Toilet Paper

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 24 toilet paper brands.

We also look at deforestation, toxic chemicals, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Kimberly-Clark and give our recommended buys. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying toilet paper:

  • Is it recycled? Not only does recycled paper cut down on waste, its production requires 28-70 per cent less energy than that needed to make new. 

  • Is it FSC? You’ll be hard pressed to find a toilet roll on sale that is not certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a mark that ensures certain environmental and social standards are met. 

  • Is its packaging recyclable? The oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish by 2050. Opt for unpackaged toilet roll (available in local wholefood stores) or one with biodegradable packaging.

Best Buys

Our Best Buys are 100% recycled and unbleached:

Recommended Buys

For more widely available brands, Nouvelle Soft and Andrex Eco do best on the table. 
Both products contain recycled materials. Andrex Eco toilet paper is FSC certified and made from 90% recycled materials and 10% natural bamboo fibres.

Prices comparison for 4 roll pack

Essential

£2.44

ecoleaf

£2.06

Traidcraft

£2.50

Nouvelle Soft

£2.10

Andrex Eco

£2.10

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying toilet roll:

  • Does it contain toxic chemicals? Chemicals are used to process, bleach and perfume toilet papers, ingredients that are not disclosed. Look for unbleached toilet paper to avoid the environmental impact of these chemicals.

  • Is it causing deforestation? Unfortunately, FSC certification is no guarantee that your toilet paper hasn't contributed to deforestation, because as much as 30% of the pulp can come from non-certified sources. Go for 100% recycled toilet paper to be sure.

  • Is it packaged in plastic? Plastic packaging requires a huge amount of petroleum, not to mention generating enormous amounts of unnecessary waste. Go for non-packaged, or if you can't find this recyclable packaging.

Companies to avoid

We would recommend avoiding own-brand toilet paper from Asda, which not only scores at the bottom of our table but receives our worst rating for timber sourcing.

  • Asda

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

ecoleaf toilet paper [R]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
14.5

Essential Recycled toilet paper [R]

Company Profile: Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd
13

Traidcraft toilet tissue [R]

Company Profile: Traidcraft plc
12.5

Andrex Eco [R,FSC]

Company Profile: Kimberly-Clark Corp
9.5

Nouvelle Soft toilet tissue [R]

Company Profile: Sofidel SPA
9.5

Andrex toilet tissue [FSC]

Company Profile: Kimberly-Clark Corp
9

Cushelle toilet paper [FSC]

Company Profile: Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA)
8.5

Regina toilet paper

Company Profile: Sofidel SPA
8.5

Velvet toilet paper [FSC]

Company Profile: Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA)
8.5

Tempo toilet paper

Company Profile: Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA)
8

Co-op Soft toilet tissue [R]

Company Profile: Co-operative Group Ltd
6

Co-op Soft Tissue [FSC]

Company Profile: Co-operative Group Ltd
5.5

M&S Toilet Paper [FSC]

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
5.5

Waitrose recycled Toilet Paper[R][FSC]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
4.5

Waitrose Toilet Paper [FSC]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
4

ALDI Saxon toilet paper [FSC]

Company Profile: ALDI SOUTH Group
3.5

Sainsbury's recycled toilet paper [R][FSC]

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
3.5

Morrisons recycled toilet tissue [R][FSC]

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
3

Sainsbury's super soft toilet paper [FSC]

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
3

Morrisons Softer Toilet Paper [FSC]

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
2.5

Tesco Recycled toilet paper

Company Profile: Tesco plc
2

Tesco toilet paper[FSC]

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1.5

ASDA Shades naturals toilet paper [R][FSC]

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0.5

ASDA Shades toilet paper [FSC]

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Toilet paper is arguably one of the most wasteful products that our western culture has made a necessity, with the average Briton flushing approximately 50 rolls of toilet paper down the loo each year. As the majority of toilet paper is made from wood pulp, every wipe removes a little more woodland and its associated biodiversity from our planet. Worldwide, approximately 2,700 trees are either flushed down the toilet or end up on landfill every day, thanks to our global toilet paper habits.

When walking down a supermarket’s toilet paper aisle, consumers’ cleansing preferences seem to have led to a wider range of ‘softer’, perfumed, moistened or quilted papers rather than a wider range of more ethical, unbleached and recycled toilet papers. In fact a growing preference for moist wipes, particularly within wealthier areas, is costing Thames Water approximately £12 million a year to remove sewage blockages partly caused by un-decomposed wet wipes.

Timberrrr!

You’ll be hard pressed to find a toilet roll on sale that is not certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a mark that ensures certain environmental and social standards are met. Although other certification schemes do exist, such as the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), the FSC mark dominates the toilet paper industry and is considered by the World Wildlife Fund to be the best of the bunch.

