Unbleached paper is reported to be better for the environment, but my local supermarket doesn't carry unbleached paper products at all, and while I can find them at a store like Whole Foods, they tend to cost more than twice as much as the bleached products. Ironically, my supermarket has unbleached napkins available in its take-out food napkin dispensers, but they don't sell them.

Does unbleached paper really cost more to manufacture, or is it just lack of demand that drives up the cost of unbleached paper? I'm not aware of any drawbacks to unbleached paper other than appearance. Unbleached toilet paper seems even more rare (even in commercial restrooms), and that's a use where you'd think consumers wouldn't be overly concerned with appearance.

Since many fast-food restaurants seem to use unbleached paper products, there must be a lot of unbleached paper being manufactured, but it doesn't seem to be trickling down to consumer products.

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    They really are not. You just have to buy them in bulk. most of the unbleached products are sold at commercial/industrial scale rather than for home use. Costco and Sams both sell unbleached paper towels and napkins cheaper than their more refined counterparts.
    – user141
    Jun 25, 2013 at 14:20
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    @Chad I do not disagree with you. Costco and Sams both sell office, event and janitorial type products which you describe in better terms as "commercial/industrial scale". This does not address the retail shoppers experience rather these are bought wholesale and sold in a similar fashion. Jun 29, 2013 at 20:25

4 Answers 4


There is a possibility you are looking for the wrong thing.

In Australia we have a reasonable selection of "not rebleached" 100% recycled toilet papers which are almost identical in whiteness to regular bleached papers. So maybe you are looking for brown when there are white options which fit what you are after (pulp sourced from sustainable options or 100% recycled, not bleached etc.)

I use Naturale at home and it is one of the low cost options at the supermarket, is available Australia wide and I would say it matches any other brand in terms of quality.

I also stumbled across this, which may prove helpful:

How will I know if I am buying unbleached, environmentally safe toilet paper?

The paper industry has recognized the consumers interest in getting chlorinated chemicals out of the bleaching process. You will be able to choose the right paper, made without ANY chlorine, if you remember just a few simple terms:

  • “UNBLEACHED”- Recycled Papers that have NOT been re-bleached
  • “PROCESSED CHLORINE-FREE”- Recycled papers bleached with oxygen, ozone or hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine chemicals
  • “TOTALLY CHLORINE-FREE”- Non-recycled papers bleached with oxygen, ozone or hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine chemicals
  • “ELEMENTAL CHLORINE-FREE”- Papers bleached with chlorine dioxide instead of chlorine gas. These chemicals still contain chlorine, so this process still produces dioxins!

Source: The Toilet Paper Encyclopedia

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    When buying bleach (Chlorox, other brand or generic) it is important to buy oxygen bleach an alternative to chlorine usually sodium percarbonate (mixture of hydrogen peroxide & washing soda). A mixture of 75% sodium percarbonate offers maximum cleaning power & avoid artificial fragrances or dyes (these contain methylene chloride - a suspected carcinogen & neurotoxin found in air fresherners). Chlorine bleach is sodium hypochlorite both of the aforementioned cause the human body damage in many ways. Jun 29, 2013 at 20:39

When making paper from fibres, the fibres are chopped up into pulp, which naturally has a brownish grey colour. Cardboard boxes and packing paper are the natural colour for unbleached paper.

unbleached toilet paper

Presumably white paper feels "cleaner", so I think that it is simply a case that unbleached paper is more expensive, because it is harder to sell.

As recycled paper is usually made from bleached paper, unbleached only means that no extra bleach is added, which is why recycled paper is usually lighter than unbleached paper.

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    white paper feels cleaner? That is "conditioned" and subjective statement. You've grown-up "conditioned" to believe so maybe subconsciously. That is like saying a bright white cotton t-shirt feels cleaner than natural tones. Cotton is the most heavily pesticide laden crop and then to bleach it bright white that is hardly the case. That is a learned behavior. They used to tell (somewhere they surely still do) black children were filthier for having dark skin. Jun 22, 2013 at 16:32
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    Chlorine bleach (sodium hypocholorite is a severe irritant that interferes w/normal development of fetus or child. It causes sever skin and eye irritation and chemical burns. Inhalation causes coughing, chest pain, emphysema, chronic and acute bronchitis. It damages liver, kidneys, blood, heart and immune and respiratory systems. If that feels cleaner to you, I prefer to avoid bleach and if I get it I make sure it is oxygen bleach an alternative to chlorine. Unbleached means no bleach was used. Jun 22, 2013 at 16:39
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    @CharlieBrown I didn't mean to say white paper feels cleaner to me, I'm just aware that commercials are designed to make one believe that white=clean. Obviously adding whatever is never going to make anything cleaner.
    – Earthliŋ
    Jun 22, 2013 at 16:44
  • @CharlieBrown I think that unbleached recycled paper just means that no extra bleach has been used in the recycling process. If the fibres had never been exposed to bleach, unbleached recycled paper would be a lot darker.
    – Earthliŋ
    Jun 22, 2013 at 16:47
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    So in short, is the answer economies of scale? Because where there's a supply and very little demand, that drives prices down, all other things being equal. So it can't just be because demand is low; there must be something else going on.
    – 410 gone
    Jun 22, 2013 at 18:03

As the question has inferred, it is logical that by not using bleach in paper products (in this case the household consumer type) it would cut cost and also save the toxins from the environment. To find the answer one must look at the bigger picture for it has to do with a number of contributing factors much larger than the bleaching of a piece of paper.

