Toilet paper greenwash

We trawled the supermarket aisles and found 21 brands of toilet paper, then star-rated them according to their sustainability claims.
 
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02.Certified eco labels

Few toilet papers CHOICE found in the supermarket aisles were certified with an eco-label.

  • Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) was the only eco-label we found – on Kimberley-Clark products and Woolworths Select Silky Soft. PEFC certifies that the virgin wood fibre used comes from sustainably managed forests in Australia or overseas.

Greenpeace, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), The Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth do not support PEFC, saying it lacks on-ground auditing of forests and meaningful stakeholder engagement. According to Gavan McFadzean, Victorian campaign manager at The Wilderness Society, “conservation groups do not consider the PEFC brand guarantees the fibre sourced is sustainable on environmental or social grounds. Fibre from old-growth forests can still receive the PEFC label, and the label does not claim sustainability as a key criterion.”

  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a global label, is supported by Greenpeace, ACF and The Wilderness Society; however, we could not find any products made from FSC-certified virgin fibre.
  • Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) stipulates that toilet paper must either be predominantly recycled or come from forests certified by the FSC or the Australian Forestry Standard. However, only a few commercial toilet paper products are certified.

Most toilet papers don’t use an eco-label and simply claim their fibre is sourced from sustainably managed forests, with nothing to back this up. Even more opaquely, Sorbent claims its products come from “100% non-controversial sources” with no information about the source of the fibre.

Biodegradability and bleaching

Toilet-paperMost toilet papers claim to be biodegradable, not an environmental claim as such, but rather a benefit to sewage systems. It’s also not a good differentiator, since any toilet paper made from a plant fibre biodegrades.

Many products also claim to use a more green-friendly bleaching process to whiten, usually called “elemental chlorine-free bleaching” – but this still uses chlorine. A more sustainable choice is a totally chlorine-free bleached product or, better still, an unbleached toilet paper.

Packaging

Almost all toilet paper packaging has a triangle recycling symbol (called a mobius loop) with the number four and sometimes “LDPE” written underneath, meaning it is low-density polyethylene.

Thin plastic film (unlike stiff plastic containers) is not recyclable in kerbside systems. O’Farrell says councils prohibit LDPE film in their recycling bins, and “given the hurdle for most consumers to track down a destination to recycle LDPE film it’s impractical for them to do that”. The only toilet paper packaging we can practicably recycle is the paper-wrapped Safe brand.

Misleading claims such as the recycling logo contravene the Australian Standard on Self-Declared Environmental Claims and the ACCC’s Green Marketing recommendations.

Supporting the environment

Some toilet papers display logos from organisations such as Planet Ark, Clean Up Australia and the Australian Rainforest Foundation, which means some of the profits from the products go to these groups or their projects. This is a good reason to buy them; however, these logos should not be mistaken for eco-labels, as the groups do not audit environmental impacts or fibre source.

 

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