Image: FSC certified forest toilet roll

However, the observed increase in FSC certification does not go hand-in-hand with more widespread sustainable forestry management practices, as discussed by Simon Counsell from the Rainforest Foundation, below.

Three FSC labels are found on toilet paper wrappings: ‘FSC mixed’, ‘FSC 100%’ and ‘FSC made with recycled materials’.

FSC MIx - The timber or fibre in the product is a mixture of some/all of the following: Timber or fibre from an FSC-certified forest; Reclaimed timber or fibre; Timber or fibre from other controlled sources. Need only contain 70% certified material.

FSC 100% - All the timber or fibre in the product comes from an FSC-certified forest.

FSC Recycled - All the timber or fibre in the product is reclaimed material. 15% can be pre-consumer waste.

The labels themselves are unclear, and the percentage of post- and pre-consumer waste used is not stated (with the exception of Ecoleaf toilet paper).

Only components considered ‘permanent’ or ‘essential’ for the function of the product are covered by the FSC mark. For example, the cardboard tube in the centre of a toilet roll does not have to comply with FSC certification as: “The cardboard roll is a method of dispensing or transporting the paper and can be separated from the product without compromising its function”.

In addition, depending on which system the manufacturer uses, individual products don’t have to contain any FSC material at all, so long as the entire production volume of the product is 70% FSC.

Can we trust the Forest Stewardship Council?

Simon Counsell, Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation, asks the question.

When I helped set up the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in the early 1990s, the aim was to try to establish an ‘eco-labelling’ scheme that would allow consumers to distinguish wood and paper products derived from sustainable and ethically acceptable sources, from those where forests were being destroyed. The indications were that very few products would qualify for a label in the short to medium term, because truly sustainable management of forests for wood was very much the exception rather than the rule.

Yet a mere (in forestry terms) 21 years after the FSC came into being, there are now tens of thousands of products carrying the FSC’s ‘Seal of Approval’. The ‘tree-tick’ logo can be seen everywhere from packets of toilet paper to Ikea furniture. Does this mean that there has been a miraculous improvement in how timber companies, and paper and furniture manufacturers, source their raw material? Are there really now hundreds of millions of acres of forests and woodlands worldwide under careful, sustainable, management?

Forestry practices not improving

Sadly, no. There is little hard evidence that forestry practices worldwide have significantly improved over the last two decades. Some marginal changes have been made by some FSC-certified companies in places such as Canada and Scandinavia (from where the UK obtains the vast majority of its imported wood).

For example, instead of completely clearing thousands of acres of forest, loggers might now clear-fell in smaller patches, perhaps leaving a few isolated trees standing. Damage to streams and rivers might have been cut, pollution and damage from heavy machinery reduced. But the basic nature of the companies’ practices has remained the same.

There are, at best, large question marks over whether such forestry operations are sustainable even in terms of being able to produce a continuing supply of wood, let alone whether they will be of any value as  wildlife habitat, or useful for recreation and a source of important resources for local people.

So why is the FSC’s seal of approval now so prevalent?

When interviewed by Ethical Consumer magazine about this in 2008, I described how the companies involved in carrying out the assessments of logging companies for the FSC were engaged in a “race to the bottom” of certification standards.

The 30 or so companies charged with carrying out the on-the-ground assessment of compliance with FSC’s standards, compete with each other for business. They are paid directly by the logging companies, with fees running to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. The certifiers know that they are likely to gain more business in the future if they are lenient with their clients, turn a blind eye to problems, postpone any sanctions for many years, and issue an FSC certificate rather than deny one.

The FSC and a linked organisation are supposed to oversee the certification companies and ensure they are following the rules, and genuinely assessing the loggers for compliance with the FSC’s, mostly sensible, ‘checklists’ of sustainability. But they have consistently failed to do so, and in fact the FSC is almost powerless to really control the certification companies, which carry on with impunity in issuing certificates to non-compliant timber companies. Some of the largest certification companies have repeatedly fallen foul of the FSC’s requirements – issuing sustainability certificates to companies involved in wrecking critical wildlife habitats, or engaged in illegal logging, for example – yet remain within the FSC system.

Always read the small print

Meanwhile, the ‘small print’ on FSC’s product labels – of which there are three different kinds – needs ever-closer inspection. Product lines carrying the ‘FSC Mix’ logo may contain only 70 per cent of certified material, and any individual product may contain no certified material at all. The ‘FSC Recycled’ logo means that the product contains only recycled material, although up to 15% of it could be ‘pre-consumer’ waste, which some campaigners say should not really qualify as ‘recycled’ at all.

