Septic Tank Maintenance: What Kinds of Toilet Paper are Best For a Septic Tank - Septic Tank Maintenance Guide
TOILET TISSUE CHOICES - CONTENTS: Does toilet tissue create a problem in the septic tank? Should we be using special kinds of biodegradable toilet tissue?Recommendations for use of recycled-paper toilet tissue versus ultra-soft fluffy toilet paper brands address using recycled paper versus cutting down standing trees. Recommendations for use of biodegradable toilet paper
TOILET TISSUE? - Are Special Toilet Tissue or other Special Septic Products Needed for Homes Connected to a Private Septic Tank & Drainfield?
Ordinary toilet tissue does not appear harm ordinary septic tank and drainfield systems
In a conventional septic system using a tank and drainfield, ordinary toilet tissue does not harm the septic system. The tissue remains in the septic tank, kept from flowing into the drainfield by septic tank baffles.
Actually lower-cost toilet tissues such as the Rite-Aid bathroom tissue shown at left perform better (break down faster and more completely) in septic tanks than some plush extra soft brands containing softening additives.
Eventually (we think) toilet tissue breaks down in the septic tank and is not a solid bulk problem at normal levels of usage.
That document explains how to extend the life of the septic system by being careful about what goes into it.
Toilet paper made from recycled paper is recommended
However, because the manufacture of fluffy soft toilet tissue requires the use of new wood fibers from trees, we recommend that consumers purchase and use toilet tissue made of recycled paper. Not because soft toilet tissue hurts our septic system, but because ultra-soft tissue brands mean we're flushing our forests down the drain unnecessarily. Look for toilet tissue that is made entirely or at least in part from recycled paper. It won't hurt you.
In February 2009 Greenpeace joined the ranks of associations who recommend against flushing our trees down the toilet.
What About Putting No Toilet Paper into the Septic Tank At All?
In some areas toilet tissue is not flushed into the septic system at all: Our photo (left) shows a home-made toilet paper dispenser in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. In many areas of Mexico custom is to avoid flushing toilet tissue into the septic system at all. Instead a waste container is provided near each toilet, and the user disposes of tissue therein.
Inspecting the interior of septic tanks in other areas of North America, we don't observe large volumes of visible toilet tissue forming a big percentage of the solid waste retained in the septic tank. But our Mexican neighbors might be on to something.
While we think that toilet paper "dissolves" in septic effluent, preliminary results of our own laboratory test of the break-down of toilet tissue in tap water show that fine particles of cellulose may be discharged to the drainfield, possibly adding to soil clogging there. But our lab test is incomplete, and has not yet considered the effects of bacteria and water-borne fungi in cellulose decomposition in septic systems.
See TOILET TISSUE TEST.
Note: actually a very common reason for avoiding sending anything unnecessary down a toilet drain, including toilet tissue, is that in some locales building drain piping is small in diameter, old, poorly installed, includes unnecessary bends or sharp angles, and is more prone to clogging than otherwise. Avoiding sending handfuls of toilet tissue down the drains along with solid wastes can help avoid clogging drain piping.
What is Toilet Paper Made From?
Traditional toilet paper used in a privy or outhouse included books, newspapers, the Sears catalog, corncobs, scraps of rag, and whatever else was at hand. Since all waste including toilet paper ended up in the same direct-deposit system there was no concern for clogged pipes nor interference with a soakbed operation.
Austin Woerner, writing for The New York Times Magazine and interviewing Su Wei, a novelist who teaches Chinese languate and literature at Yale, gave this interesting report by Su Wei who described the effects of Chairman Mao's ban on feudalist or capitalist or revisionist literature in China during the cutlural revolution. Fifteen year old Sue began working on the Xipei Rubber Plantation in southern China.
"... one morning, as I was preparing to go to work, I saw a thick wad of paper nailed to a door with a heavy metal spike. It was a novel by Liu Qing, and it was called "To Build a New Life." The older boys liked to steal books from the shuttered plantation library and pin them to their doors, so they could tear off pages to use as bathroom tissue when they went to the latrine." - Su Wei, as told to Austin Woerner, "Privy to the Plot", The New York Times Magazine, March 2015, p. 28. Other translations: "The Builder of a New Life". Liu Qing / Liu Yunhua (1916 - 1978).
Su continues to explain that by finding something else to be used as toilet paper he was ermitted to rescue Liu Qing's novel - a text that began his real education that he continued by reading other books that he saved from "a similar fate" as toilet paper in southern China.
