Flushing out the greenwash
I’ve been taking a bit of a break from the ThinkingShift blog but you can still find me on the DailyOxford and ChinchillaBluePhotography blogs as well as on Twitter. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on doing a special post for a ThinkingShift reader who asked me why is it that people aren’t concerned about privacy. I am doing that post dear reader but – the Christchurch earthquake got in my way, as well as huge winds that are a frequent occurrence in the Canterbury region. So I’m way behind but it will happen as they say.
My favourite media company contacted me recently and I must blog on this issue because it’s quite a compelling, if not disturbing, story. When you think about sustainability, saving the planet, recycling and so on – do you ever stop to think about toilet paper packaging? You would think that if the packaging says “100% recycled paper” or “sourced from sustainable plantations” that you are buying a product that is environmentally friendly. But perhaps not.
A Choice investigation has found that environmental claims on toilet paper packaging are sometimes vague, leading the consumer into the trap of believing they are buying a superior product that protects native forests and biodiversity. Choice sites the example of a new toilet paper on the market that claims to be made from bamboo, straw, reeds and cotton – but cotton is a water and chemical-intensive crop and should be avoided for a single-use product such as toilet paper.
And then there are some toilet paper products that display an eco-label, such as Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), but a number of conservation foundations and societies say that this particular eco-label is meaningless as PEFC lacks on-ground auditing of forests and meaningful stakeholder engagement. So the consumer cannot be confident that the fibres sourced for the toilet paper are in fact environmentally and socially sustainable. Choice also could not find any toilet paper products that carried the The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) global eco-label, which is supported by Greenpeace, ACF and The Wilderness Society. An FSC label would indicate that the product is made from certified virgin fibre sourced from sustainable forests.
The Choice investigation found that most toilet papers do not use an eco-label yet claim the fibre is sourced from sustainably managed forests. But when asked to verify the source of the fibre, the companies are vague or cannot back up claims. Most toilet papers claim to use a process known as “elemental chlorine-free bleaching”. Supposedly this is an environmentally-friendly bleaching process to whiten, but it uses chlorine. A far better choice is unbleached toilet paper because this is chlorine-free.
Another eye-opener is the triangular recycling symbol with the number four and LDPE acronym you often see on toilet paper packaging. It signifies that the product is low-density polyethylene. But Local Councils in Australia prohibit LDPE film in their recycling bins. The consumer is also led astray when it comes to logos of environmental organisations displayed on toilet paper packaging, saying that profits go to certain environmental projects. The problem here is that these environmental groups do not always audit environmental impacts or fibre source. Sadly, Choice concluded that most toilet paper manufacturers’ claims about sustainable forestry are unsubstantiated and those using the PEFC eco-label are not supported by some major environment groups.
So is there any particular toilet paper that the consumer can be confident is a sustainable product? Choice gave a 5-star rating to the following (in order of sustainability):
- Coles Green Choice, which has 100% recycled content from used office paper;
- Dandy Enviro Friend, which you can buy from Aldi. Funds environment groups and projects;
- Envirosoft – elemental chlorine-free bleaching or unbleached;
- Naturale – Wastepaper from process is recycled; and
- Safe brand.
Singled out for favourable comment was Kleenex Cottonelle Toilet Tissue. Choice acknowledged this toilet paper for environmental innovation with its waste reduction strategy for kids. A puppy is printed on every three to four sheets, letting kids know when to tear off.
So next time you go to the supermarket, read the toilet paper packaging carefully and be a more informed consumer with the help of Choice.