Forests flushed down the toilet | WWF

Forests flushed down the toilet

Posted on 21 November 2005
The major tissue manufacturers are not offering enough recycled toilet paper, towels and napkins to European consumers.
© Kurt Prinz

Gland, Switzerland – The major tissue manufacturers are not offering enough recycled toilet paper, towels and napkins to European consumers and must be more responsible when sourcing their wood, according to a new WWF report.

The global conservation organization says this clearly contributes to the wasteful use of forests, at a time when they are threatened worldwide.

The new report analyzed the practices of the five largest European tissue manufacturers – Procter and Gamble, SCA, Kimberly Clark, Metsa Tissue, and Georgia Pacific – which together supply about 70 per cent of the European market.

It found that the vast majority of tissue products these companies are selling to European households contain alarmingly low levels of recycled fibres.

As a result high-quality virgin fibres are taken directly from natural forests and plantations around the world, including Latin America, Canada, the US, South Africa, Russia, Asia and Europe, and end up as waste without the consumer’s knowledge, WWF says.

The European tissue business is worth around €8.5 billion annually and accounts for 26 per cent of global tissue consumption, with each European using 13kg – the equivalent of approximately 22 billion rolls of toilet paper.

“Everyday about 270,000 trees are effectively flushed down the toilet or end up as garbage around the world, such a use of the forests is both wasteful and unnecessary,” said Duncan Pollard, Head of WWF's European Forest Programme. “Manufacturers must use more recycled fibres in their tissue products, as this means fewer trees will be cut down.”

Toilet paper and towels in offices, schools and hotels are mostly made out of recycled fibres, and there is no reason why it should be any different for the same products that are sold in supermarkets, WWF says.

Manufacturers argue that retailers mainly want non-recycled products because this is what consumers are asking for.
“Consumers have no idea that they may be threatening the world’s forests when they go to the bathroom,” said Pollard. “It’s a myth that recycled tissue products are not of a high quality. After all, people use recycled tissue products most of the day when they are out of their homes anyway.” 

According to WWF, the companies also need to better inform consumers about the recycled content of their products. Consumers should not be misled by recycling symbols on tissue packaging which often only refer to the wrapping paper, and not to the product itself.

WWF recommends that consumers look and ask for the few recycled tissue brands currently produced by the five major manufacturers as well as brands from smaller companies for which recycled products are a niche market. Consumers should also ask shops and supermarkets to stock recycled tissues.

The report also warns that unsustainable timber harvesting, illegal logging and land right conflicts still exist in many of the countries from where the virgin fibres are sourced.

WWF says that the companies are showing promising intentions to effectively track the timber from the forest to the product, but so far, only SCA Tissue has taken effective measures to exclude illegal or controversial timber from their tissue products.


• WWF has been in discussions with the five companies for over a year to find out information which is currently not publicly available. These companies were compared and scored across a range of criteria, including their wood sourcing practices, levels of recycled content, public reporting and their transparency about their emissions to water, air, waste disposal and use of resources such as water and energy. Although WWF sees some progress over recent months in the companies’ willingness to address the issues which WWF raised in face to face negotiations with them, there is still a lot of room for improvements towards a responsible use of the world’s forests. The comparative leader in the evaluation is SCA Tissue with 46 per cent of total achievable points, followed by Metsa Tissue with 35 per cent, Georgia Pacific 32 per cent, Procter and Gamble with 26 per cent, and Kimberly Clark with 24 per cent.

For further information:
Helma Brandlmaier, Forest Advocacy Coordinator
WWF International
Tel: +43 1 524 54 70 16

Olivier van Bogaert, Senior Press Officer
WWF International
Tel: +41 22 364 9554

The major tissue manufacturers are not offering enough recycled toilet paper, towels and napkins to European consumers.
© Kurt Prinz Enlarge
Overall score for the tissue giants.
© WWF International Enlarge