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Action alert

Eco-Challenge: Purchase paper products responsibly

 Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet


As part of our commitment to Earth via our Laudato Si’ Action Plan, we are inviting everyone who shares in our charism to take a monthly Eco-Challenge with us.

The impact of paper products

Did you know?

The trouble for trees

A large pile of cut pine trees is stacked with a forest of pine trees and blue sky in the background

The average person in the United States uses about 700 pounds of paper each year (EPA). That’s nearly six trees per person! It takes from 10 years in the southern U.S. to 25 years in the northern U.S. for a tree to grow large enough to be milled into paper. That means each one of us has been using a minimum of 60 years of tree growth for each year of our life!

Deforestation of billions of trees annually destroys the natural habitats of plants, animals and communities of indigenous people and their way of life. We absolutely need these trees to stabilize the earth under our feet and to provide the oxygen we breathe. Trees are essential for absorbing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.

“The issue with tissue”

A haphazard pile of dozens of toilet paper roles sit in front of a white backdrop

According to the NRDC’s “The Isssue with Tissue” report, in the United States, we consume more than 15 billion pounds of tissue products each year—facial tissue, paper towels, napkins and toilet paper—more than 50 pounds per person. We use it once and then toss it. Tissue is the fastest-growing sector of the international paper industry. The NRDC graded major toilet paper brands based on their sustainability practices. Every brand that received an “A” grade contained about 80-100% post-consumer recycled material (the source paper cannot be recycled in other ways and so using it for toilet paper rescues it from the landfill) and used chlorine-free bleaching processes.

Look at the content of your tissue

The EPA recommends that consumers purchase toilet paper that contains 20-60% post-consumer recycled content and 20-100% total recovered fiber. The NRDC says such toilet paper currently has a lower environmental impact than bamboo. That’s because bamboo—wonderfully resilient, self-growing and low maintenance—is too often planted on deforested land. This doesn’t promote biodiversity in the way hardwood does, and it’s often imported from China.

Consider a bidet instead

A thin white bidet arm extends into the middle of the void of a toilet seat and a stream of water jets up

Installing a bidet is a more environmentally friendly alternative to using traditional toilet paper. A bidet uses about 1/8th of a gallon of water per use, while it takes 37 gallons of water to manufacture a single roll of toilet paper (Scientific American). Bidets are popular everywhere except North America. A building law in Italy says every home must have a bidet, and 90% of Venezuelan homes boast a bidet. Bidets can provide health benefits, and hands-off washing is more sanitary than hands-on wiping. One of the biggest benefits of bidets is their accessibility for people who have trouble bending and twisting (Healthline).

Sustainable purchasing

Considering your own paper product usage, what might you change right now? We suggest you create an inventory of paper products in your living space. As you do so, think about which products you could use less of, use a different quality or even do without. What alternatives might you discover?

The Forest Sustainability Council's green logo with a checkmark and tree above the letters FSC

The best way to make sure your paper products are sourced responsibly is to look for their environmental certifications. The Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certification ensures products “come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.” The FSC’s “checkmark and tree” logo is perhaps the most widely recognized in the paper industry.

Need recommendations? Our congregation has put together a list of sustainable products our sisters and charism partners have tried and liked. The NRDC has also put together A Shopper’s Guide to Home Tissue Products full of helpful information.

Keep in mind: to reduce and reuse is better than to recycle! If you need more details on how to cut back on your use of paper, you can find 31 Ways to Reduce Paper Usage from VisionOfEarth, and consider these swaps

Instead of…Try this alternative
Paper towelsReusable paper towels, cloth towels/rags, sponges
Paper napkinsCloth napkins
Paper platesSturdy, lightweight reusable plates
Waxed paperSilicone baking mats, reusable beeswax wraps
Cupcake liners, parchment paperSilicone products
Toilet paper and facial tissueTissue with at least 50% recycled content
Personal booksLibrary books or e-books
Magazines, catalogs, puzzle booksSubscribe to digital/online versions
Printer paperPaper with at lest 50% recycled content
Greeting cards and lettersEmail, messaging apps or cards and paper with high recycled content

Take the Eco-Challenge

Hopefully, this knowledge about paper products motivates you to begin making some simple changes in your life.

  • Use cloth towels or sponges whenever possible. If necessary, buy 100% recycled paper towels. Use hand dryers in public restrooms or just one paper towel.
  • Use cloth napkins and take fewer paper napkins when dining out.
  • Buy only 100% recycled facial tissue and toilet paper.
  • Get lightweight, durable & washable plates instead of paper plates for outdoor use.
  • Choose products with little to no packaging.
  • Teach the children in your life about the environmental impact of the products they use every day.

Spread the word

  1. Choose your challenge level above
  2. Share your commitment in the comments section below.
  3. Claim your October Eco-Challenge badge by sharing our post on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Eco-Challenge: Purchase paper products responsibly”

  1. Avatar

    I’ve been using flannel squares that wrap around an old paper towel roll & I can suspend on paper towel holder. I collect used towels & put in the washer to reuse again!
    I also use handkerchiefs, yes people look at me funny & a child once told me that it was gross, but Handkerchiefs used to be the norm before the invention of kleenex. commercials convinced us germs were hiding everywhere and are BAD! My grandmother always used handkerchiefs & she lived to 98 years and was rarely sick, all those years. Just something to think about.

  2. Avatar

    I’ll take on the challenge to use those air dryers in public restrooms. I don’t like them because it takes too long, but maybe I could pray while my hands are drying.

  3. Avatar

    Once I have used the paper towels I have, I will no longer purchase them. No paper napkins or plates, either…. My subscriptions are already online, and books are online or from a library. My new challenge will be to locate toilet paper with the greatest amount of recycled material I can find in the stores…. I’m not ready for a bidet as yet!

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About us

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are a congregation of Catholic sisters. We, and those who share our charism and mission, are motivated in all things by our profound love of God and our dear neighbors. We seek to build communities and bridge divides between people. Since our first sisters gathered in 1650, our members have been called to “do all things of which women are capable.” The first sisters of our congregation arrived in St. Louis, Missouri in 1836, and we now have additional locations in St. Paul, Albany, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Japan and Peru. Today, we commit to respond boldly to injustice and dare to be prophetic.


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