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Q Why is recycled toilet paper more expensive than paper made from freshly chopped-down trees?

A Although the price of recycled brands is often higher than that of nonrecycled brands, a little comparison shopping should even things out. Recycled toilet paper tends to have more sheets per roll than toilet paper made from virgin hardwood trees, so even though it may cost more at the cash register, you're actually getting more than you would if you purchased the less expensive, nonrecycled paper. But if you do the math and it turns out that a particular recycled brand does cost more, here are a few facts that might explain why. Collecting, sorting, and processing wastepaper is labor intensive -- all the paper in a roll has to be of the same quality and consistency, so someone has to be paid to sort out the pizza boxes. Transporting paper from the sorting center to the mill is another cost that the timber industry usually doesn't have to contend with; most paper mills that process freshly cut trees are located near forests. Finally, the timber industry benefits from government subsidies, which means it's paid to collect the raw materials. One way to lower the cost of recycled toilet paper is to buy more of it. Recycled bathroom products are made by small manufacturers in small quantities, but greater demand will create a more viable market, and the price will drop.

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Illustration: Mark Matcho

OnEarth. Summer 2005
Copyright 2005 by the Natural Resources Defense Council