Can You Compost Toilet Paper?

organic material in a wooden compost bin

The average person uses a lot of toilet paper. In the UK it’s estimated we’re each getting through about 127 rolls per year! As we’re constantly saying - the environmental impact can't be ignored. 

We talk a lot about how toilet rolls and their packaging are made and delivered. But today we want to focus on the other side of the story, how products are disposed of. And since it’s Spring time as we’re writing this, today we’re thinking about the most natural and green form of disposal around, composting. Can you compost toilet rolls and the packaging they come in? Let’s dig in. 

A trowel standing in a soil bed

Understanding the Basics:

First up, some ground rules. Toilet paper is primarily made from wood (or bamboo!) pulp, or if they’re recycled they’re made from paper or card that was itself made from timber pulp. This means that toilet paper is a biodegradable material, and it can decompose naturally under the right conditions. 

However, compostability takes things a step further. For something to be compostable it needs to not only break down naturally, but to break down with the help of microorganisms that will transform it into a nutrient-rich, organic material that can be repurposed as fertiliser. 

To properly answer the question of whether toilet rolls can be composted, we need to understand where we’re doing our composting - a compost heap like you’d have in your garden, or a composting toilet? 

A compost bin painted with bright colours

A Compost Heap or bin

We’ll go to the compost heap or compost bin first, because we find this is a slightly more common question. Can toilet rolls, and their cardboard tubes and packaging, join the carrot peels, apple cores, and coffee grounds in your compost?  

Anything you add to your compost heap needs to break down rapidly without leaving harmful residues or attracting unwanted pests. Unbleached cardboard, like most toilet rolls use for their inner tubes, passes the test, so in they go, but what about boxes? 

If the box is plain cardboard without any glossy finishes or plastic inserts, it’s a green light for composting. Cardboard boxes can actually be great additions to a compost heap, because they’re carbon-rich, and break down gradually, providing a feast for worms in the process. Just be sure to remove any tape, staples, or labels before tossing them in. At Naked Sprout we use unbleached cardboard free of chemical glues, tape, staples, or dyes for our boxes, making them fully compostable. 

a box of unbleached toilet rolls

But what about the actual toilet tissue itself? There are two main factors to consider here.

Firstly, has it been used?  When it comes to your compost heap, only unused toilet paper is suitable. Adding used toilet roll risks introducing pathogens and attracting pests. Secondly, what colour is the tissue itself? Most companies bleach their toilet paper, and this bleach may present a problem to your compost heap, so we’d recommend only adding unused toilet tissue that hasn’t been bleached. The same goes for our unbleached facial tissues, and unbleached kitchen rolls. They should be fine to put in your compost as long as they have not been used. 

We don’t really think anyone is buying toilet roll to chuck, unused, into the compost - so this probably disqualifies your everyday rolls from the compost heap! But that doesn’t mean toilet rolls cannot be composted full stop. There are some toilets that are specifically designed to take advantage of the biomechanical process of composting, and these are a different story altogether. 

A sign pointing the way to a composting toilet

A Composting Toilet

A composting toilet is a specialised unit that breaks down waste in a controlled environment, with the right balance of moisture, temperature, and air flow. They’re becoming more common in eco-conscious facilities, particularly where plumbing is difficult to install. Many of our customers use them in eco-retreats, event spaces, and glamping huts, and some have them at home! 

Composting toilets don’t flush waste away, instead they use microorganisms (mostly bacteria and funghi) to convert human waste into a compost that can be safely returned to the soil.

To keep working, the balance of moisture, temperature, and air flow in these units has to be maintained, and it’s really important not to add anything that might disrupt the biological processes taking place. So when it comes to toilet roll, look for "compostable" or "biodegradable" labels, and try to avoid dyed rolls and anything quilted or scented, as these will often contain harsh chemicals. 

As always, we’d recommend you go the whole hog and avoid bleach as well. Our 2 ply, unbleached, Naked Sprout toilet rolls are ideally suited for composting toilets. We keep our processes so clean that our rolls have been certified “food safe”. There’s no bleach, no harsh chemicals, and the glue that binds our plys is made from pine sap. So there’s nothing in them that could upset those precious microorganisms!  

a wooden toilet door with a heart carved into it

The Verdict: To Compost or Not to Compost?

So the final verdict on composting toilet rolls and their boxes? It depends on your setup.

If you're composting in a traditional compost heap or bin in your garden, you might want to think twice about adding toilet paper directly to the mix. While unused toilet paper is technically compostable, it would probably be better to use it! On the other hand, plain cardboard boxes and the inner tubes of toilet rolls are composting champs. 

If you’re using a composting composting toilet, opt for undyed, unquilted toilet paper and look out for labels that indicate the product is “biodegradable.” And for the happiest microorganisms of all, try an unbleached roll!

Fancy feeding your compost with the most sustainable rolls around? 

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