One of these contributing factors is the fact that our current economic model puts zero value in nature or ecosystems. It is based on a business mentality of survival of the fittest with “survival” meaning those that can make money in the economic conditions. There is no benefit in conservation in a model that has no way of equating such with cost, profit, ROI, etc.

Another contributing factor is that the corporations had been given an exorbitant amount of power back in the late 1800’s. Since this time, corporate power has increasingly gained traction in the political arena through (among other things) the power of lobbying, the landmark decision that a corporation is a person and the filling out of the Cabinet by corporate VPs, CEOs, Board Members etc. This ensures that the corporations’ best interests are looked out for when drafting and revising new bills.

Many of the controlling powers in the tissue industry (wood pulp) are long-standing corporations that first made their mark in logging old growth forests such as Weyerhauser, GP and Kimberly Clark. They like all corporations that profit off the exploitative harvesting of a natural resource that is exhaustible go through a boom and bust cycle. When they run out of the natural resource their profit margins go down. However, they maintain a high degree of power and influence in the political arena.

Yet another factor is that the pulp and paper business is what one may consider an old sector of the economy such as the railroads, mining, etc. In such large corporations that began so long ago they are adverse to change and when they do it is much slower in comparison to say, nanotechnology. They do not adapt well like the new sectors because their infrastructure has basically stayed the same for more than a century. In contrast computers, chips, etc. have been made to adapt because their marketplace changes virtually overnight.

What does this big picture stuff have to do with unbleached toilet paper you ask? Nearly everything. I have just laid out a number of factors and to summarize: The “power brokers” of the logging pulp and paper industry have no incentive to change. Their business model is adverse to change. The early industrial age business model was not designed like that of today's information age companies. Not previously mentioned there is also a large, powerful industrial chemical complex that doesn’t want to lose business that will be replaced with nothing. These corporations have to answer to the board members and stockholders about projected quarterly earnings. (However, we as consumers have the power to change this through our buying habits).

Yes, there are several retail companies such as Seventh Generation and other reputable companies offer unbleached tissue but the price is expensive compared to bleached toilet paper (which is illogical unless you take into consideration the above and the next statements) . Seventh Generation is the #2 rated company on the planet by Better World Shopper based on their overall social and environmental records. This rating is achieved by a 5 step process which starts with over 20 years worth of data collected from a wide range of public, private and nonprofit sources. To be ethical costs money in a capitalist free-market economy that does not value natural resources and workers rights (hours, wage, age, etc.). This can be applied to many things that seem illogical like organic food.

There is good news. Thanks to authors like Paul Hawkens and William McDonough there is progress. There are a number of think tanks around the world such as NEF, Happy Planet Index, Paecon and the Cambridge Trust for New Economic Thinking that are working together to create a new economic model that values nature. There are also more immediate action views like Kick It Over Although, these positive points may not pertain to the question, I did not want to leave my answer sounding so pessimistic ;-)

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    Holy wall of text... I suggest you reformat your answer to break it up a little so that it is a bit easier to read.
    – user141
    Jul 2, 2013 at 13:13
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    I added some line breaks for you... and found that you make quite a few assertions of fact but do not provide an evidence to back them up. I think it could be further improved with some quality links that would back up your claims.
    – user141
    Jul 3, 2013 at 13:18
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    For example 'In the last half of the century their profit margins have fallen considerably due to factors such as reduced viable resources and the public awareness due to investigative' This kind of claim goes better when supported by reference.
    – user141
    Jul 3, 2013 at 19:59
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    FWIW I Think if you remove the editorializing it would also lend credibility to the post. Answers should be about the facts. This answer appears to be more about your editorializing at first look. That turns many people off from reading the rest of it to find any substance.
    – user141
    Jul 3, 2013 at 20:01
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    @CharlieBrown - Here is the thing if the facts are true they do not need a champion. They will stand out like a sore thumb. If you present your facts and allow them to make their own case with out injecting your opinion into the facts it reads more credibly. You can present your conclusions at the end. But when you inject your bias into your presentation of the facts people pick up on the faults of the bias and miss the important facts.
    – user141
    Jul 4, 2013 at 23:01

Marcal on the East Coast of the US is a reasonably priced napkin, paper towel and t.p. manufacturer that can be found in supermarkets. Their slogan used to be "Marcalculate and save :)"

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    Welcome to Sustainable Living! Are you affiliated to Marcal or just a happy user? This site requires you to mention any affiliation.
    – THelper
    May 20, 2014 at 5:47

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