Spotlight gives me an opportunity to showcase a particular image or set of images. Close-up photos can display details from larger pieces. Background stories about the concept, inspiration, circumstances, or development of a piece can be shared, including progressive images of a work-in-progress. 

Spotlight library: Is More ThanInterconnected, Rivers in the Sky, The Cost of Soft

"The Cost of Soft"

While continuing to make pieces about the environmental impacts of climate change, I am also developing some new "Folding and Mending" work that speaks to solutions, addressing the “Mending” aspect. We can influence the course of our climate crisis simply by making informed decisions about the products we purchase and use everyday. 

My first series, “The Cost of Soft,” is in response to what the Natural Resources Defense Council calls “the issue with tissue.” In a nutshell, the softer, more absorbent brands of toilet paper, facial tissue, and paper towels are produced with a high percentage of virgin pulp sourced from trees in old-growth, “primary” forests that have never been previously logged. These older trees are a major source of carbon capture, absorbing as much as three times more carbon from the atmosphere than the new trees logging companies may (or may not) be planting. They also support hundreds of other tree, plant, and animal species in a healthy, biodiverse forest ecosystem. We are cutting them down to make single-use, disposable products... a process referred to as the "tree to toilet pipeline." 

"The Cost of Soft, 240 Count "

30 Archival Pigment Prints on Kozo,  10" x 8.5" x 4" with holder

"240 Count" consists of 30 archival pigment prints on Kozo paper with 8 "sheets" of the same image per print. The prints are trimmed to fit a standard toilet paper tube, and attached together to make a long roll of 240 sheets. 

The last few feet of the roll are left loose, the sheets are perforated at the tear lines, with a few of them stitched together.

Out of curiosity, I did a little research and found that the average American uses between 85 and 141 rolls of toilet paper each year (which I find astounding since I estimate my own use at around 48 rolls.) According to the 2022 NRDC "Issue with Tissue" report, "the U.S. consumes more toilet paper than any other country - about 9.2 billion pounds per year. Canada's forests supply much of this demand. Americans also tend to be much more concerned than the rest of the world about ideal toilet paper texture, largely due to decades of marketing around toilet paper's softness." (Those super, ultra, quilted brands).

"The Cost of Soft, 90 Count "

30 Archival Pigment Prints on Kozo,  14" x 7" x 7" with holder

"90 Count" is again 30 archival pigment prints on Kozo paper with 3 "sheets" of the same image per print. The prints are trimmed to fit a standard paper towel tube, and attached together to make a long roll of 90 sheets. Again, the last few feet are left loose and the sheets perforated, the first one torn, folded, and stitched.

In my research, I could only find one statistic about American paper towel usage, which I'm not overly confident about - 3,000 sheets per year - or about 43 rolls of 70 sheets. Accordingly, if every U.S. household used even one less roll per year, or switched to a totally sustainable brand, we could save 544,000 trees. 

A few brief notes about sustainability and tissue production. You probably notice those FSC certification logos on products you buy. Several levels of Forest Stewardship Council certification are awarded to brands that follow standards for minimizing logging's impact on species and climate. There are other certifications, but the FSC is the most widely supported by environmental experts. Additional  factors to measure sustainability in tissue products include: the % of virgin forest fiber used, the % of recycled waste (both pre-and post-consumer paper waste), the % of certified alternative fibers (like bamboo and wheat straw), and the amount of harmful bleaching used in the process. I've provided a link below if you are interested in learning more and checking the sustainability of the brand you use.

"The Cost of Soft, 60 Count "

6 Hand-Folded & Stitched Archival Pigment Prints mounted to wood,  6.25" x 6" x 6" 

The major tissue manufacturers need to be using more recycled paper and alternative fibers like bamboo. A few are starting to come around and new, more sustainable offerings for these single-use, disposable products are coming to market. 

We can support these changes – our choices as consumers make a difference! 

For a number of years, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been creating a scorecard that grades U.S. toilet paper, paper towel, and facial tissue brands based on sustainability. I was shocked to find that the brands I was using received an "F."  

CLICK HERE to find the 2023 Tissue Scorecard and see how your brand rates!

You'll also find information about the NRDC science and methodology behind the grading system.

I hope you enjoyed this Spotlight on the concept and making of "The Cost of Soft"  pieces. You can view more images from the portfolio in my Folding and Mending gallery.

Please feel free to send comments or questions via my Contact Page.

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