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Tissue firms accused of falling short on recycling

It may sound like an impertinent question: does your loo paper really need to be quite so bright and fluffy? But it's serious, according to the green pressure group WWF, which says that too much virgin fibre from the world's forests is being used in lavatory tissue, when recycled fibre would be just as good.

The group says major tissue manufacturers have improved their performance, but are still not producing enough environmentally friendly goods and need to make a greater effort to reduce the impact of their products on the world's forests.

The charity ranked the five lavatory tissue manufacturers which make up 75 per cent of the European market according to their environmental credentials. Companies were rated on recycled content, wood sourcing practices, pollution control and transparency. SCA Tissue, the maker of Naturelle and Velvet, was ranked top, scoring 69 per cent. Kimberly-Clark, the maker of Andrex and Kleenex, scored 40 per cent and Procter & Gamble, maker of Bounty and Charmin, scored 34 per cent. Georgia Pacific, which makes Lotus and Nouvelle in the UK, came last, with just 26 per cent.

"At a time when the world's natural forests are under an ever-increasing pressure it is essential that retailers should be offering the most environmentally friendly tissue products to their customers," said Beatrix Richards, forests campaigner at WWF.

"The levels of recycled fibres being used in lavatory paper, paper towels and napkins are still far too low. As a result, trees from natural forests and plantations from around the world are chucked straight into our lavatories and bins. The manufacturers themselves may be becoming more responsible but this must be matched by offering a greater range of responsible products."

According to WWF, SCA Tissue is the only surveyed company that is able to ensure that a significant proportion of wood fibres used in its products don't come from poorly managed forests. This manufacturer also promotes the highest environmental and social standards in forest management, reaching 89 per cent of the achievable scores on sourcing.

The assessment shows that Metsa Tissue, Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble have become more aware of the need to address controversial wood sourcing. But they still fail to show how they effectively exclude the use of timber which is linked to unsustainable forest exploitation, illegal logging and land rights conflict.

WWF's advice to consumers is to buy recycled lavatory paper first and foremost. "Customers have a role to play in creating demand for recycled tissues and lavatory tissue," said Ms Richards. "Consumers should compare the different tissue products and buy those with the most recycled content."

The European tissue business is worth around €8.5bn (£5.7bn) annually, and accounts for 26 per cent of global tissue consumption, with each European using 13kg. Every year 25 million trees go into the production of lavatory paper, paper towels, napkins, facial tissues and handkerchiefs for EU consumers.