One of the most alarming things about “green” hysteria is its potential for creeping more and more into our personal lives. We’re on the brink of taxing carbon dioxide, a byproduct not only of production (i.e., prosperity) but of human respiration; homeowners in some cities are now required to pay for energy audits (to be available to potential buyers); and the days of deciding what kind of light bulbs you want to use may be nearing an end. Aside from assualts on our freedom to choose how to live our lives, the often-irrational drive for “eco-friendliness” can easily end up making life much more uncomfortable for all of us. Think not? Think again. From today’s Washington Post:
ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. — There is a battle for America’s behinds.
It is a fight over toilet paper: the kind that is blanket-fluffy and getting fluffier so fast that manufacturers are running out of synonyms for “soft” (Quilted Northern Ultra Plush is the first big brand to go three-ply and three-adjective).
It’s a menace, environmental groups say — and a dark-comedy example of American excess.
The reason, they say, is that plush U.S. toilet paper is usually made by chopping down and grinding up trees that were decades or even a century old. They want Americans, like Europeans, to wipe with tissue made from recycled paper goods.
It has been slow going. Big toilet-paper makers say that they’ve taken steps to become more Earth-friendly but that their customers still want the soft stuff, so they’re still selling it.
This summer, two of the best-known combatants in this fight signed a surprising truce, with a big tissue maker promising to do better. But the larger battle goes on — the ultimate test of how green Americans will be when nobody’s watching.
“At what price softness?” said Tim Spring, chief executive of Marcal Manufacturing, a New Jersey paper maker that is trying to persuade customers to try 100 percent recycled paper. “Should I contribute to clear-cutting and deforestation because the big [marketing] machine has told me that softness is important?”
He added: “You’re not giving up the world here.”
Toilet paper is far from being the biggest threat to the world’s forests: together with facial tissue, it accounts for 5 percent of the U.S. forest-products industry, according to industry figures. Paper and cardboard packaging makes up 26 percent of the industry, although more than half is made from recycled products. Newspapers account for 3 percent.
But environmentalists say 5 percent is still too much.
Felling these trees removes a valuable scrubber of carbon dioxide, they say. If the trees come from “farms” in places such as Brazil, Indonesia or the southeastern United States, natural forests are being displaced. If they come from Canada’s forested north — a major source of imported wood pulp — ecosystems valuable to bears, caribou and migratory birds are being damaged.
And, activists say, there’s just the foolish idea of the thing: old trees cut down for the briefest and most undignified of ends.
“It’s like the Hummer product for the paper industry,” said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We don’t need old-growth forests . . . to wipe our behinds.”
Well, this guy can speak for himself; with any luck, though, he won’t have any say in my bathroom decisions. Some say that sacrificing comfort in the name of the environment is a small price to pay — it’s our moral duty, they argue, to use European toilet paper (which ranges in consistency from newspaper to wax paper). But it’s quite another thing to make such debatable moral duties into legal obligations. Enjoy the days of choosing what toilet paper you want, because those days, too, might be headed down the drain.