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2022 Toilet Tissue Scorecard

TP's future lies in sustainability—some manufacturers still don't get it

The Natural Resources Defense Council has developed a scorecard for a sampling of toilet tissue. The NRDC's full report covers many other products. Illustration courtesy NRDC.

The lifespan of the roll of toilet paper in your bathroom may seem fleeting, but its impact on the climate can be long-term. As the world grapples with unprecedented climate chaos, single-use tissue brands like P&G’s Charmin toilet paper continue to funnel the boreal and other climate-critical forests into consumers’ toilets, driving an unsustainable “tree-to-toilet pipeline” that has devastating impacts for Indigenous Peoples, wildlife, and the global climate.

In a new 2022 Issue with Tissue scorecard, the Natural Resources Defense Council provides a fresh snapshot of the sustainability of the marketplace for toilet paper, paper towels, and facial tissue, revealing which companies are embracing climate-friendly products, and which are fueling climate catastrophe.

Last year’s 2021 scorecard spotlighted the many new products consumers can choose that don’t come at the expense of the world’s forests, particularly primary forests–those forests that have never before been industrially disturbed. Now, this year’s scorecard evaluates more products than any previous version, and includes an updated methodology that reflects the growing urgency with which scientists are calling for the protection of primary forests, given their irreplaceable climate value and the critical habitat they provide for species found nowhere else.

As this year’s scorecard shows, the largest tissue brands in America are failing the climate, communities, and biodiversity by continuing to create their products from forests like the Canadian boreal, which stores more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem. P&G, Kimberly-Clark, and Georgia-Pacific earned F scores across each of their flagship brands like Charmin, Cottonelle, and Quilted Northern, which they continue to make almost exclusively from virgin forest fiber and fail to avoid sourcing from primary forests.

The new scorecard also includes an even wider array of store brands–many of which are at the bottom of the heap. Home Depot, which faced intense investor scrutiny this year for its forest sourcing practices, along with Lowe’s and ALDI, joined this year’s list of companies failing to make sustainable, climate-friendly tissue brands.

Forest-friendly brands

In contrast to the companies “bringing up the rear,” the 2022 scorecard spotlights many new forest-friendly brands available to consumers. Among the 142 products scored, 17 received A grades and 17 received A-pluses, with brands that use post-consumer recycled content receiving the highest grades overall given their lower carbon footprint and reduced forest impact (according to Environmental Paper Network’s Paper Calculator 4.0, recycled content has just one-third the carbon emissions of tissue fiber made from virgin wood).

New to this list are grocery store chains like Kroger, H-E-B, and Ahold Delhaize (owner of Stop & Shop and Giant Food), which each sell their own private label lines of 100% recycled content tissue products.

There are also more bamboo brands on the scorecard, reflecting the growing market for toilet paper made from alternative fibers. Among the 34 products that received B or B-plus grades were several brands made from 100% bamboo fiber, which has a smaller environmental footprint than virgin forest fiber but a larger footprint than recycled fiber and some agricultural residues like wheat straw, another alternative tissue material.

However, bamboo’s sustainability varies, with one of the most important factors being whether it was sourced from a bamboo plantation that was established through the clearing and conversion of a primary forest. That’s why more bamboo tissue companies than ever before are seeking certification to carry the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on their products, which helps indicate to consumers that the fiber was sourced in a way that respects human rights and limits negative forest impacts.

For the first time ever, Georgia-Pacific landed itself among the B-plus scores after making a 100% recycled content toilet paper option available online directly to consumers; Kimberly Clark made this same move last year. This development leaves P&G last among the “Big Three” U.S. tissue companies to still receive straight F scores across all of its tissue brands, including Charmin, Puffs, and Bounty.

But, progress for P&G may soon be on the horizon. While still in a testing phase, P&G has begun selling a new Charmin Ultra Eco brand online made from 100% bamboo. Although this product is not yet FSC certified or widely and reliably available to consumers, this development marks the first time that the company has looked to provide consumers with a more environmentally friendly alternative to flushing forests.

The power of public sentiment

This new test product signals P&G’s own quiet recognition that business as usual will cause the company to be left in the dust of a marketplace quickly adapting to meet consumer demands for sustainability. Signs of these evolving consumer preferences were recently echoed by the New York Times’ Wirecutter 2022 “Best Toilet Paper” list, which named Seventh Generation’s more sustainable 100% recycled content toilet paper as their “new favorite” relative to Charmin.

Unfortunately, this small step into alternative fibers by P&G doesn’t offset the destruction caused by its virgin forest fiber brands, which continue to be its core product offerings. Moreover, it doesn’t constitute an adequate response to the resolution passed by 67% of the company’s voting shareholders in 2020, which called on the company to determine how it could eliminate deforestation and intact forest degradation from its supply chains.

That’s why, as the company’s annual general meeting approaches on Oct. 11, P&G shareholders must continue to look to hold the company’s leadership accountable for failing to meet the urgency that the current climate crisis demands.

