These Are the Most Sustainable Toilet Paper Brands, According to the NRDC

Fully recycled content is best, and bamboo is next.

Clear-cutting the boreal forest near Dryden, Ontario
Clear-cutting the boreal forest near Dryden, Ontario.


Every year the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) publishes its "Issue with Tissue" report. And every year they are depressingly similar, finding that vast swathes of the Canadian boreal forests are being swept clean of trees so that people can clean their rear ends. It's mostly the big brands from the biggest companies that get the "F" ratings: Procter & Gamble (P&G), Kimberly-Clark, and Georgia-Pacific ­making their flagship brands like Charmin, Cottonelle, and Quilted Northern.

“Industry laggards like P&G are fueling a tree-to-toilet pipeline that is flushing away some of the most environmentally important—and threatened—forests in the world,” said Jennifer Skene, NRDC’s natural climate solutions policy manager in a statement. “The primary forests of the boreal – those areas that have never before been industrially disturbed—must be protected if we’re going to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Turning them into toilet paper is a climate crime, especially when done by the very companies that most need to step up to protect our future."



The NRDC criteria prioritize the source of the fiber, giving the highest ratings to post-consumer recycled content—the stuff that comes from the recycling bin. Pre-consumer recycling content is manufacturing waste, such as trimming waste or unsold copies of Sami Grover's "We're All Climate Hypocrites Now" or my book, "Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle." Needless to say, we think it is better not to generate scrap in the first place and not to pulp our books.

Treehugger's Matt Hickman noted that "post-consumer waste is preferable because it’s less likely to end up in a landfill than pre-consumer waste given that manufacturers have long been keen on reusing and repurposing scrap materials in various ways." He added, "Some would say that pre-consumer recycled content isn’t even truly recycled at all because the waste involved isn’t even truly waste."

However, Treehugger's Olivia Young noted in a post comparing toilet papers that "a large portion of post-consumer recycled content has a thermal coating—think: the glossy papers used for receipts, lottery tickets, and shipping labels." She added: "Thermal paper contains bisphenol-A, better known as BPA, which has been found in recycled toilet paper." We are not fans of contact with BPA but suspect that the concentrations in recycled toilet paper are going to be pretty low.

Moving down the NRDC list, Bamboo fiber is the next best thing, although it should be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. That ensures the bamboo has not been grown on plantations that were previously natural forests. The NRDC also notes: "FSC certification for bamboo has requirements that seek to ensure this fiber is sourced in a way that respects human rights and limits negative forest impacts."

We have said in the past that there are questions about how good a job FSC is doing with respect to Chinese plantations, and even the FSC itself recently announced it is revisiting the issue: "Certificate holders who show non-conformity with FSC’s certification standards will face suspension or termination of their certificates. In addition, FSC may block companies with serious non-conformities; their trademark licenses will be revoked, and they will not be able to seek recertification until the blockage is lifted."

Top-rated toilet papers
Top toilet papers showing criteria.


Ratings also take into account the method of bleaching. Although old-fashioned chlorine bleach is rarely used, the NRDC says, "Elemental chlorine-free (ECF) bleach, despite its name, emits elemental chlorine gas into the air and water of communities near tissue manufacturing plants and is commonly used in virgin forest fiber products, as well as some bamboo products." More points are given for using less toxic methods such as processed chlorine-free (PCF) using oxygen or ozone, or totally chlorine-free (TCF).

Toilet papers with recycled content or bamboo mainly got "A" and "B" ratings. There are just five that got "C" or "D" ratings, and then it is straight to "F." Some of these are better than others because they use some FSC-certified virgin wood. All the major brands are down here: Cottonelle, Charmin, and Scott. So are the bargain brands from Walmart and Amazon. Most sites not measuring sustainability list Charmin as the first choice, and it is at the top of the Fs at the NRDC.

Best Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper

Treehugger / Chloe Jeong

The other sites that rated toilet papers use criteria like comfort and strength, which the NRDC does not. This is obviously a major issue for consumers, and Treehugger's own list of the best eco-friendly toilet papers of 2022 takes it into account. Betterway, which got a "B" from the NRDC, received an "A" from our Lorraine Wilde.

The NRDC didn't mention the elephant in the bathroom, which is the dramatic rise in the use of flushable adult wipes. These are being marketed by all the big toilet paper companies now, claiming they are softer and clean better. Melissa Breyer, Treehugger's editorial director, wrote how they are "an underestimated source of microplastic in the marine environment, and some cities have started warning residents to stop using them; they are clogging the sewer systems."

Any discussion of toilet paper raises the question for me: Why use it at all? Toilet paper is questionable not just because of the trees but also because of its effectiveness.

Read "Why I Spent $1,200 on a Toilet Seat and Why You Should Too"—it not only replaces toilet paper but does a better job. Admittedly $1,200 toilet seats aren't accessible for everyone. But there are also bidet attachments that start at $30—see our 8 best bidet attachments of 2022. They don't waste another precious resource;n it takes 37 gallons of water to make a roll of toilet paper.

The best toilet paper is no toilet paper at all.