Did you know that the average person uses 100 rolls of toilet tissue every year and will use the equivalent of 384 trees worth of toilet paper in their lifetime?
The U.S. spends over 6 billion dollars on toilet paper every year. Obviously, people love their toilet paper and it’s hard to imagine a society without it.
But its popularity is all the more reason to answer the important question: is toilet paper good for the environment? And is it biodegradable like normal paper?
We aim to answer these questions and more in this article. So sit tight, because you are about to learn some interesting truths about toilet paper.
The Truth Behind Biodegradable Toilet Paper.
First, let’s address the main question before diving into the details of biodegradable toilet paper.
Is Toilet Paper Biodegradable?
In general, toilet paper is biodegradable. Since it was made to be flushed down the toilet, it’s actually made with virgin wood pulp fibers that break down when exposed to water.
Biodegradable toilet paper is an optimized version of normal toilet paper; the fibers are even shorter and break down far more easily, making them the ideal choice for septic systems. This is why they are commonly referred to as “septic safe”; they don’t clog the septic tank.
Biodegradable toilet paper can be made with a variety of eco-friendly sources, some of which include:
- Recycled paper
Bamboo is widely available and easy to produce. It also has natural antibacterial properties. In terms of softness, this is one of the best materials to simulate that iconic softness.
Recycled paper is coarse and not too pleasant to wipe oneself with. But the eco-friendly impact is a big one. Studies show that recycled paper saves trees, uses far less water in production, and reduces energy consumption by 28%-70%!
Bagasse is a by-product waste from sugar production. Its softness is similar to bamboo and is often paired with it to strengthen the toilet paper’s fibers. The nice thing about using bagasse is that it saves trees AND reduces sugar production waste.
Kenaf is interesting. It’s been identified by the USDA to be the plant that can replace trees in papermaking. It grows 34x faster than southern pine, a common paper-harvesting tree, and produces far more material in that time.
Hemp is likely to become more and more common as an eco-friendly substitute for trees. While it’s still fighting against its reputation, hemp offers many excellent benefits when made into toilet paper. The fibers are softer, it’s tougher than wood pulp, it has antibacterial properties, and it grows much faster.
As you can see, biodegradable toilet paper can take many forms. As we continue to develop and refine our sustainable options, hopefully we can eliminate the need for trees altogether.
Is Toilet Paper Eco-Friendly?
Yes toilet paper is good for the environment. Since it’s designed to break down in water, it also has a minimal impact on nature. Animals do not care about it, it doesn’t do anything to the soil, and plants are not affected whatsoever.
However, you also have to keep the production of toilet paper in mind when asking if it’s eco-friendly. And in that respect, we can definitely stand to do a lot better.
Like we said earlier, the average person will use 384 trees worth of toilet paper in their lifetime. That’s 27,000 trees per day, a startling number to really think about. Deforestation is already a huge issue that can cause a number of problems.
“The loss of trees and other vegetation can cause climate change, desertification, soil erosion, fewer crops, flooding, increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and a host of problems…”Excerpt from pachamama.org
Toilet paper is generally made from 70% hardwood and 30% softwood. It’s typically treated with chemicals to make it softer and whiten it; this is called “bleaching”.
Bleached toilet paper has its own set of problems, as the chemical used to do it (formaldehyde) is a potential carcinogen and bad skin irritant.
Even some eco-friendly toilet papers aren’t completely off the hook.
Recycled toilet paper, for example, still requires the use of some virgin wood pulp fibers (70:30 ratio).
This is because each time you recycle paper, the fibers get shorter and shorter until there’s nothing left to hold it together. New wood fibers must be introduced in order to produce more recycled paper, although Kenaf could potentially replace the virgin wood pulp fibers altogether.
Bamboo, bagasse, and hemp can are standalones for biodegradable toilet paper. They can stand on their own and are the most eco-friendly options at this moment.
How Long Does It Take For Toilet Paper To Decompose?
Normal toilet paper takes about 1-3 years to fully decompose. This is longer than most people would guess, but it does take time for those strong wooden fibers to fully biodegrade. Biodegradable toilet paper, on the other hand, will take about 1-2 months to fully decompose.
