Major household brands are ensuring that we flush an important climate resource down the toilet. The Natural Resource Defense Council recently released its Issue with Tissue report and scorecard, rating how sustainable (or unsustainable) toilet paper, facial tissue, and paper towel producers are. Procter & Gamble, the U.S.’s top toilet paper maker, received straight F’s for its tissue and paper brands, which include Charmin, Bounty, and Puffs.
P&G uses pulp sourced from the Canadian boreal forest, a critical climate ecosystem just below the Arctic circle. It creates a ring of green around the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s important for Canada’s economy and ecosystems. As an old-growth forest, it stores about 30% of all land-based carbon, according to NRDC. As other critical forests like the Amazon rainforest are logged, making it harder for those ecosystems to store carbon, the conservation of the boreal forests that are found across Canada, Alaska, and Russia is more important than ever. But about a million acres of the Canadian boreal forest are cut down each year to create toilet paper, NRDC says.
“Industry laggards like P&G are fueling a tree-to-toilet pipeline that is flushing away some of the most environmentally important — and threatened — forests in the world,” said Jennifer Skene, NRDC’s Natural Climate Solutions Policy Manager in an online statement. “Turning them into toilet paper is a climate crime, especially when done by the very companies that most need to step up to protect our future.”
Other major brands in the U.S., including Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific, also earned F scores across several of their flagship brands, including Quilted Northern, Angel Soft, Scott 1000, and Cottonelle Ultra. Like P&G, both brands almost exclusively use fibers sourced from old growth forests.
These large companies continue to lean on unsustainable practices for production, but other firms have brought more tissue to the market that use less environmentally harmful materials. The brands Seventh Generation and Who Gives a Crap, for example, earned A’s for their sustainably sourced toilet paper. Trader Joe’s toilet paper received an A+ rating. Brands that used recycled materials were more likely to score higher; toilet paper made from recycled materials has about one-third of the carbon footprint of toilet paper made from trees, according to NRDC.
The NRDC noted that more brands are sourcing materials from bamboo, which the organization says points to a growing market for alternative fibers as consumers ask for more sustainable options. 34 of the products on the scorecard that received a B or B+ rating were made from 100% bamboo fibers. “[Bamboo] has a smaller environmental footprint than virgin forest fiber but a larger footprint than recycled fiber and some agricultural residues like wheat straw,” NRDC wrote.
There may be a glimmer of progress from P&G, according to NRDC. The brand is selling Charmin Ultra Eco online, which is made from 100% bamboo. It’s a small step in the right direction, at least.