Dead-Tree Hypocrisy: NYT, Massive Paper User, Lectures on Toilet Paper

New York Times reporter Leslie Kaufman, who works for a paper that prints over one million copies every day, lectured Americans for using wastefully cushy toilet paper in Thursday's "What Mr. Whipple Didn't Say: Softer Paper Is Costly to Forests."

Americans like their toilet tissue soft: exotic confections that are silken, thick and hot-air-fluffed.

The national obsession with soft paper has driven the growth of brands like Cottonelle Ultra, Quilted Northern Ultra and Charmin Ultra -- which in 2008 alone increased its sales by 40 percent in some markets, according to Information Resources, Inc., a marketing research firm.

But fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them.

Naturally, America is to blame:

Other countries are far less picky about toilet tissue. In many European nations, a rough sheet of paper is deemed sufficient. Other countries are also more willing to use toilet tissue made in part or exclusively from recycled paper.

Questions not answered in the paper's latest example of obsessive environmentalism: How many trees have to die every year for the Times to print one million copies of its daily edition and 1.5 million of its Sunday behemoth? And how much recycling takes place in the process? After all, newsprint is notoriously costly to recycle. An earnest ecology blogger from (yes) Berkeley contacted the Times and was disappointed with the figures she got back:

...only the NY Times had gotten back to me, stating that the paper they use ranges from 21 to 28% recycled content. The ambiguity of that statement is that they consider waste paper from their plants to be recycled content, which obfuscates the question as to whether it is post-consumer fiber or not (and they didn't answer my question on post-consumer fiber).

If the Times seriously wants to get rid of cushy toilet paper, it should at least be proactive and offer its readers other sanitary choices. And haven't we all imagined alternative uses for our daily Times?

Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center . Read more: http://archive.newsbusters.org/bios/clay-waters.html#ixzz3CdgxLFgQ