Student activists win battle to switch to environmentally friendly toilet paper

UVM student group Forest Crimes Unit (FCU), organized by UVM senior Basil Tsimoyianis, has managed to transform itself from a minor association into an effective independent student organization.

FCU, which recently celebrated a public victory by removing all Kimberly-Clark custodial products such as Scott brand toilet paper from campus, might not be at the level that it is today if Tsimoyianis had not made the decision to drive to Maryland and participate in a youth-led coalition called Powershift in November of 2007.

Powershift is a national youth summit, which meets annually in attempts to solve the world’s climate crisis. Youths from all around the country bring their individual concerns and ideas to the conference in an effort to address and work toward a solution regarding global warming.

“I’ll never forget being in Maryland and walking into a room of 42 UVM students,” Tsimoyianis said. “I immediately knew these were the people who would impact me the most during my time at UVM.”

Tsimoyianis said he was a little demoralized at the lack of enthusiasm for his original attempts to form a student environmental action group, but the discovery of equally passionate environmentalists on campus while in Maryland gave him the motivation to start making things happen.

Immediately after returning from Powershift, he set to work organizing meetings and setting goals with all the new members. The response was overwhelming, Tsimoyianis said.

“We spent the remainder of first semester educating ourselves and making plans,” Tsimoyianis said. “When second semester came around, we hit campus. Nothing could have stopped us at this point – and we won.”

Kimberly-Clark products were specifically targeted because the FCU felt they did not reach the standards of UVM’s environmental values. Kimberly-Clark uses very little recycled fiber in their paper products; Kleenex tissues contain none, which results in miles of boreal forests being clear cut to create a product that is used once (e.g. a tissue), Tsimoyianis said.

Since removing all Kimberly-Clark products on campus, their next step is to have UVM divest from the company. The Forest Crimes Unit have also turned their attention to other projects around Burlington that focus on changing the paper products used in local restaurants and shops. They would like to see Fletcher Allen Hospital do the same.

Their strategy is to educate others on sustainable practices and to present an unbiased description of which paper products would be more environmentally friendly, rather than acting as representatives for any one brand.

An easy way for a company to use a more environmentally friendly brand of paper products would be to buy Greenseal certified products that contain a high “post-consumer recycled” content. This means that the material used to produce the paper has been used at least once already.

FCU members are also hoping to begin teaching local children about green issues through the use of Dr. Seuss’ story “The Lorax.”

In the rhyming tale, a thoughtful animal struggles against the deforestation of his home.

The Forest Crimes Unit consists of over 40 members, and has managed to create a family-type atmosphere in addition to tackling hard-hitting environmental concerns.

“We created a community that continues to inspire all of us. It works because we love what we do and each other. We see the importance of putting our values into action and will continue to do so,” Tsimoyianis said.

UVM has traditionally been a hotbed for environmental activism, and the FCU is hoping to build on that tradition by working with all interested parties in order to present a unified front against non-environmentally friendly paper products and the companies who produce them.