“Nature’s calling” and she wants toilet paper brand Charmin to stop destroying boreal forest and caribou habitat

“Nature’s calling” and she wants toilet paper brand Charmin to stop destroying boreal forest and caribou habitat

Tuesday May 14, 2019

Forests in Canada are being flushed down the toilet

By Tegan Hansen, Forest Campaigner, Stand.earth

Forests in Canada are being flushed down the toilet. For too long, powerful players in the pulp and paper industry have relied on trees from ancient forests to create throwaway products like toilet paper. But at this year’s international pulp conference, environmental advocates made sure the protection of the Canadian boreal forest was on the agenda.

Last week – the same day hundreds of pulp and paper industry professionals convened in Vancouver for International Pulp Week – the UN released an alarming report on the state of global biodiversity. It confirmed that as many as one million species are facing extinction in the next few decades. Half of these, including boreal caribou, no longer have sufficient habitat to survive long-term.

This message of mass extinction went right over the pulp and paper executives’ heads — literally. Through a series of protests that included a floating balloon banner, environmental advocates called out Procter & Gamble, owner of toilet paper brand Charmin, for its outsized role in destroying the boreal forest and critical caribou habitat.

Charmin’s catchphrase “nature’s calling” takes on a whole new meaning when its toilet paper is responsible for destroying forests.

As the UN’s report makes clear, intact forests have disappeared rapidly over the last century. The Canadian boreal is the largest intact forest left in the world, stretching from the Yukon to the Maritimes. It is vital to averting both biodiversity collapse and catastrophic climate change. Often called the “Amazon of the North,” the boreal stores massive amounts of carbon and provides habitat for some of North America’s most treasured species. The boreal is also home to hundreds of Indigenous communities who depend on it for their livelihoods and ways of life.

Yet the logging industry is rapidly degrading the boreal, driven in large part by demand for pulp and paper products in the US. Each year, more than one million acres of boreal forest are logged in Canada, with devastating impacts to species like caribou. 

Scientists have sounded the alarm that all boreal caribou in Canada are at some risk of extinction, and their decline signals broader threats to the boreal forest. Consumers are unknowingly driving this collapse, wiping away more of the forest with every toilet paper square. And Charmin — which destroys more Canadian boreal forest than any other toilet paper brand — is a key culprit.

Consumers have a right to transparent sourcing practices so they can make purchasing choices that align with their values. Stand.earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently released their “Issue with Tissue” report, which included a scorecard for toilet paper based largely on their sourcing practices. Procter & Gamble received an “F” grade.

As it turns out, when consumers are armed with the knowledge of where their toilet paper comes from, they want a more sustainable alternative. A poll released in March found that nearly two-thirds of Americans are concerned their toilet paper is made from clear-cutting globally important forests like the boreal, and 85% want companies to use more environmentally responsible materials.

Procter & Gamble can restore consumer confidence and take pressure off the boreal by changing the formula for Charmin.

Other brands, like Seventh Generation and 365, source the pulp used in their toilet paper from post-consumer recycled materials. While recycled content is the most environmentally sustainable solution, companies can also source pulp from agricultural residue like wheat straw, certain types of secondary growth forests, and even sustainably sourced bamboo. Procter & Gamble — which holds a massive marketing budget and a huge slice of the toilet paper market — should take a leadership role by striving for 50% recycled content in its toilet paper.

Where they do continue to source from the boreal forest, companies must eliminate the use of any pulp that comes from caribou habitat in the boreal, or that is logged without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples.

We are living in an era of extinction. If we want to protect intact forests and the communities that depend on them, we have to stop wasteful practices like flushing forests down the toilet.

Until companies like Procter & Gamble and major brands like Charmin lead this shift, the pulp and paper industry will remain out of touch with consumer demand for sustainable products — and they can expect protests for many more months to come.