Conservationists flush out unsustainable loo roll

The quantity of recycled fibres being used in toilet roll for British markets is still unacceptably low, according to a leading conservation group.

WWF has criticised retailers for demanding ‘virgin’ paper for luxury, bright white and fluffy tissues and drawn up a league table of the saints and sinners involved in the manufacture of the products.

Just five companies hold 75% of the European market and while improvements have been made over the last few years, they are still having a huge impact on the world’s forests, says WWF.

The companies that came under the pressure group’s spotlight were Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark, Metsa Tissue, Procter & Gamble and SCA Tissue.

All five were graded on the level of recycled content used, the sustainability of their procurement of wood for virgin paper, pollution control and the openness and transparency their book-keeping on these criteria.

With a score of 69% SCA Tissue, known in the UK for their Naturelle and Velvet brands, was the only company to ‘pass’ WWF’s sustainability test by scoring over 50%.

It is the only surveyed company that is able to ensure that wood fibres used in its products don’t come from poorly-managed forests and also promotes the highest environmental and social standards in forest management.

Metsa Tissue, not a major player in the UK markets, scored 53% mainly because it could demonstrate that it was increasing the recycled content in its consumer toilet paper.

Kimberly Clark – the makers of Andrex and Kleenex – achieving 40%, Procter & Gamble – responsible for Bounty and Charmin – scoring just 34% and Georgia Pacific, which makes Lotus and Nouvelle in the UK, came last with 26%.

“At a time when the world’s natural forests are under an ever increasing pressure it is essential that retailers should be offering the most environmentally-friendly tissue products to their customers,” said Beatrix Richards, forests campaigner at WWF.

“The levels of recycled fibres being used in toilet paper, paper towels and napkins are still far too low. As a result, trees from natural forests and plantations from around the world are chucked straight into our toilets and bins. The manufacturers themselves may be becoming more responsible but this must be matched by offering a greater range of responsible products.”

Producing toilet paper, tissues and kitchen roll is big business in Europe, with the sector worth around 8.5 billion Euros per year and responsible for the felling of some 25 million trees.

The bleaching process to create pure white paper also has the potential to be environmentally costly, usually relying huge amounts of toxic chlorine.

As well as naming and shaming the major companies that account for the lion’s share of resource consumption, WWF is urging consumers to take responsibility and only buy recycled paper.

“Customers have a role to play in creating demand for recycled tissues and toilet tissue. Consumers should compare the different tissue products and buy those with the most recycled content,” said Ms Richards.

WWF plans to repeat the test in 2007 to find out which of the companies have wiped away previous problems and which, from the pressure group’s viewpoint, still have a dirty mark on their reputation.

Sam Bond

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