Soft Toilet Paper: Mankind’s Doom?

The kerfuffle over soft toilet paper has hit a new low. The NRDC’s Allen Hershkowitz is now saying that “People just don’t understand that softness equals ecological destruction.”

I had to chuckle after reading that last sentence (it is silly, is it not?). But then I decided to take Hershkowitz seriously. Hardcore environmentalists like the NRDC are sometimes loosey-goosey with the data; science and their religion rarely get along.

Let’s see how big the impact of softer toilet paper really is. Maybe, hyperbole aside, Hershkowitz has a point. Let’s look at the data and find out.

Despite the proliferation of tree-intensive soft toilet paper, forest area in the U.S. has remained almost unchanged over the last century. Right around 33% of total land area.

Over that same time period, U.S. population more than tripled. That’s a lot more bottoms, demanding ever softer toilet paper. And yet — no net deforestation.

That doesn’t sound like ecological destruction. To use one of the New Religion’s buzzwords, that sounds… sustainable.

Deforestation is happening on a worldwide scale, according to a handy table from the Earth Policy Institute (data from the UN). They try to make it sound scary, but it isn’t. I crunched the numbers. The decline amounts to roughly 0.2% per year. Not exactly a crisis. Even that slow rate appears to be in decline.

I’m going to go ahead and say that Hershkowitz and the NRDC are promoting a baseless scare story.

There is still a tremendous upside to all this hemming and hawing. If toilet paper is all that environmental activists have to get worked up over these days, it is a sign that, environmentally speaking, we live in good times.