Even a making a small change is worth it!

Toilet paper is an ongoing subject in my household at the moment!  Aside from my experiment with not using it, usually we buy it in bulk from Costco (if you haven’t heard of it – it is a membership based shop that sells stuff in bulk) and actually it is on special offer at the moment there (last day today). It is literally half the price of the same brand in the shops. Costco isn’t local to us, but it was such a good offer, my husband got in the car and drove a nearly 120 mile round trip to buy a years supply! It wasn’t an environmentally friendly option at all, but it was definitely thrifty. It cost us £18 in petrol and £9.48 for 40 rolls – we bought a staggering 400, which should last us at least until next year when they put toilet roll on offer again.

Sustainable gift wrap course
On the packet it actually says that they plant three trees for every one chopped down, which sounds good on the surface. I don’t know exactly where the paper for the toilet rolls I bought came from or what their planting practises are, so this is not a comment on that particular brand, but in general planting trees to replace trees chopped down is not the answer to all our problems. In natural forests there is biodiversity of flora and fauna. In a plantation containing a single species of tree that biodiversity is lost. Communities that once lived in or depended on any forests that were cleared to make room for paper plantations also lose out. If more trees are added to a paper plantation each time a tree is chopped down, it just continues the problems of monoculture and lack of biodiversity.
I got questioned yet again about why I went without toilet paper for a month on BBC Radio Stoke recently – you can listen here within the next 26 days (I’m a few minutes in) and I yet again explained my reasons for doing it.
I know exactly why I shouldn’t be using toilet paper, but we still bought it because it is was on offer, because toilet paper is what I’m used to, because it is easy and because I’m a bit squeamish about the alternatives. Plus everyone else in my house uses it and I have no intention of telling them they can’t, especially our student who is staying with us at the moment! I keep having an internal debate which goes something like this – give up toilet paper. No I don’t want to. But you are ruining the planet. Well so is everyone else! Can’t I let myself off over this one thing?

My advice that I give myself and anyone who wants to become more eco-friendly is to take it one step at a time! Make the easy changes first, do what you feel comfortable with. Challenge yourself, give new ideas and habits a good chance, but if they are not for you, don’t carry on. Try something else instead, compromise or take a break for a while! It may be that down the line it will be something you are ok with doing or it may not, but if you push yourself too hard or too far out of your comfort zone, you might find that you feel overwhelmed and give up on more than just the thing you found difficult.

And that would be a shame because there is a massive benefit to even making small changes. For example swapping a take away tea or coffee in a disposable cup for one in a reusable mug would mean 365 less disposable cups in landfill a year if you bought one every day for a year! According to Wikipedia ‘Over 6.5 million trees were cut to make 16 billion paper cups used by US consumers only for coffee in 2006’ (read more here). If my maths is right (using an American billion with 9 noughts) a tree can be turned into 246 paper coffee cups. So for every year one person buys a daily cup of coffee in a disposable mug 1.5 trees are chopped down. If one person did that every day for 20 years, they would be responsible for 30 trees being chopped down. If that one person changed their habits and took a reusable mug instead 30 trees would not be chopped down. If even one person saw that person make that change and decided to change too, then over the 20 years 60 trees will have not been chopped down and the two people involved would have saved themselves thousands of pounds!

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing with these things. You can compromise. Even reducing your disposable coffee cup or toilet paper usage will have a positive impact and that is what I have decided to do with toilet paper. I am going to compromise by trying to use it really sparingly and make it last as long as possible!

Making a change, even a small one, even a partial one is of benefit. Sometimes people say to me there is no point in recycling or avoiding waste, or composting because it is counteracted by something else going on in the world or something I have done that isn’t eco-friendly and I just don’t agree with that. If previously I was responsible for more trees being chopped down each year than I am now and will be in future then I think it was worth it!

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  1. Excellent post, thank you. Very interesting and honest! We get loo roll made by ecoleaf because it is made from recycled paper and the packaging is made from potato starch. I buy it in bulk to reduce transport emissions and costs.
    Like you, I believe small changes are very worthwhile. Given my health problems, our food is not as environmentally friendly as it could be, but I do what I can. If everyone was prepared to make small changes, it could have a huge impact. One easy thing is to cut down on the meat that you eat. It's cheaper, often healthier and easier on the environment. We have meat a couple of times a week, usually. The rest of the time it's delicious vegetarian or vegan food. I am also beginning to cut down on sugar. I was sugar-free but… I fell off the wagon! Love this blog. Always something interesting or inspiring.

  2. Zoe

    Thanks for your lovely comment! I agree with you about cutting down on meat – we eat a lot less meat now than we used to! I have thought about buying recycled toilet paper, but I got put off by the possibility of it containing BPA. It does look like ecoleaf is one of the better brands though http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/householdconsumables/toiletpaper.aspx Good luck with the sugar-free challenge. I was really strict for about 2 years with that but then had some dark chocolate and now I do occasionally eat some things I probably shouldn't. Most of the time I still try to avoid it though.

  3. Hi Zoe,

    Great post and good to hear your thoughts on such subjects.

    The people that say what's the point are just rationalising the fact that they can't be bothered. I'd prefer if they were just honest with us and said sorry I just don't care!

    Obviously it is easy to look hypocritical when advocating conservation of resources because everyone needs to use SOME resources to live so unless you are monk living on dust and water then some smart arse somewhere is going to point out that who are you to tell me to cut down on X when you are still using Y. It's a totally fallacious argument and if everyone followed their logic the earth would already be completely trashed and humans wiped out. There have been many civilisations ruined before ours due to resource constraints and with our 7 billion and still growing it is ludicrous to think we aren't going to hit the same barriers.

    You are an eco saint compared to the TFS household but I would say we produce far less trash than your average UK home, simply by slightly giving a shit about the whole thing. If everyone did that we'd be in a much better place and then once you are moving in that direction I think things will snowball.

    I remain apprehensively optimistic for the future 🙂

  4. Forgot to mention, I hate. Absolutely loathe, disposable cups. I mean seriously what is the point!

    My employer who supposedly has an environmental vibe going on provides each of our little kitchens with hundreds if not thousands of the bloody things. I see people just go in, fill one up with two mouthfuls of water, swig it then bin the cup. If that's not a waste of resources and company money then I don't know what is. When did people forget how to wash up a glass or carry a reusable bottle around?

    I've been meaning to but this has pushed me over the edge, I'm emailing the environment department tomorrow suggesting they seriously cut or stop usage of the disposable cups!

    Thanks for the nudge 🙂

  5. Zoe

    Thanks for your comment. I think that some people can't be bothered, but I also think a lot of people just aren't really aware of the level of damage they are indirectly responsible for by doing routine every day things and how easy it is to change a lot of that. I wouldn't describe myself as an eco saint at all and I guess that was what this post was getting at. It's ok to not be perfect because you are right – even if everyone slightly gave a sh*t we would be in a much better place than we are now!

  6. Zoe

    That's great! You definitely have nothing to lose – hope they make the change! Let me know how it turns out.

  7. What! BPA in recycled toilet paper….

    On the subject of using a reusable coffee cup rather than a paper throw-away, the lady at the cafe in my building at work was saying that there were a lot of complaints when they had to change from cups to paper. She felt that in addition to the waste, people got a better experience from drinking out of a proper cup.

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