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Environment

Sustainable toilet paper: Bamboo rolls offered by subscription in Japan

Startup Okaeri uses eco-friendly, carbon-absorbing material

Okaeri's Bamboo Roll toilet paper comes in a light brown color because it uses no bleaching agent. (Photo courtesy of the company)

TOKYO -- A Japanese startup will soon launch a subscription service for toilet paper made from bamboo with an eye toward environmentally conscious consumers.

Okaeri, based in Nagano Prefecture, will next month begin to deliver Bamboo Roll toilet paper made from 100% bamboo pulp and packaged in recycled cardboard.

Toilet paper is normally made from scrap paper and wood products, usually those from broadleaf trees which can take 10 years or more to reach maturity.

On the other hand, new bamboo shoots can spring up every year from the same underground stem. Bamboo can attain sufficient growth in three years and research shows that it can absorb carbon dioxide in volumes exceeding those of conifer and broadleaf.

It is for these reasons that gathering bamboo has less of an environmental impact. Yet bamboo can obstruct the growth of trees if left alone in the wild and has been known to ruin woodlands. If bamboo grows thickly on a slope, crowding out the trees, landslides are prone to occur.

Harvesting bamboo can lead to a virtuous cycle for the environment, but few businesses in Japan trade in bamboo pulp. The small volume of blended bamboo toilet paper that was sold in the past was imported.

An 18-roll package of Bamboo Roll will be priced at 1,800 yen ($17), which is pricier than conventional toilet paper. For a limited number of customers who preorder online, the price will be discounted to 1,440 yen.

Okaeri will promote the added value of the product, pointing out, for example, that Bamboo Roll uses no perfume and no bleaching agent -- which leaves the paper in a pale brown color.

Each roll contains 33 meters of toilet paper. The sheets are three-ply, putting the softness on par with other toilet paper. It is degradable enough to be flushable, and the cardboard core is made out of bamboo as well.

Each Bamboo Roll package contains 18 rolls of toilet paper. (Photo courtesy of Okaeri)

Customers can choose the frequency of deliveries and the number of toilet paper packages. Okaeri expects a family of four to purchase one package a month.

Because it is difficult to secure stable supplies in Japan that would bring bamboo toilet paper within normal price ranges, Okaeri has hired a Chinese contract manufacturer to produce Bamboo Roll under specifications provided. The bamboo will be sourced from China.

Okaeri chose its manufacturer with technical and environmental considerations in mind. The contractor will use bamboo certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, ensuring responsible consumption of forest product, while electricity will come from hydropower.

Japan ranks fourth globally in per-capita consumption of toilet paper. Although sustainable toilet paper is becoming more commonplace, the product is non-recyclable since it is flushed. Mounting global consumption could produce a consequential impact in terms of logging.

"I hope [Bamboo Roll] triggers interest toward materials and production processes" of toilet paper, said Okaeri President Kayo Matsubara.

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