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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Radical Chic Environmentalist Mau-Mau Paper Companies

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Radical Chic Environmentalist Mau-Mau Paper Companies

Radical chic environmentalists complain that American's use of soft toilet paper is environmentally destructive, preaching that we should use recycled paper instead.  They are mau-mauing corporate executives who feel pangs of guilt when their companies make products their customers enjoy.  As described by David A. Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, in "Environmentalists Seek to Wipe Out Plush Toilet Paper," most executives are listening to their consumers and ignoring environmentalist.
There is a battle for America's behinds.

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.

It has been slow going. Big toilet-paper makers say that they've taken steps to become more Earth-friendly but that their customers still want the soft stuff, so they're still selling it...

But despite environmentalists' concerns, they say customers are unwavering in their desire for the softest paper possible.
The questions is why do these companies listen to the radically chic environmentalist at all?  It really could be environmental guilt.
This summer, two of the best-known combatants in this fight signed a surprising truce, with a big tissue maker promising to do better. But the larger battle goes on -- the ultimate test of how green Americans will be when nobody's watching.

"At what price softness?" said Tim Spring, chief executive of Marcal Manufacturing, a New Jersey paper maker that is trying to persuade customers to try 100 percent recycled paper. "Should I contribute to clear-cutting and deforestation because the big [marketing] machine has told me that softness is important?"
Toilet paper producers should focuse on supplying products that their customers demand within the confines of the law.  Perhaps this is the rub.  These environmentalists might have threaten to use their political muscle to legislate their morality if the producers do not comply with their demands.  I offer no evidence, just a concern for freedom.


  1. Laura Cole24/9/09 3:14 PM

    Many groups try to influence businesses to do the right "socially responsible" thing. The problem is that there is so many "right" things that ought to be done. Whose to say which group is right. I'm all for the environment and preserving what little we have left. But the bottom line is that companies are in business to make a profit and that comes from satisfying their customers. Is it cheaper to make soft toilet paper the old fashion way or is it cheaper to make it from recycled paper? What are the costs to converting to using recycled paper? I can see both sides of the situation. We all have a social responsibility to do our part, but if customers aren't happy then businesses suffer.

  2. Leslie Elting24/9/09 3:39 PM

    Sure toliet paper companies are listening to there customers demand for softer toliet paper, this profits their business. I think that each company should make its own 100%recycled toliet paper and sell it at a reduced price for a short period of time. Most people will buy it once just to try it, especially if it is cheaper than regular toliet paper. Who knows, maybe there will be some that will choose recycled over plush in the end.

  3. Stop debating… let’s start innovating!
    I can understand both the environmentalist and the corporation’s positions. The environmentalists have a very justified and concerned position trying to preserve the trees that we have left in our world. However, on the other hand companies are successful when they please there consumers. Instead of having 100% recycled paper, or a soft plush paper lets think outside the box and find an alternative solution! Instead of one extreme or the other; maybe we could make a soft near plush paper that is 50% - 75% recycled? Then could we manage to find a happy medium where everyone would benefit and the paper would be more environmentally friendly, but yet still please the consumers.

  4. I think this growing movement among environmentalist for improvements in environmental efficiency can be compared to a technology variable that causes a shift in the toilet paper supply curve. For example, the technology used to manufacture toilet paper from recyclable products may be more expensive, raising a sellers costs of producing toilet paper. This change in technology production would cause the supply curve for toilet paper to shift to the left reducing the amount sellers which to produce.
    -April Matos