Toilet Paper

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 27 toilet paper brands.

We also look at deforestation, bleach and toxic chemicals, recycled paper, bamboo paper, FSC labelling 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.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying toilet paper:

  • Is it recycled? Recycled paper is far more sustainable than virgin pulp. Choose this over other options.

  • Is it made from alternative fibres? Fibres such as bamboo and agricultural waste, if responsibly sourced, are more sustainable than virgin pulp. For bamboo, look for the FSC stamp.

  • 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.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying toilet roll:

  • Is it made from virgin wood pulp? If it carries the label ‘FSC Mix’ then it will be made using virgin wood pulp. There is no need to cut down forests to make toilet roll.

  • Is it made using bleach? Less bleach is used in the production of recycled paper. Ideally, go for brands that do not use chlorine processing at all.

  • Is it wrapped in plastic? Avoid products with single-use plastic.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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

Our Analysis

In 2018, the average consumption of toilet paper in the UK stood at 127 rolls per capita, (or more appropriately, per culus), placing us third in the ranking of most extravagant users of bog roll in the world.

The US, unsurprisingly, topped the chart, whereas our French counterparts used almost half the amount as us Brits, presumably due to the prevalence of the bidet in French lavatory culture.

Flushing away forests

Toilet paper is the throwaway product par excellence, used for a matter of seconds before being disposed of. Despite this, most major tissue brands rely heavily on virgin wood pulp for the production of their toilet tissue. Vast swathes of natural forest are cut down, only to be flushed away after a single use.

A 2017 Greenpeace report, Wiping Away the Boreal, stated that large parts of Sweden’s Great Northern Forest, and the biodiversity contained within it, is under threat from the timber industry’s increasing demand for virgin wood, much of which is used for tissue products.

A 2019 report funded by The Natural Resources Defense Council and Stand.earth ‘The Issue with Tissue’, examined the Canadian boreal, where, between 1996 and 2015, more than 28 million acres of boreal forest was logged.

Over 90% of this logging was done by clear-cutting, a technique also used in the Swedish boreal, which removes nearly all the trees from an area. Clear-cuts can take more than a century to return to pre-logged conditions, while some never do.

Forests play a vital role to life on earth. As well as being home to indigenous communities, and countless species of flora and fauna, forests also help regulate the earth’s greenhouse gases.

Around a quarter of the carbon dioxide contributed by humans to the atmosphere is removed by the world’s forests. Maintaining forests and other natural habitats is, therefore, an essential means of fighting climate change.

Image: greenpeace campaign to protect the great northern forests
The portraits of three hundred people supporting the Greenpeace campaign to protect the Great Northern Forests are placed in a high-value forest in the northern part of Sweden. This forest was threatened by logging from forest giant SCA, one of the suppliers of Essity, the world’s second-largest tissue producer.

Sustainable toilet paper

Nearly all the major brands, such as Andrex, Cushelle and supermarket own-brands, supply toilet tissue that carries the Forest Stewardship Council ‘tree-tick’ stamp, giving assurance, at least in theory, that the timber used to make the product was sustainably sourced.

However, in this guide, Ethical Consumer has taken the line that toilet paper made using virgin wood pulp, even if FSC certified, cannot be considered a sustainable product.

It is hard to justify using virgin wood pulp to make a product that is, by definition, to be immediately disposed of, especially when there are more sustainable options, such as using recycled pulp, which are easily available.

For this reason, products in our score table overleaf were awarded a whole sustainability mark if they used recycled paper, and half a mark if they used sustainably sourced alternatives such as bamboo.

Brand Toilet paper type
Ecoleaf (Suma) 100% Recycled: fibre from UK
Essential 100% Recycled: fibre from UK
Traidcraft 100% Recycled: fibre from UK
Who Gives a Crap

100% Recycled: fibre from China

Bamboo: fibre from China

The Cheeky Panda  Bamboo: FSC 100% from China
Emerald 70% Tree-Free: Sugarcane bagasse, bamboo & FSC 100%. From USA.
Aldi Saxon FSC Mix
Andrex Classic FSC Mix
Asda FSC Mix
Boots FSC Mix
Co-op* FSC Mix or FSC Recycled
Cushelle/Velvet FSC Mix
Lidl/Floralys FSC Mix
Marks & Spencer FSC Mix
Morrisons* FSC Mix or FSC Recycled
Regina/Nicky FSC Mix
Sainsbury's* FSC Mix or FSC Recycled
Tesco* FSC Mix or FSC Recycled
Waitrose* FSC Mix or FSC Recycled
Superdrug No certification

*Toilet paper type refers to two different products.

The Forest Stewardship Council

Although we did not award sustainability marks for toilet paper using FSC-certified virgin wood pulp in this guide, it is important to understand a little about the organisation as the FSC tree-tick stamp is now ubiquitous on paper products.

The only brand in our guide using virgin pulp that did not carry the FSC stamp was Superdrug, and for this reason we advise you avoid this brand.

