paper towel

Mmm. Nothing like a little bleach with your morning coffee. Wait a minute. How’s bleach making its way into my unassuming java, you ask? Don’t worry, no one’s trying to poison you. It could be creeping into your morning cup through that bleached coffee filter you use to make your brew.

Paper products, like coffee filters, attain their spotless white color by going through processing using chlorine bleach—that same nasty stuff you eco-consumers nixed from your laundry years ago. But, unless you purchase unbleached paper products, many of the products you use every day were likely made using chlorine bleach. Think toilet paper, paper towels, coffee filters, printer paper, paper napkins, even tampons.

Although debate exists on whether or not the chemicals from that chlorinated coffee filter actually release into your cup, the bleaching process at paper mills is decidedly bad for the environment. (And for your garden, if you’re tossing that paper filter into the compost pile.)

When paper mills use chlorine for whitening, it contributes to forming dioxins and furans, harmful byproducts of the bleaching process, which then get released into the air and water supplies. These toxic chemicals can cause cancer and also pose serious risks to the environment.

Better Options

You earth-conscious folks work hard to craft a healthy home. You likely buy organic food, use environmentally-friendly cleaning products and always recycle. Don’t let bleached products ruin all of your hard eco-work. Better alternatives exist.

Oxygen-bleached products

This safer process uses chlorine dioxide, which doesn’t release harmful dioxin residues, to bleach paper products. Look for “non-chlorine bleaching,” “unbleached,” “process chlorine free,” or “totally chlorine free” on paper product labels.

Healthier filters

Other alternatives to conventional coffee filters and unbleached versions include filters made from bamboo or hemp. Found sustainably harvested versions? Even better! 

A new lifestyle

Want to go all out green? Limit or completely rid your home of disposable paper products. That takes the risk of bleach sneaking into your home down to zero. Clean with rags instead of paper towels. Use cloth napkins instead of paper. Brew coffee with reusable coffee filters instead of disposable. If you don’t want to go so far as to install a bidet, at least opt for toilet paper with a high-recycled content.

image: bgottsab

Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson

Sources:

The Daily Green
Which Disposable Paper Products Are Green?

National Resources Defense Council
A Shopper’s Guide to Home Tissue Products

Environmental Protection Agency
Dioxins and Furans

MSNBC
Bleached Coffee Filters Bother You? Go Gold!

Environmental Literacy Council
Chlorine