Toilet paper consumes 5% of the trees harvested, a much lower percentage than shipping materials made from unrecycled paper, but it’s apparently seized most of the attention from environmentalists.  The Washington Post reports on a campaign to get toilet paper manufacturers to stop making the product as soft and to use recycled paper, which thus far has meant economic death for the producers.  One has to wonder whether this is really the time or the, er, place for activism:

It is a fight over toilet paper: the kind that is blanket-fluffy and getting fluffier so fast that manufacturers are running out of synonyms for “soft” (Quilted Northern Ultra Plush is the first big brand to go three-ply and three-adjective).

It’s a menace, environmental groups say — and a dark-comedy example of American excess.

The reason, they say, is that plush U.S. toilet paper is usually made by chopping down and grinding up trees that were decades or even a century old. They want Americans, like Europeans, to wipe with tissue made from recycled paper goods. …

Toilet paper is far from being the biggest threat to the world’s forests: together with facial tissue, it accounts for 5 percent of the U.S. forest-products industry, according to industry figures. Paper and cardboard packaging makes up 26 percent of the industry, although more than half is made from recycled products. Newspapers account for 3 percent.

But environmentalists say 5 percent is still too much.

This makes no sense at all.  Why spend all of that effort going after toilet paper when the bottom line, so to speak, is that the packaging industry uses almost three times as much unrecycled product?  I would agree that we should get the pulp from sustainable resources, at which the industry has agreed to do better, but the net effect will still be to eat at the margins of a much larger problem — especially in the age  of Internet commerce, where more transactions get fulfilled in cardboard packaging.

Besides, the environmentalists are attacking the wrong, er, end of the problem.  They need to convince the consumers, not the producers, that rougher is better.  Toilet paper made from recycled materials is not as pleasing as the normal product, which means that given a choice, people will avoid the former for the latter.  The Post’s David Fahrenholtd reports that the environmentalists set up a test for him to prove that there was little difference between the two, which failed.

People understand the difference, and they want comfort and convenience.  Many of us have had plenty of experience with recycled-based product, in government or corporate facilities.  Those aren’t exactly encouraging experiences, which is why demand remains high for the plush product.  Until producers can emulate that with recycled material — or start mandating the elimination of consumer choice, which is the direction they’re going — Americans will not choose to be Europeans in the, er, end.