What this all means is that consumers are probably often being misled into thinking that the FSC logo guarantees that products are from an ‘environmentally acceptable, socially beneficial and economically sustainable’ source. For toilet paper specifically, products labelled ‘100% post-consumer waste’ would seem preferable to perhaps those labelled ‘FSC Recycled’. Buying products labelled ‘FSC 100% or ‘FSC Mix’ might be contributing unnecessarily to the destruction of the world’s forests.

Alternative fibres

By choosing to use recycled paper over virgin pulp you “require 28-70 per cent less energy than that required to make virgin paper... and for every tonne of paper used for recycling, [you save] at least 30,000 litres of water, 3,000-4,000 kWh of electricity and up to 95 per cent of air pollutants”. However, you can only recycle paper 4-6 times before the fibres become too short or weak. Virgin fibres are therefore always going to be required.

This realisation has lead to the exploration and use of alternative plant fibres. Bamboo, cotton, hemp, wheat and sugar cane are just some of the materials being used. For example, Kimberly-Clark’s Andrex Eco contains 10% bamboo fibres. Although these fibres may limit the direct use of timber for paper production, they may still be linked to the deforestation and clearing of areas for agricultural production, unsustainable agricultural practices, land grabs and other human rights and workers’ rights abuses unless they are certified Organic and/or Fairtrade.

The unknown substances...

In July 2014 we conducted a shop survey and reviewed the information presented on toilet paper packages. We didn’t find much ‘ingredients’ information. The chemicals used to process, bleach and perfume toilet papers were not disclosed despite a growing number of reports of toilet papers, particularly perfumed varieties, causing allergic reactions.

Ingredient lists posted on sensitive skin blogs highlighted the use of parabens and ingredients derived from petroleum, such as Poly (Ethylene Oxide), within perfumed loo rolls. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, parabens have been linked to endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity. Poly (Ethylene Oxide) has been linked to skin irritations.

Timber-sourcing policies

When reviewing a company’s paper sourcing practices, Ethical Consumer looks beyond FSC certification and assesses a company’s broader timber and paper sourcing policies and practices.

We rate companies out of ten for covering the following ten topics considered by us to be essential for a robust policy: 

  • A timber sourcing policy that covers all timber and timber-derived products
  • The exclusion of illegal timber or that sourced from unknown sources
  • A discussion on how a company  implements its policy
  • Clear targets for sourcing timber from sustainably-managed sources
  • A discussion of a good minimum standard
  • Preference given to certified sources
  • A discussion about tropical hardwoods (THW) and the percentage of THW sourced that are FSC certified
  • Involvement with a multi-stakeholder initiative or bridging programme such as the World Wildlife Fund – Global Forest Trade Network
  • Use of reclaimed or recycled materials
  • A high total percentage (50%+) of FSC certified materials sourced

Companies who covered six or more of the above in their policy were considered to have a good timber sourcing policy. In the report this included: Kimberly-Clark, the Co-operative Group, SCA, M&S, Sainsbury’s and the John Lewis Partnership.

Those who covered three to five topics received a middle rating. In this report this included: Essential Trading, Suma, Sofidel SPA and Morrisons.

Those who provided no information, or covered two or less issues, were considered to have a long way to go before they could claim to be reducing their contribution to deforestation. Companies who received this worst rating included: Traidcraft Foundation, Tesco, Aldi and Wal-Mart stores.

Company Profile

The toilet paper market is dominated by three large corporations: Kimberly-Clark, Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA) and Sofidel SPA. The rest of the market is comprised of supermarket and home-ware retailer’s own brand toilet papers.

Out of the three paper giants, Kimberly-Clark remains the market leader and owns a range of well known brands including Andrex, Kleenex and Huggies. Previously Kimberly-Clark received criticism for cutting down ancient woodlands and poor social practices, and was the target of Greenpeace’s Kleercut campaign. With the release of a new fibre procurement policy, the Kleercut campaign achieved its goal and came to a close in 2009. Since this campaign success, Kimberly-Clark appears to have cleaned up its environmental behaviour. The company received our best rating for its environmental policy and timber procurement policy, and no environmental criticisms of the company could be found.

However in terms of social and political practices the company still has a way to go. Kimberly-Clark is a member of several corporate lobby groups, has key operations within several oppressive regimes and the company still conducts tests on animals ‘where necessary’.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.

Start your 30 day trial today!

Ethics made easy - comprehensive, simple to use, transparent and reliable ethical rankings. Subscribe today for a wealth of data at your fingertips.

We will take payment when you order, but you can cancel by phone or email within 30 days for a full no-questions-asked refund!

Start your 30 day trial today!