Modern toilet tissue with a high percentage or even 100% of recycled paper is less soft and fluffy than other brands, but we agree with Dr. Allen Heskowitz, senior scientist and waste expert at the Natural Resource Defense Council who, according to a 2009 New York Times report, said "No forest of any kind should be used to make toilet paper." The Times reported that American "... obsession with soft paper has driven the growth of brands like Cottonelle Ultra™, Quilted Northern™ and Charmin Ultra™" brands of toilet tissue.
Producers of "Soft" Toilet Tissue
Proctor & Gamble produces soft toilet tissue sold under the Charmin Ultra™ brand. Kimberly Clark produces soft toilet paper produces soft toilet tissue sold under the Cotonelle™ brand. Scott™ produces soft fluffy toilet tissue as well. Georgia Pacific is the parent company of the toilet tissue brand Quilted Northern Ultra™. Some of these manufacturers also produce other toilet papers made from recycled paper. (See below).
What is Used to Make Soft Toilet Tissue?
The manufacture of these ultra-soft toilet papers (and similar soft tissue sold under other brands) requires the use of paper made from live, standing trees. According to the Times article, 25% to 50% of the wood pulp used in toilet paper comes from tree farms in South America and the U.S. The remaining 50% to 75% of toilet paper wood pulp is cut from old growth forests including Canadian old growth timber. Some of these boreal forest trees are 200 years old, and all of them were functioning as an important carbon sink.
Use Recycled-Fiber Toilet Tissue
Toilet paper made from recycled paper fibers also uses less chlorine-based bleach, reducing groundwater pollution, and it produces less landfill volume as well. Using recycled paper-based toilet tissue also means that the volume of toilet tissue in private septic tanks will actually be reduced, possibly slightly extending the time between septic tank pumpouts.
Use Alternatives to Toilet Paper: Disposable Wet Wipes & Baby Wipes?
Really? Generally you'd be advised to keep these out of your toilets, plumbing system, septic system, or sewer system. For details - see DISPOSABLE WET WIPES
Where to Buy Toilet Paper made from Recycled Paper
Greenpeace recommends these toilet tissue brands as "most green": Green Forest, 365, April soft, Earth Friendly, Fiesta & Fiesta Green, Natural Value, Seventh Generation, Trader Joe's.
Marcal Small Steps and Earth First are also made of 100% recycled fibers but with low percentage of post-consumer content. High post-consumer content toilet paper brands are less likely to have come from ancient forests.
Marcal Corporation markets recycled paper-based toilet paper through Walgreens at prices below the "soft fluffy" brands.
Kimberly Clark Corporation was reported in the Times as not philosophically opposed to recycled products and the company uses them in products sold to restaurants, offices, and schools.
Bio-degradable toilet tissue is recommended in certain cases
Where a chemical toilet is in use, such as on a boat or recreational vehicle, special toilet tissue which
dissolves rapidly is recommended.
These other kinds of paper should never be flushed into a septic system
Paper Towels: Do not flush paper towels into the septic system.
Documents & newsprint: Do not use your toilet to dispose of unwanted documents, torn-up or not. Most document papers, even newsprint, are slow to degrade in a septic tank.
Facial tissues into the septic are ok? maybe not. Some authorities also advise not flushing facial tissues into the septic system
See TOILET TISSUE TEST for an explanation of how bathroom tissue breaks down in the septic system.
Use of Recycled Paper - Based Toilet Paper, US EPA Recommendation, vs. Septic Tank Enzymes
Readers have often asked if it is necessary to add a septic tank treatment chemical or enzyme to reduce septic system clogging problems due to use of toilet paper.
No septic system additives are needed for system maintenance, and some are illegal in some states and in all of canada all of them are illegal, as we discuss in this article (see above).
See our article TOILET TISSUE CHOICES for a discussion of recommended kinds of toilet paper to use in homes connected to a septic system. Even regular toilet tissue breaks down to fine particles quickly. Also
But in our OPINION (and that of the US EPA) we recommend using recycled paper-based toilet paper because of the benefit of saving trees - it’s too bad to chop down and grind up new trees to make toilet paper.
