down, so bamboo can even be used in RV toilets.
4. Most Bamboo Is Grown in Asia
This includes the bamboo for toilet paper. Fritsch shared that the farms used by Cloud Paper are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which means that the bamboo forests are responsibly managed and benefit the environment and the community. The farmers who partner with Who Gives a Crap plant bamboo on the edges of their small farms, so there's no need to clear vast areas of land to grow these plants. That means there's less impact on local forests and the wildlife that lives in it.
5. It's Not Scratchy!
"We have a rigorous quality test in place to make sure that we are able to get our rolls soft, while still keeping them super strong. For those new to sustainable TP, we recommend trying out our bamboo rolls first, as they're the most comfy," Farrah says. And Fritsch agrees: "Texture of toilet paper will always be a personal preference, but our 3-ply toilet paper is soft, strong and lint-free so you don't have to sacrifice quality for sustainability."
While regular, virgin toilet paper is generally the cheapest, consumers can find both recycled and bamboo toilet paper at competitive prices. In fact, Who Gives a Crap sells a case of 48 rolls for $52.