As Poland’s political parties began to campaign ahead of the general election on October 15, EU environment plans became a subject of criticism and debate. The far-right Confederation party used its programme to call “to stop the eco-madman from the EU” while the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party accused the EU of dictating forest management

The EU and its supposed attempts to control people’s everyday lives is a frequent topic of misinformation. AFP has already debunked false claims that Brussels has a clandestine plan to make people eat insects as well as misinformation concerning European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (here). 

This time, unfounded claims about a plan to “ban” toilet paper appeared in traditional news outlets as well as on social media.  

“Let’s start with another absurd idea of European Union officials, explained by the fight against climate change. Well — this is unfortunately not a joke — Brussels wants to ban the use of toilet paper. First, it would be replaced with a substitute made of straw, and eventually phased out completely,” a TVP3 Opole presenter said on August 16, 2023 when introducing a report on the supposed ban. The channel’s Facebook post featuring a video clip of the report gained more than 300,000 views and more than 2,400 comments. Most comments were hostile to the EU. For example: “Leave the Union. Referendum” and “Poland out of the EU”.

Screenshot taken on Facebook on August 22, 2023

The Polish TV report was televised as part of a longer news broadcast the same day (at the 1:08 minute mark). The news programme on which it was shown, Kurier Opolski, was aired by TVP3 Opole, a regional offshoot of Polish public television TVP. We did not find a trace of the report on the national edition of TVP. 

The TVP3 Opole report cites “European media” as speculating about the straw-based substitute and the eventual ban. In a vox pop, Poles are asked what they think about the EU plan. The report also questions the logic of a supposed EU move to replace toilet paper with bidets.

Contacted by AFP, the director of TVP3 Opole answered in an email on September 7 that “TVP3 Opole does not comment on this matter.”

Misleading suggestions that the EU wants to ban toilet paper or replace it with straw-based paper and bidets appeared in many other articles, for example hereherehere and here.

Many Polish social media users shared the claims on Twitter (here and here) and Facebook (here and here). Some of the claims refer to Spanish media as the source of the story.

Screenshot taken on Facebook on August 24, 2023

 Claims in Slovak suggested that “traditional toilet paper” would be phased out and replaced with paper made from straw (herehere), again citing Spanish media reports. 

Source of the claims?

Searching for articles in different languages about a “ban” on toilet paper, we found what appeared to be a joke article in Romanian from media company Mediafax published on April 1, 2023 — April Fools’ Day. It features the date in large font at the top of the story and uses spoof quotes from high-profile figures including von der Leyen who are quoted as saying that toilet paper will be banned across the EU and “Japanese toilets” introduced.  

A few months later, apparently serious claims began to circulate in Polish that the EU was promoting toilet paper made from straw and that a “complete abandonment of toilet paper was not ruled out”. Those claims (for example herehere and here) were published on August 9 citing a report from the Polish Press Agency (PAP) correspondent in Spain. AFP obtained a copy of the PAP report published on August 9 entitled “Spain/Media: Brussels promotes straw toilet paper to tackle the climate crisis”. It quotes an article from El Economista, a Spanish economic newspaper founded in 2006 by the conservative newspaper El Mundo. 

However, while both the El Economista article and the PAP report did speculate that traditional toilet paper’s days might be numbered and referred to alternatives such as straw-based paper or bidets, they did not say anything about an EU ban. 

The PAP report appears to refer to an El Economista report from July 29 which has no byline and contains very little context to support its statements. Instead, it seems to be a promotional article extolling the virtues of a bidet device produced by a company from Ecuador. The article includes a tweet from the company promoting its services. 

The only reference to the EU comes at the end of the El Economista report with the mention of an article from another Spanish site, Libre Mercado, about a supposed push from the EU towards toilet paper made from straw.

The Libre Mercado article also makes no mention of any toilet paper “ban”, although it makes the misleading claim that the EU is “pushing” for the introduction of straw toilet paper.

Although straw toilet paper has received some funding from European banks to invest in sustainable development projects, the EU is not proposing that it replace other types of paper.

EU says ‘no intention of banning toilet paper’ 

When asked about the claims, a spokesperson for the European Commission told AFP: “The European Union has no intention of banning toilet paper. And there exists no proposal, neither current nor in the making, to ban it in the future.”

The spokesperson added that while EU legislation does place requirements on toilet paper producers to protect the environment by ensuring their products do not use materials from deforestation areas, that does not amount to a ban on toilet paper. 

“Toilet paper is indeed in the scope of the Deforestation Regulation. Products and their raw materials can be placed on and exported from the EU market only if they are legally produced and coming from deforestation-free areas,” the spokesperson said in an email on August 24.

The EU’s Deforestation Regulation (archived link) states that the consumption of timber and other commodities such as palm oil, soybeans, cocoa, coffee, cattle and rubber is leading to “global deforestation and forest degradation”. Most toilet paper is made from wood pulp.

Article 3 of the legislation states that all of those commodities “shall not be placed or made available on the market or exported” unless they are deforestation-free and comply with laws in the country of production, as shown below.

The legislation does not propose a ban on toilet paper made from wood pulp, or toilet paper in general. 

AFP could not find any reference to a “ban” on any kind of toilet paper products on the EU’s website or any public announcement of such a plan.

No plan for straw-based toilet paper across EU 

While the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU’s lending arm, and other financial institutions in Europe have provided funding to a company that is developing more eco-friendly toilet paper, this is just one of many circular economy projects that have received such backing. Contrary to numerous online reports, Brussels has not proposed a ban on the use of other types of toilet paper.

Swedish group Essity produces toilet paper using straw at one of its factories in Mannheim, Germany, which it announced in 2019.

In an EIB press release (archived link) from July 2023, Essity is listed as one of the companies that has received support from a group of banks and institutions under the Joint Initiative on Circular Economy (JICE), to which the EIB also belongs.

According to the EIB and Essity, JICE financing for Essity’s project to produce straw toilet paper at a Mannheim factory came from the initiative’s German bank KfW, which you can read about here (archived link).

Separately, the EIB announced in December 2021 a loan of 300 million euros to Essity for “research, development and innovation”.

EIB spokeswoman Vanessa Paul told AFP that the 300-million-euro loan was earmarked for around 115 research, development and innovation projects, none of which were related to any kind of ban on toilet paper.

Essity announced in a press release a loan of 300 million euros to support “innovative products and investments in sustainable development in all business areas and product segments until 2024”.

Essity spokesman Karl Stoltz told AFP in an email on September 1 that part of the funding had been used to develop the production of straw-based or alternative fibre-based paper products. 

Sustainable paper projects remain voluntary

The European association representing the paper industry (CEPI) told AFP that it was “not aware of any ban or project to ban or phase out toilet paper”.

“None of the legislation already approved or in the course of approval under the umbrella of the ‘Green Deal’ (Fit-for-55, EU Deforestation regulation etc.) contains such a policy,” CEPI forest policy manager Margherita Miceli told AFP in an email on August 23.

“Indeed the project mentioned by the EIB press release is about incentivising circular economy projects including the use of by-products and residues as raw materials, but the participation in such projects is voluntary,” she said.


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