The data below quotes from the US EPA's information on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) products, including types of toilet tissue and tissue vendors: [Bathroom Tissue - US EPA's comprehensive bath tissue procurement guidelines (CPG): the following quotes from the US EPA]
Commercial/ Industrial Sanitary Tissue Recommendations from the US EPA
Sanitary tissue products include bathroom and facial tissue, paper towels, napkins, and general-purpose industrial wipers. They are generally sold in rolls or sheets and are used in personal care, food service, and cleaning applications. The grades of sanitary tissue products covered in the CPG are manufactured for use by restaurants, hotels, schools, government agencies, and other similar commercial and institutional buyers. Some recycled-content sanitary tissue products are softer, stronger, and more absorbent than others.
NOTE: The toilet paper content levels should be read as X% recovered fiber, including Y% post consumer fiber and not as X% recovered fiber plus Y% postconsumer fiber.
Toilet Paper Product Information:
Database of Manufacturers and Suppliers including toilet tissue using recycled paper:
This database identifies manufacturers and suppliers of commercial/industrial sanitary tissue products containing recovered fiber. [See epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/tools/cpg/database.htm ] - we did not find this data base working very well at producing lists of recycled toilet tissue manufacturers - but see our product lists and description at TOILET TISSUE CHOICES
Sanitary tissue products can be ordered through the General Service Administration's (GSA's) online ordering system. In addition, GSA publishes various supply catalogues, guides, and schedules for recycled-content products available through the Federal Supply Service. [See gsaadvantage.gov ]
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New York Times: "What Mr. Whipple Didn't Say: Softer Paper is Costly to Forests", Leslie Kaufman, New York Times, 2/26/2009 p. A17
Greenpeace: 2/18/2009 article at http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/press-center/reports4/tissueguide includes a downloadable .PDF file. The Greenpeace site reports "Did you know? Americans could save more than 400,000 trees if each family bought a roll of recycled toilet paper—just once.
Recycled tissue products help protect ancient forests, clean water, and wildlife habitat. It's easier on the Earth to make tissues from paper instead of trees. Download our printable pocket-sized version of the Guide."
Kazunori, Hanyu, Hirohisa Kishino, Hidetoshi Yamashita and Chikio Hayashi. "Linkage between recycling and consumption: a case of toilet paper in Japan." Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 30, Issue 3 (1 September, 2000): 177-199.
This study examines consumer factors of paper recycling in Japan. The study specifically focuses on toilet paper as a paper product and attempts to reveal how individuals evaluate recycled toilet paper, how the evaluation relates to toilet paper consumption, and why people use or do not use recycled toilet paper. The study also examines what factors influence collection recycling behavior, and what people believe as necessary to achieve a society with better recycling. Responses were obtained from 1242 respondents in Japan. Four results were found. (1) People cannot judge the raw material of virgin toilet papers correctly, while people can correctly judge the raw material of recycled toilet paper. Furthermore, the image of recycled toilet paper also had negative impact on the willingness to use recycled toilet paper. (2) The primary criterion for purchasing recycled toilet paper was pro-environmental attitude. For the virgin toilet paper, it was brand. As expected, recycled toilet paper users had a positive evaluation and image of recycled toilet paper, while virgin toilet paper users had a negative evaluation and image of it. (3) Actual recycling behavior might not relate directly to consumption behavior of recycled paper. Rather, it was determined by the knowledge of waste collection systems and payment systems. (4) Most people have not realized that without the consumption of recycled products, the recycling system is not completed.
Recycled Content in toilet paper (US EPA definition): When reporting recycled content, some toilet paper (and other product) manufacturers report total recycled content (combining pre- and
post-consumer waste re-use) while others report post-consumer only. Both pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled materials
provide the environmental benefits of displacing virgin feedstocks such as toilet paper using a high percentage of paper made from trees. Using post-consumer content has the added benefit of
providing markets for materials separated for recycling by consumers, such as newspapers and magazines.
Postconsumer Materials (US EPA definition): A material or finished product that has served its intended use and has been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal, having completed its life as a consumer item. Postconsumer materials are part of the broader category of recovered materials.
Recovered materials: Waste materials and byproducts that have been recovered or diverted from solid waste, but does not include materials and byproducts generated from, and commonly reused within, an original manufacturing process.
Pennsylvania State Fact Sheets relating to domestic wastewater treatment systems include
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-161, Septic System Failure: Diagnosis and Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-162, The Soil Media and the Percolation Test
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-l64, Mound Systems for Wastewater Treatment
Pennsylvania State Wastewater Treatment Fact Sheet SW-165, Septic Tank-Soil Absorption Systems
Document Sources used for this web page include but are not limited to: Agricultural Fact Sheet #SW-161 "Septic Tank Pumping," by Paul D. Robillard and
Kelli S. Martin. Penn State College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension, edited and annotated by
Dan Friedman (Thanks: to Bob Mackey for proofreading the original source material.)
