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Bamboo loo roll tested

Which? testing exposes dubious eco-friendly toilet roll claims
Still life photo of a box of sustainably wrapped toilet paper

Claims by bamboo toilet roll brands about the composition of their products have been called into question by Which? testing, after it found some only contain tiny amounts of the eco-friendly material.

Bamboo is often touted as a green alternative to virgin paper. Which? carried out fibre-composition testing on five popular brands of loo roll labelled ‘bamboo only’ or ‘100% bamboo’.

The bamboo test

Which?’s testing was done at an independent lab using an internationally recognised industry standard test known as TAPPI T 401. The test breaks down a sample of paper into its constituent fibres to quantify and identify them.

Samples from Bumboo, Naked Sprout and Bazoo contained very low or low levels of bamboo-like grass fibres – just 2.7%, 4% and 26.1% respectively.

Instead the toilet papers were mainly composed of less eco-friendly fast-growing virgin hardwoods – mostly eucalyptus with some acacia in Bazoo and Bumboo. Acacia has been associated with damaging deforestation in places such as Indonesia.

Two other brands, Who Gives a Crap (WGAC) and The Cheeky Panda, were also tested by Which?, and were shown to contain 100% bamboo, as claimed.

Supply chain challenges

Which? tested the end product and did not assess brands’ supply chains, but the findings highlight the challenges UK firms can face with ensuring quality control when materials for their products may be sourced thousands of miles away from countries like China.

Bazoo, Bumboo and Naked Sprout promote themselves as sustainable brands.

Bazoo says it is ‘100% tree free’ and Bumboo cites its ‘FSC-certified 100% bamboo from well-managed forests’.

Naked Sprout talks about selling the ‘UK’s most sustainable tissue products’. This claim is largely based on its manufacturing, which is fossil-fuel free, and certified B Corp status (meaning it meets certain social and environmental standards). It does not advertise its products as 100% bamboo but told Which? they are ‘bamboo only’.

All three source their bamboo material from China. All three brands said they use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified bamboo, and when Which? asked them, two pointed to FSC auditing as verification of their confidence in their supply chain. 

Manufacturers respond

Bumboo said it ‘had identified an issue in [its] supply chain and taken swift action so this can never happen again’.

Bumboo said it was now using the ‘gold standard’ TAPPI T 401 test to verify the fibre composition of every batch and publishing the results on its website. 

Bazoo told Which? it undergoes extensive auditing with the FSC. The company said its bamboo manufacturer is 100% FSC-certified and this is checked and audited every six months, and it is investigating this currently with the FSC body and its manufacturer in depth. 

Naked Sprout – which last month announced it would be the official toilet roll supplier for this year’s Glastonbury festival – said that the bamboo pulp it uses is verified by a strict audit trail, also used by the FSC, of its supply chain and raw materials used.

It said its supply chain is deliberately small, consisting of only four suppliers and one manufacturer and, as a result, all materials used are FSC-certified and fully traceable from raw material to end product.

Naked Sprout claimed there were limitations with TAPPI T 401 and disputed the objectivity and validity of the test method. However, the test is a globally recognised industry benchmark and Which? believes the clear results leave little room for doubt.

‘Given so many shoppers are taking steps to be more sustainable, it’s vital they can trust claims made by brands – particularly when they are paying more for a product they believe is better for the environment.

‘Businesses must take responsibility for ensuring their products contain what they say on the packaging so that shoppers who want to make sustainable choices can trust the information they are given.’

Which? sustainability editor

Action for consumer confidence

TAPPI (Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry) said it saw no contradictions in Which?’s application of the test method and that it ‘seems disingenuous’ to suggest that a test method applied successfully to other brands tested for this article would be inadequate for Naked Sprout.

The FSC said it was concerned by the Which? test results and had alerted its supply chain integrity team. It said it would work with the businesses to ensure the findings were fully investigated and any appropriate action taken.

Which? believes that consumers should be able to be confident that the products they are buying are as sustainable as is claimed on the packaging – particularly when these are often more expensive than the alternative. 

While the brands investigated by Which? may not have deliberately misled consumers, the consumer champion believes they must take action to ensure shoppers can have confidence in their products.

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