This is because biodegradable toilet paper’s fibers are typically much shorter than that of normal toilet paper. They must biodegrade quickly in order to be safe for a septic tank, which can be easily clogged otherwise.
There are some factors that influence the rate of biodegradation:
- Tissue thickness
- Water conditions
- Environmental conditions
Thicker tissue will take longer to decompose. The volume will slow the rate of biodegradation, though it typically isn’t by a large amount. Super thick toilet paper may not dissolve in time for a septic tank, however.
Water conditions are also important. The volume of water to tissue will influence how quickly it breaks down, but the water conditions will also play a role.
Is the toilet paper being churned in water like a sewer system? Or is it just lying at the bottom of a tank? Both circumstances will affect the rate of biodegradation.
And if you decide to take your toilet paper to the great outdoors, the environmental conditions will play a role.
Is the toilet paper buried in the soil? Is it just lying on an unlucky plant? Is it left in a puddle? Toilet paper should optimally be exposed to water for the quickest results, even outdoors.
Is Toilet Paper Compostable?
Yes toilet paper is compostable. This is because the virgin wood fibers can be broken down from both environmental factors as well as microorganisms, which is what a compost unit excels at doing.
That’s why composting toilets exist: for the sole purpose of making compost out of used toilet paper. However, these “toilets” aren’t very good at actually making compost. Instead, they are better for starting the composting process and then transferring the material into another compost unit.
What about a regular compost bin? Well, toilet paper will still break down in them, but it’s only recommended to do so if said toilet paper has not been used to wipe up poop.
This is because harmful pathogens can be present in the poop and can grow in numbers when exposed to composting conditions, compromising the entire batch.
Toilet paper that’s been used to wipe up anything that isn’t compostable will also be impossible to compost, so always be aware.
What Are The Best Brands For Biodegradable Toilet Paper?
Generally, the best biodegradable toilet paper brands will be the ones that can replicate the features that make traditional toilet paper so successful.
The three biggest factors are:
Everybody wants to wipe their sensitive areas with something soft and expects their toilet paper to not break when it’s being used. And it’s expected that toilet paper should have decent absorbency as well for those liquid messes.
If that’s what you are looking for, then we recommend checking out Silk’n Soft Bamboo Toilet Paper. Their brand is one of the best eco-friendly brands for feeling like traditional toilet paper.
Of course, there are different priorities for different people.
For the RV people who really need septic-safe material, you can’t go wrong with Firebelly Outfitters RV Toilet Paper. This material is specifically designed to break down in an RV septic-tank without compromising on quality.
If you don’t mind sacrificing on softness, Green Forest Premium 100% Recycled Bathroom Tissue is a fantastic option. It’s rough, but it’s one of the best ways to support good eco-friendly practices.
As for you campers, Coleman Camper’s Toilet Paper is a solid pick. This toilet paper will ensure that your messes don’t leave a negative impact on the environment. It’s designed to break down in nature, so you can “go on the go”.
There are many different brands that all provide a different product based on the specifics of what you need. If you want to look at the best of the best, then we recommend that you check out our list of the top ten best biodegradable toilet paper.
Alright, let’s do a quick review of everything so far:
- Toilet paper is biodegradable.
- Toilet paper is fine for the environment, but the production of it may not make it so eco-friendly.
- It takes about 1-3 months on average for toilet paper to decompose.
- Toilet paper can be composted but care must be exercised when doing so.
- The best brands for biodegradable toilet paper are ones that feel like traditional toilet paper while also being good for the environment (both pre and post-production).
Overall, toilet paper is actually pretty good eco-friendly material.
However, you are still going to have to take a close look at the toilet paper you tend to buy. That fragrant, super-soft toilet paper may just be chemically-treated to the point of harm for both you and the environment.
And since greenwashing is still a thing that companies do, you must scrutinize products that claim to be eco-friendly but do nothing to prove it. It’s in your best interest to get the facts before supporting what may be a bad business practice.
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Let’s all continue to strive for a greener, better way of living!