Talk of climate destruction often conjures images of burning dirty energy, but this isn’t the full picture. It also looks like the industrial clear-cutting of some of the world’s last remaining primary forests for single-use, throwaway tissue products. We need brands now more than ever before that are willing to be true climate leaders and ditch turning trees into toilet paper. Instead, they can embrace existing solutions by incorporating recycled content and other sustainable alternatives into their products. It isn’t just consumers who can’t wait for companies like P&G to act—it’s our planet.


Ashley Jordan is the boreal corporate campaign coordinator, international program, at the Natural Resources Defense Council. This article was originally posted at the NRDC’s Expert Blog.

11 Comments

  1. user-723121 | | #1

    Believe I just read where only 5% of plastic waste is recycled. To GBA readers, what are your Green credentials?

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #2

      Perhaps an interesting discussion to have, but like the article only tenuously if at all related to Green Building.

  2. mdhomeowner | | #3

    How does a bidet factor into this?

    Does a bidet + 1 square of Charmin score better than a standard amount of one of the A brands?

  3. jackofalltrades777 | | #4

    Why does this even matter? Anyone take into account how much environmental damage was done but the continuing war in Ukraine? How many buildings were destroyed that need to be rebuilt? How may millions of gallons of diesel and jet fuel needed to keep tanks, planes and heavy military machine moving? The possibility of a nuclear disaster if one of Ukraine's 16 nuclear reactors and 4 nuclear power plants get hit or if Russia launches a nuclear attack. Anyone care to examine the environmental impact the war is having?

    While the toilet paper police focus on things like this article. There are bigger problems brewing like nuclear Armageddon and a full scale European or world war that will all but eradicate the planet and human race.

    So excuse me while I use my double ply "F Rated" Costco toilet paper and use it to take care of business on my commode. I might also "double flush" out of my disdain for articles like this.

    1. willymo | | #6

      Wow, just wow. So there's a chance of a war, so we can all just run amuck?

      Toilet paper police? I think maybe you're spending too much time on Truth Social or just Twitter. This is info presented- you can do what you want with it. For me, I was very disappointed that my brand gets a F, and will now look for another, because, hey, I'm that kinda guy.

      Also seconding the use of bidet's; they can GREATLY reduce the amount of TP you use. You also end up cleaner. If you don't want to add a device to your toilet, the portable (bottle) bidets by biobidet work well and are cheap. A good way to introduce yourself or others. I have one at work and for travel.

    2. exeric | | #7

      I'm afraid I have to agree with willymo in his response to jackofalltrades' comment. There has been an alarming rise in "whataboutism" arguments when people become personally uncomfortable on a given subject. It isn't particular to this forum but seems to be occurring worldwide right now. It happens on both the left and right political spectrum but seems to have taken hold far more on the right-wing echo chamber.

      Jackofalltrades, you aren't alone in this whataboutism reaction but it's still not useful and is very destructive. Arguments should endeavor to be waged on their intrinsic merits and should not try to take a shortcut by diverting attention to extreme events in the world. I'm not saying that because I perfect about it but I'm conscious of the temptation to do that and usually catch myself when I do. You should try to take a moment to understand your emotional reaction to this subject and why you choose to link it to Russia's despicable war on Ukraine. It's not the first time you've linked an isolated subject to the Ukraine war. There isn't any logic to that linkage.

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #8

        Exeric and willymo,

        I agree and I don't. Giving up because it's largely pointless leads to an unhealthy nihilism, but at the same time it's important to be clear-eyed about what our efforts amount to. If all the advice and good work done by builders associated with GBA is dwarfed by one morning of excavating for Saudi Arabia's new linear city, that needs to be acknowledged. The climate doesn't care about good intentions or gestures, and saying that shouldn't get someone denigrated as a follower of Social Truth.

        1. exeric | | #9

          Malcolm,
          "I agree and I don't. Giving up because it's largely pointless leads to an unhealthy nihilism"

          That begs the question: is there a healthy nihilism?

        2. willymo | | #10

          Malcolm, "toilet paper police" were jackofalltrades777's words, not mine. It's the kind of denigration you might find on social media.

          I agree that "the environment doesn't care", but what we say here and elsewhere does influence what is actually done in building, which can affect the environment. The best part of this thread, from my POV, is the avocation of bidets as an alternative to TP.

          1. Expert Member
            MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #11

            willymo,

            I'm on another forum of builders - mostly older guys like myself - who have little interest in green building. The topic of bidets came up and I was surprised to find at least 3/4 of them had one. That's encouraging. Hopefully it's indicative that their use is becoming more mainstream?

  4. AKosick | | #5

    Perhaps an editor’s note to tie this in to our better may have been helpful. I see two connections worth further exploration.

    Competing forest products. If trees are turned into tissue instead of 2x4s that has a bearing on our industry. Question is how much.

    ‘mdhomeowner’ above is on to the second track, bidets. Should green builders be trying to evangelize these to American homeowner at the design stage. How does the ecological footprint of a bidet compare to TP? Houses help define the lifestyles and impacts of homeowners.

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