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Whether you’re battling a cold or just looking for some everyday facial tissue, skip the big-name brands and instead look for brands that use a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content in order to cut down your contribution to old growth forest destruction. A large majority of the facial tissue products available on the market today are made from trees that were unsustainably harvested, leaving in their wake barren landscapes that are unable to support wildlife. Alternatively, you could opt for hankies to avoid disposables altogether.

What to look for when choosing eco-friendly facial tissue

  1. Post-consumer recycled content: Regardless of the brand you choose, make sure you verify what percentage of post-consumer fiber the product contains. PCW or Post-consumer waste (the reborn paper products made from your recycling bin contributions) is preferred to pre-consumer (often originating from manufacturing waste) because it means support for community recycling programs. Don’t be fooled by labels touting the word "recycled" without a PCW percentage since the product is likely made with only a fraction of post-consumer waste—typically as little as 10 percent.[1] The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) provides a very useful Facial Tissue Guide, neatly charting data on different brands of facial tissue, covering three important points: the bleaching process, the percent recycled, and the percent of facial tissue made from post-consumer waste. You’ll want to pay special attention to their recommendations for which brands to avoid altogether.
  2. Chlorine usage: Also check to see how the product has been whitened, being careful to avoid products made with the help of chlorine bleach. Processed chlorine-free (PCF) is the designation to seek out since it means no toxic chemicals ending up in our water supplies. Though “elemental chlorine free (ECF)” might seem a good alternative, it’s not, so dodge brands sporting that claim. Or avoid the hassle of checking for chlorine altogether by choosing “natural” colored paper products instead, since that’s likely to indicate the fibers haven’t been whitened at all!

Find it! Eco-friendly facial tissue

A bit more difficult to find than recycled toilet paper, facial tissue with post-consumer recycled content is available at many natural food stores, some mainstream grocery stores, and online.

Before you buy

Some people claim that recycled facial tissue brands are not as soft as non-recycled brands. If you're concerned about this, you can do a test yourself by buying a few different brands of recycled facial tissue and choosing the one that feels softest to you. Or ask yourself this question posed by a representative from the NRDC: "How soft do you need something to be that you use for five seconds a day?" Though rarely softer than non-recycled brands, recycled facial tissue comes in a close second. Maybe soft enough is good enough if it also means saving thousands of trees.

Choosing recycled facial tissue helps you go green because…

  • About 163,000 trees would be spared by replacing one box of virgin fiber facial tissue with a 100 percent recycled one in every household in the US.[2]

The United States is the largest tissue market in the world, with the average American consuming close to 55 pounds of the stuff every year (including toilet and facial tissue, paper towelling, and napkins). They are followed closely by Canadians who use just under 50 pounds, but trailed a long way by Europeans who use 35 pounds annually.[3] The paper industry consumes 35 percent of all harvested trees every year, accounting for the felling of nearly 4 billion individual trees yearly.[4]

Most conventional facial/bathroom tissue companies, such as Kimberly-Clarke (makers of the Kleenex brand) unsustainably harvest old growth forests to manufacture disposable paper products. The production of virgin fiber tissue products is contributing to the destruction of vast tracts of forest lands (most of which are in Canada) that have existed for thousands of years. Yet, worldwide forest ecosystems are critical to maintaining life on Earth. They filter the air, stabilize climate by absorbing CO2, and provide habitat for 90 percent of all land-dwelling plants and animals.[5]

Another major problem with facial tissue is the way the pulp is processed. Chlorine dioxide is often used as a bleaching agent in facial tissue manufacturing. This process creates hundreds of chemicals that are released into the environment, including dioxin, a known carcinogen.

Controversies

Only 19 percent of paper pulp is from recycled content. Many companies, including Kimberly-Clarke, play up their use of virgin pulp, suggesting it produces softer paper products. Yet there is no evidence that these claims are true.

Glossary

  • dioxin: Dioxins are extremely persistent chemical compounds that are created inadvertently by human activities like incineration and fuel combustion. Dioxins break down slowly so they persist in the environment for many years. Exposure to dioxins may cause adverse health effects, such as cancer, reproductive and developmental disorders, and skin disease.
  • elemental chlorine-free (ECF): This designation indicates that virgin fibers were treated without elemental chlorine, but that a chlorine derivative such as chlorine dioxide was used instead. Although preferable to chlorine-bleached paper products, this is nowhere near as eco-friendly as PCF paper products.
  • old growth forest: Also known as virgin forest, ancient forest, or primary forest, this is an area of forest which has attained great age, containing a variety of vertical layers of vegetation, including large live trees. These forests may also be home to many rare species that are dependent on these ecologically unique old growth features.
  • post-consumer waste (PCW): Refers to recycled content that results from curb-side collection. For example, your recycled Sunday paper is considered PCW. Post-consumer waste is the most desirable content in a recycled product, since it creates a market for paper that has already been used and would otherwise end up in a landfill.
  • pre-consumer waste: A type of waste recovered from the manufacturing process that has not met its intended use because of defect or as an acceptable leftover. Examples include paper trimmings from paper production, mill converting scraps, defective aluminum cans, and pulp substitutes.
  • recycled paper: Refers to paper scraps and trimmings that result from paper companies' manufacturing process. This is easiest to recycle because the scraps don't require any collection, sorting, or de-inking. However, it doesn't promote any consumer-based initiative related to recycling.

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