Americans go through hundreds of toilet paper rolls per year and each person disposes it in different ways. In my household, my mom taught me to throw used toilet paper in the trash can. In other homes, toilet paper is flushed it down the toilet. Since becoming more aware and eco-conscious about my daily habits, I started to wonder, which method is more sustainable? Is it better to flush or toss your toilet paper? After doing some research of my own, here is what I found.
Is it Better to Flush or Toss Your Toilet Paper?
I can’t confirm that either one is good for the environment. Though, when we look at the lifecycle of each alternative, from the production process to the end of toilet paper’s usage, one option can be viewed as “better” than the other. Here’s why:
What Happens to Toilet Paper When You Flush It?
Most toilet paper rolls are made from short fibers that make it easier and softer to break down through a sewage system. When you flush, 95% of the toilet paper dissolves in water. Sadly, the other 5% contributes to sludge during the treatment process and can sometimes end up in the landfill or on a farmer’s field. In addition, the bacteria that breaks down the toilet paper release carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — as their byproduct. As we all know, greenhouse gases are extremely bad for the environment.
What Happens Toilet Paper When You Toss It?
Toilet paper that makes it in the trash end up in landfills. Landfills take up a vast majority of land and leach harmful chemicals into the environment. One harmful chemical is methane, a common gas produced from landfills that is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. In the long run, this is more dangerous for the environment. Plus, it will take years for the toilet paper to break down and decompose.
In comparison, from a sanitary and greenhouse gas perspective, flushing is the better option.
However, both still contribute harm to the environment. In general, toilet paper is wasteful and non-recyclable. They are made from trees taken from endangered forests. The last thing we want is to contribute to deforestation. The process itself is also harmful — from bleaching the papers to packaging and shipping them. So what can you do?
Alternatives to Flushing and Tossing Toilet Paper
Use “Recyclable” Toilet Paper. This is a bit tricky since recycled toilet paper have been found to contain BPA and BPS (what!). These chemicals are endocrine disruptors that can cause cancer, birth defects, heart disease, and all sorts of bad stuff. Highly recycled paper is made out of ‘thermal paper’ which are coated with BPA to reduce ‘fading’. (Scary). If you opt for this option, look for toilet papers with the words: BPA-free, chlorine-free, 100% recycled, and unbleached.
Use a Bidet. That’s right! It’s quite common to see a bidet in other countries around the world other than the United States. A bidet is a water cleaning device that fits onto the toilet. There are different buttons to control the water pressure and temperature when the water shoots out. Instead of cleaning your sensitive areas by wiping, the bidet does the job for you. (Sweet!). No toilet paper needed. No waste created.
Speaking of a bidet, if you don’t like the idea of a device shooting water up your booty, you can always use your hands and water. We spoke with a couple of our friends who already do this, and they say it’s a lot cleaner than using toilet paper. Just clean your sensitive areas once with one swipe of toilet paper, then finish off with a bucket of water using your hands to scrub (we know, it sounds really weird. But once you try it, it’s not as foreign!).
Switch to Cloth Toilet Paper. Okay, also really weird at first too — I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. Using cloth as a toilet paper substitute is already reducing the need for wasteful paper ones. It’s cleaner, softer, more affordable, and extremely eco-friendly. It can be sanitary if done correctly. This website carefully outlines everything you need to know and how to get started. It’s quite interesting!
A majority of us continue to use toilet paper every single day. It’s such a norm in our culture that we don’t stop to think about its impact on the environment. By switching to a more eco-friendly approach we’re taking a huge step towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Have you tried any of the alternatives mentioned above? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!