The FSC was founded in 1993 with the aim of improving forestry management and ensuring sustainable forestry. Although it has received substantial criticism over the years, it is widely acknowledged to be the most credible forest certification scheme.

However, there are three different FSC logos:

  • FSC 100% - Wood from fully FSC-certified forests.
  • FSC Recycled – All wood must be pre- or post-consumer waste.
  • FSC Mix – This is the one most frequently found on toilet paper. A mix of FSC virgin wood, recycled, and virgin wood from ‘controlled sources.’

Controlled sources are not fully certified FSC forests, but rather forests that are considered low risk. This label is therefore the least stringent of the three labels.

For more on the FSC, see our guide to Furniture Shops or read our feature on the Forest Stewardship Council.

Recycled toilet paper

Recycled wood pulp is a clear alternative to virgin fibre. 

Pre-consumer recycled content generally comprises of materials left over from the manufacturing process, such as off-cuts, while post-consumer content is material that, rather than being thrown away after the first use, is used for something else, e.g. office paper. 

Often, recycled tissue uses a mix of pre- and post-consumer waste, although the greatest environmental benefits come with the latter.

Toilet paper made from recycled waste has a significantly lesser environmental impact than virgin fibre. 

Firstly, it does not increase demand for living trees to be felled, which allows more forest to remain intact and lessens the amount of material finding its way into landfill.

Furthermore, according to the report, The Issue with Tissue, “the production of virgin wood pulp uses almost twice as much water as producing tissue from recycled materials and generates twice as many hazardous air pollutants.” The chemicals used in the production of recycled paper are also far less toxic than those used to bleach virgin pulp.

The decline of recycled fibre

Despite the negative environmental impacts of using virgin tree fibre, only five brands in our guide did not use any virgin pulp at all for their toilet paper: Ecoleaf, Essential, The Cheeky Panda, Who Gives A Crap, and Traidcraft. Of the major brands and supermarkets, only five currently offered a recycled range: Co-op, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco.

It appears that use of recycled fibre has declined over the years. If we take Kimberly-Clark, one of the biggest suppliers of toilet tissue worldwide, we see that the proportion of recycled wood pulp, as opposed to virgin wood pulp, used by the company has fallen over the years. In 2011, just under 30% of total fibre used was from recycled fibre, but by 2017 this figure had fallen to just over 23.5%.

In 2011, Andrex, owned by Kimberly Clark, released its Eco Bath Tissue, made from 90% recycled fibres and 10% bamboo, but this range was discontinued in 2015.

When contacted by Ethical Consumer about the reasons for scrapping their Eco Bath Tissue, Kimberly-Clark essentially stated a lack of demand:

“the number of people buying into Eco was small, and people now expect sustainability credentials as standard.”

However, the recent rise of smaller brands offering eco-alternatives, such as Who Gives A Crap and Cheeky Panda, implies that demand for environmental alternatives does exist.

The rise of luxury toilet paper

It is difficult to pin down exactly why we have seen a decline in recycled fibre used for toilet roll, but it appears that the trend is, at least in part, as a result of the rise of the luxury toilet paper market. 

In the struggle for market share, brands attempt to offer ever more luxury. 

The race to the bottom, so to speak, is rather a race to the top. You only have to glance at the supermarket shelves to see walls of decadent toilet paper, all promising a lavatory experience fit for the Queen.
 
Virgin pulp is favoured for its apparently greater softness, despite its harmful effect on the forests.

Image: luxury toilet paper

Bleached toilet paper

Bleach is used to whiten, strengthen and soften toilet paper.

For many years, the paper and pulp industry relied heavily on elemental chlorine for bleaching. However, elemental chlorine produces harmful effluents, most notably dioxins, which are considered among the most harmful of man-made toxins.

Since the 1990s, elemental chlorine processes have been replaced by elemental chlorine-free (ECF) and totally chlorine-free (TCF) processes. Despite the name, ECF processes still use a chlorine compound, usually chlorine dioxide, which releases dioxins, albeit in far smaller amounts.

Recycled paper generally requires less bleach than virgin pulp, and some papers are completely chlorine free, often using hydrogen peroxide as a whitening agent, which generates no chlorinated organic compounds.

The following brands stated that they do not use chlorine processes: 
Ecoleaf, Essential, Emerald, Who Gives A Crap (recycled paper only), and The Cheeky Panda. For its bamboo paper, Who Gives A Crap uses a mix of hydrogen peroxide and elemental-free chlorine. Essential lead the way as their tissue is both unbleached and undyed.

It is true that most shoppers want soft paper. 

Research by Mintel, from 2016, suggested that consumer demand for softness and the perceived superiority of toilet paper made from virgin fibre trumped concerns about the environment. However, the blame cannot primarily be placed on consumers.

Businesses do not merely react to consumer taste, but also shape it through advertising and marketing. They therefore have the ability to shape consumer demand, and a responsibility to create products sustainably.

