Write or wipe
Time for a new roll, but what’s your type?
Photo: iStockphoto

Deciding what kind of toilet paper to buy is a delicate issue. Perhaps most significantly because you want to protect those delicates — but what about this delicate planet of ours?

According to the NRDC, if every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll (500 sheets) of virgin-fiber toilet paper with 100 percent recycled TP, we’d save almost half a million trees. So the question becomes: Is it possible to protect both the earth and your bum? I was determined to find out.

Grist’s Pick

Seventh Generation Double Rolls

400 sheets per roll/100 percent recycled/80 percent post-consumer

$3.99 for a 4-pack at Whole Foods

To aid me in my quest for chafe-free choices, I enlisted the help of the Grist staff and a few unsuspecting visitors — including eco-model Summer Rayne Oakes, who happened to be in town for Seattle’s Green Fashion Week. To each bum, his own, right?

After doing some research online (try explaining to the IT guy the appearance of PoopReport.com in your internet history), I decided on several nationally available brands of recycled TP: Seventh Generation, Green Forest, and Whole Foods‘ brand 365 Everyday Value. According to the NRDC’s shopper’s guide (and the TP packages), those three brands are all 100 percent recycled fiber, at least 40 percent post-consumer fiber, and processed chlorine-free.

A last-minute tip about two-plys from Grist kahuna Chip Giller got me thinking about double versus single rolls, so I bought both where applicable. I also picked up a pack of Cottonelle — a zero percent recycled, zero percent post-consumer roll made by the oft-vilified Kimberly-Clark — to have something to compare with the recycled brands in our blind test.

Though it sparked a slew of giggles and some interesting discussions (including a particularly heated one about which way rolls should unravel), the completely unscientific experiment went well, effectively wiping clean any misgivings staffers had about TMI.

Here are the results:

Seventh Generation Single Roll
2 ply/ 260 sheets per roll/ 4.5″x4″ sheet/ 130 sq. ft.
$2.69 for a 4-pack at Whole Foods
Recycled content: 100 percent
Post-consumer recycled content: 80 percent minimum
Color: white (processed without chlorine)
Pattern: flowers
Absorbency: 3.7 out of 5 (8 reviewers)
Overall comfort: 3.7 out of 5 (8 reviewers)

“A good, clean wipe,” wrote one reviewer of this roll. Receiving the second-highest ratings of all the recycled rolls, this one is a good buy, though the double-roll will keep you from hitting the store so often (and at a cost of 1 cent per sheet, will actually save you a dime or so).

Seventh Generation Double Roll
2 ply/ 400 sheets per roll/ 4.5″x4″ sheet/ 200 sq. ft.
$3.99 for a 4-pack at Whole Foods
Recycled content: 100 percent
Post-consumer recycled content: 80 percent minimum
Color: white (processed without chlorine)
Pattern: flowers
Absorbency: 4.1 out of 5 (9 reviewers)
Overall comfort: 4.4 out of 5 (9 reviewers)

Some reviewers questioned whether this roll was even recycled — quite the compliment for TP that boasts a minimum 80 percent post-consumer content. Though the tree-felling Cottonelle roll beat it by one-tenth of a point in overall comfort, this little recycled-roll-that-could ruled in absorbency. Even Summer said it was “nice on the tush!”

365 Everyday Value Single Roll
2 ply/ 180 sheets per roll/ 4.3″x3.66″ sheet/ 78.6 sq. ft.
$1.69 for a 4-pack at Whole Foods
Recycled content: 100 percent
Post-consumer recycled content: 40 percent minimum
Color: white (processed without chlorine)
Pattern: hearts
Absorbency: 2.7 out of 5 (6 reviewers)
Overall comfort: 2.4 out of 5 (7 reviewers)

Since this roll received the lowest marks of any of the brands tested, I recommend keeping it off your TP repertoire. I personally had an unpleasant experience with this one, as it literally fell apart in my fingers. I will give this roll credit, though, for eliciting perhaps the most awesome staff comment: “Rough, but I deserve it.”

365 Everyday Value Double Roll
2 ply/ 360 sheets per roll/ 4.3″x3.66″ sheet/ 157.3 sq. ft.
$2.99 for a 4-pack at Whole Foods
Recycled content: 100 percent
Post-consumer recycled content: 40 percent minimum
Color: white (processed without chlorine)
Pattern: hearts
Absorbency: 3.1 out of 5 (8 reviewers)
Overall comfort: 2.7 out of 5 (8 reviewers)

While boasting twice as many sheets as its single cousin, this roll failed to impress the masses. One reviewer mentioned that more sheets were needed to do the job than expected. Note that both of the 365 Everyday Value rolls have smaller dimensions than any of the other sheets.

Green Forest Single Roll
2 ply/ 198 sheets per roll/ 4.5″x4″ sheet/ 99 sq. ft.
$1.99 for a 4-pack at Whole Foods
Recycled content: 100 percent
Post-consumer recycled content: 40 percent minimum
Color: white (processed without chlorine)
Pattern: flower patchwork
Absorbency: 2.3 out of 5 (8 reviewers)
Overall comfort: 3.4 out of 5 (8 reviewers)

This roll was soft, but a bit thin and flimsy when it came to doing its dooty. It is, however, one of the cheaper four-packs — but I say saving that ass is better than saving that cash.

Cottonelle Double Roll
1 ply/ 352 sheets per roll/ 4.5″x4″ sheet/ 176 sq. ft.
$3.39 for a 4-pack at Rite Aid
Recycled content: 0 percent
Post-consumer recycled content: 0 percent
Color: white (chlorine!)
Pattern: vertical lines
Absorbency: 4.0 out of 5 (8 reviewers)
Overall comfort: 4.5 out of 5 (8 reviewers)

As expected, this non-recycled roll — included in the mix as a control — received high marks for overall comfort. While this one felt quite easy on the arse, some staffers reported feeling only guilt, as they suspected it wasn’t so easy on the earth. Others had complaints about the vertical-line pattern on the 1-ply paper.

The bottom line: You can protect your bum without being a bummer for the earth. For maximum absorbency and (guilt-free) comfort, we suggest Seventh Generation double rolls.