What you should know about bamboo toilet paper

This Q&A is brought to you by Christie Low, co-founder of Honeycomb Luxury.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

In April 2021, our Changeletters were sponsored by Honeycomb Luxury, creating soft and sustainable toilet tissue. To be completely honest, I wasn't expecting to be impressed by Christie Low, the founder (sorry Christie, it's nothing personal) - bamboo TP has been done before. What more could there be to say? 

This Q&A with Christie surprised me on so many levels. I learned:

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  1. Tell us about Honeycomb Luxury and why you decided to tackle sustainability through toilet paper.

    I’m embarrassed to say that while sustainability is always priority #1 in my business, I have a hard time sticking with sustainable choices in my personal life. Like many of us, I tend to start new eco-friendly habits, but if they’re not convenient, I have a hard time sticking with them consistently. 

    So knowing my high level of concern about the environment, and knowing that I’m having such a hard time sticking with some of these changes and staying motivated, I just couldn’t imagine a world where we start to see some of these eco-friendly changes catch on mainstream without something making it more convenient.

    I kept coming back to toilet tissue because the impact is so huge and the sacrifice on the part of the consumer is so small. You can change pretty much nothing about your current habits, and still make this massive impact.

    The problem was that I just couldn’t find one that felt right. Everything felt scratchy, too thin, or fell apart when wet. I wanted something softer and more luxurious than what I was finding on the market, that actually made me feel like my bathroom was a spa. So honeycomb was born! It’s an eco-friendly tissue designed to match the luxury brands you get in stores.

  2. What informed your approach to your bamboo-based toilet paper?

    So I actually tested a lot of different products before I settled on bamboo - including hemp, recycled paper and every bamboo competitor. None of the other options had the feel I was looking for. 

    Essentially, I wanted to forget that my toilet tissue was eco-friendly, and everything I tried up until that point was not it. 

    Bamboo was the only material that felt like it was going in the right direction and also balanced our eco-friendly requirements. 

    It grows quickly (80x faster than trees!), doesn’t need pesticides or fertilizers to grow, and sequesters carbon faster than hardwood trees. It’s also incredibly soft and strong, and makes tissue that feels like the regular TP most consumers are used to. It’s possible to process bamboo in such a way that it creates a luxurious product.

  3. "Luxury" is often at odds with sustainability, and modern-day sustainability can seem like it's only accessible to people with a lot of money. What do you say to that, especially as someone offering a higher-end product?

    In a lot of ways, I agree with the sentiment that sustainability should be accessible. However, there was a lot of thought put behind this price tag.

    People often see these big-box store brands, or well-known name brands, and they see how “affordable” these brands are. You aren’t seeing the full picture reflected on the price tag, though. You’re seeing a company that may not always pay their workers a living wage, because they aren’t being held accountable for that. You are seeing companies with billions of dollars of purchasing power being able to negotiate down prices, or make up for a slim profit margin due to demand increase. You’re also very rarely - if ever - seeing the actual cost on the environment reflected in these prices. 

    I also intentionally designed honeycomb to be a luxury brand because I wanted to be able to provide that spa-like experience for people who want it. That does come with a higher price tag in terms of paying my employees a higher wage and ensuring our customer experience is the best it can be. 

    It also means we can do important things like always make the right environmental choices in our packaging, support small business partners and grow in a way that’s sustainable.

    So I did price honeycomb to be a luxury item in a lot of ways - however it’s also priced so that the small farmers who produce the bamboo needed to make honeycomb make a fair wage, too. It’s priced to reflect the impact on the environment and offset any detrimental shipping.

  4. What are some limitations and challenges with using your product and bamboo-based TP in general?

    This is a great question! Bamboo certainly isn’t perfect, and there are other sustainable options. 

    From an environmental standpoint, bidets are actually the top option - but it certainly takes getting used to, and I think there will always be some people who just want to use TP. Americans are comfortable with that kind of luxury, and I don’t think that’s going away any time soon. Maybe one day! 

    In the meantime for me, bamboo just made sense because it is more sustainable than virgin hardwood, yet it fit the brand I wanted to make - that is, luxurious, soft, strong, and spa-like. There are other sustainable TP brands out there, and they are all doing amazing work. However only honeycomb provides that luxury feel, so in that way we are unique. 

    Post-consumer recycled is also a great option - but the versions I’ve tried are very uncomfortable, and I always found myself going back to regular virgin tree fiber, which is the worst choice. 

    I always come back to this: the best option is the one you can stick with.

  5. On the website, Honeycomb doesn't show sustainability certifications, like FSC. Do you have plans to get certified? Why should we trust your product, especially with greenwashing so commonplace in "sustainable" goods?

    I actually loathe greenwashing with a passion, so this is a great question! One way you can tell if a company is “greenwashing” you is because they will never actually answer your questions or admit their faults. I’ve run into so many of these companies on social media - you message and ask about their supply chain and you get a coupon code and no real answers. 

    To that end we do try to be very transparent here at honeycomb. Truthfully, we’ve been looking into sustainability certifications recently, but I think they’re a long way off.

    I don’t think a lot of people realize that it’s not always easy or socially-friendly to get those certifications. Your manufacturer might have to stop sourcing from your current farmers - we source from small farms, so in our case this could be very detrimental for the families who rely on our supply chain. There are a lot of upsides to these certs, but also a lot of drawbacks. 

    I also think that many people don’t realize that sustainability certifications aren’t very well regulated - or often they aren’t regulated in a way you might expect. For instance, the FSC certification doesn’t actually aim to stop deforestation - their mission is not to halt logging in tropical forests but to instead provide economic incentives to keep tropical forests standing. That’s the message honeycomb is going for - we want to keep old growth forests untouched to logging - not cut them down and replace them with young trees and say “well, it’s still there so that counts!”. 

    In the end, we’re just trying to make the best decisions possible.

  6. Other than Honeycomb, what are some of your favorite tools and resources for fighting climate change?

    I just love small changes. I think they’re the easiest to get people onboard with, and they don’t require that much effort. If everyone switched to concentrated detergent, or a bar shampoo we’d save billions of gallons of water. Re-wearing an outfit an extra time if it didn’t get dirty, or taking your own reusable cup to Starbucks - they might sound “easy” and like they don’t make an impact but they really do, especially when you stick with it.

  7. What is one thing you wish more people understood about the movement for a more sustainable future?

    I think many people believe in the “all or nothing” approach, but there are no aspects of life where that has to be the case - especially in sustainability. We need more people doing imperfect but honest and caring changes, not one person being the perfect eco-warrior day in and day out.

    Just start small! We all have to start somewhere. Set one goal - let’s say carrying a reusable water bottle. Then focus on making that small goal a habit. Eventually you won’t notice it anymore. When that happens, you can move on to something “harder” and “bigger”, like switching your shampoo or buying eco-friendly toilet paper. 

    You don’t have to be perfect, there is no shame in failing. You just have to try! Don’t let anyone guilt trip you for trying, chances are the people pretending to be perfect actually aren’t perfect either.

To help you take another step in your sustainability journey, Christie is offering a 25% discount on your first order of Honeycomb until the end of April 2021. Wowza! Use the code P25 at checkout - for a household of two, you can get 1 box every 3 months.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

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Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google