Recycled paper & BPA

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical widely used in the production of plastics and in thermal paper, such as receipts. In June 2017, the Member State Committee of the European Chemicals Agency(ECHA) identified BPA as a substance of very high concern due to its endocrine-disrupting properties “for which there is scientific evidence of probable serious effects to human health”.

EU legislation has now banned the chemical in some products, such as infant feeding bottles, and substantially limited its use in others, including thermal paper.

BPA has been found in a number of recycled paper products such as toilet paper. When paper products containing BPA, primarily receipts, are recycled, some of the BPA is removed but a fraction of the chemical remains and finds its way into other products. From these products it can be transferred, through the skin, into the body.

Should you worry about BPA in recycled toilet paper? No. Although some brands, such as Emerald and The Cheeky Panda, promote their products as BPA free and even warn about the BPA in recycled paper, there is no need to worry. 

The majority of our exposure to BPA comes from food packaging; the amount of exposure from paper products is relatively low, and from recycled toilet paper even lower. In a study which examined the concentrations of BPA in various paper products, toilet paper represented 0.02% of the total, with thermal receipts accounting for over 98%. So there is no need to stop using recycled toilet paper.

Image: panda climbing up bamboo with toilet paper

The potential of bamboo and toilet paper

After years of being largely ignored by the West, bamboo is finding its way into more and more products, including toilet paper, offered as a sustainable alternative to using virgin wood fibre. Bamboo is technically a grass, which allows companies who use it to make the claim that their products are ‘tree-free’.

It is more sustainable than virgin fibre for a number of reasons. It is the fastest growing plant on the planet and can grow up to 20 times faster than trees in northern boreal forests.

The plant also is able to thrive in soils that are depleted of nutrients, enriching them in the process. And tissue products created from bamboo release approximately 30% fewer greenhouse gases than those made from virgin wood.

Bamboo toilet roll, when responsibly sourced, is certainly more sustainable than virgin wood pulp. However, for those of us in the UK, it must be shipped thousands of miles across the ocean before it reaches our rear ends. For this reason, and as recycled paper helps reduce landfill, only half a sustainability mark was given to bamboo toilet roll.

Bamboo and the FSC

The main issue with bamboo, as with many alternative fibres is that the supply chains often lack rigorous monitoring and bamboo plantations are sometimes grown in recently deforested lands.

The strongest guarantee that bamboo is sourced sustainably is that it has been certified by the FSC. The FSC not only ensures environmental sustainability, but it also promotes the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation, meaning that vital workers’ rights are upheld.

However, there has been debate over how suitable FSC certification is for bamboo as many of the issues regarding the sustainability of tree forests do not apply. For example, it has been argued that because there has never been a significant problem with illegal bamboo trading, the emphasis on proving that bamboo has been legally sourced is perhaps unwarranted and a potential barrier to trade and commercialisation.

FSC certification can also be prohibitively expensive for small-scale producers.

The Cheeky Panda was the only brand in our list that used FSC-certified bamboo in its products. Who Gives A Crap did not source bamboo through the FSC but stated that it was grown by small-scale farmers on the edge of their farms in order to supplement their income. 

This way of sourcing meant that no vast areas of land were cleared, and small-scale farmers were supported. Emerald Brand also used bamboo, but no information could be found regarding how the company sourced its bamboo.

Agricultural residue in toilet paper

Agricultural residues, such as wheat straw, offer another alternative that is more sustainable than virgin wood pulp.

These are substances that are left after the agricultural harvest has taken place.

However, within the EU much of this waste is currently used for biofuel and only a very small proportion (1.5%) is used in industrial production such as being turned into pulp.

The only brand in our guide to use agricultural residues was Emerald, whose toilet paper used sugarcane bagasse and bamboo alongside FSC-certified wood pulp.

 

Alternatives to toilet paper

While it may seem like a necessity, toilet paper is only used by about 30% of the world’s population. So what other methods are there? In days gone by a range of items were employed for the job. In the early sixteenth century, French monk Francois Rabelais wrote that the best thing for the job was the neck of a well-downed goose, which is certainly not something we can condone.

Bidet

The bidet is far more sustainable than toilet paper, and generally more hygienic. It does require another valuable resource, water, but it actually requires far less than the amount needed to produce a roll of toilet paper.

The average bidet uses about 0.6 litres of water per visit, whereas the production of one roll of toilet paper is estimated to use about 168 litres.

Family cloth

This euphemistically-named device is essentially just a piece of fabric that is washed and then reused. Judging by the recent proliferation of blogs written on the subject, it appears, to the great surprise of many, to have gained some popularity in recent years. Not for the faint-hearted.

Bum Gun

This is common across Asia and is essentially a hosepipe for your hindquarters. It can be attached to the cistern of your toilet.

Companies behind the brands

Who Gives A Crap is an Australian company that makes recycled and bamboo toilet paper.

According to the company’s website, “around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation.”

In order to help tackle this, the firm, which gained half a company ethos mark on our table by being a certified B Corp, donates 50% of its profits to building toilets for those who lack proper access.

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. 

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