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Advanced Onsite Wastewater Systems Technologies, Anish R. Jantrania, Mark A. Gross. Anish Jantrania, Ph.D., P.E., M.B.A., is a Consulting Engineer, in Mechanicsville VA, 804-550-0389 (2006). Outstanding technical reference especially on alternative septic system design alternatives. Written for designers and engineers, this book is not at all easy going for homeowners but is a text I recommend for professionals--DF.
Builder's Guide to Wells and Septic Systems, Woodson, R. Dodge: $ 24.95; MCGRAW HILL B; TP;
Quoting from Amazon's description: For the homebuilder, one mistake in estimating or installing wells and septic systems can cost thousands of dollars. This comprehensive guide filled with case studies can prevent that. Master plumber R. Dodge Woodson packs this reader-friendly guide with guidance and information, including details on new techniques and materials that can economize and expedite jobs and advice on how to avoid mistakes in both estimating and construction. Chapters cover virtually every aspect of wells and septic systems, including on-site evaluations; site limitations; bidding; soil studies, septic designs, and code-related issues; drilled and dug wells, gravel and pipe, chamber-type, and gravity septic systems; pump stations; common problems with well installation; and remedies for poor septic situations. Woodson also discusses ways to increase profits by avoiding cost overruns.
Country Plumbing: Living with a Septic System, Hartigan, Gerry: $ 9.95; ALAN C HOOD & TP;
Quoting an Amazon reviewer's comment, with which we agree--DF:This book is informative as far as it goes and might be most useful for someone with an older system. But it was written in the early 1980s. A lot has changed since then. In particular, the book doesn't cover any of the newer systems that are used more and more nowadays in some parts of the country -- sand mounds, aeration systems, lagoons, etc.
Design Manuals for Septic Systems
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual [online copy, free] Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm Onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems,
Richard J Otis, published by the US EPA. Although it's more than 20 years old, this book remains a useful reference for septic system designers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water Program Operations; Office of Research and Development, Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory; (1980)
"International Private Sewage Disposal Code," 1995, BOCA-708-799-2300, ICBO-310-699-0541, SBCCI 205-591-1853, available from those code associations.
"Manual of Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines for Onsite Sewage Systems," Ontario Reg. 374/81, Part VII of the Environmental
Protection Act (Canada), ISBN 0-7743-7303-2, Ministry of the Environment,135 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto Ontario M4V 1P5 Canada $24. CDN.
Manual of Septic Tank Practice, US Public Health Service's 1959.
Onsite Wastewater Disposal Books
Onsite Wastewater Disposal, R. J. Perkins;
Quoting from Amazon: This practical book, co-published with the National Environmental Health Association,
describes the step-by-step procedures needed to avoid common pitfalls in septic system technology.
Valuable in matching the septic system to the site-specific conditions, this useful book will help you install a reliable system in
both suitable and difficult environments. Septic tank installers, planners, state and local regulators, civil and sanitary engineers,
consulting engineers, architects, homeowners, academics, and land developers will find this publication valuable.
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, Bennette D. Burks, Mary Margaret Minnis, Hogarth House 1994 - one of the best septic system books around, suffering a bit from small fonts and a weak index. While it contains some material more technical than needed by homeowners, Burks/Minnis book on onsite wastewater treatment systems a very useful reference for both property owners and septic system designers.
Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf
Septic System Owner's Manual, Lloyd Kahn, Blair Allen, Julie Jones, Shelter Publications, 2000 $14.95 U.S. - easy to understand, well illustrated, one of the best practical references around on septic design basics including some advanced systems; a little short on safety and maintenance. Both new and used (low priced copies are available, and we think the authors are working on an updated edition--DF.
Quoting from one of several Amazon reviews: The basics of septic systems, from underground systems and failures to what the owner can do to promote and maintain a healthy system, is revealed in an excellent guide essential for any who reside on a septic system. Rural residents receive a primer on not only the basics; but how to conduct period inspections and what to do when things go wrong. History also figures into the fine coverage.
Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, Bombeck, Erma: $ 5.99; FAWCETT; MM;
This septic system classic whose title helps avoid intimidating readers new to septic systems, is available new or used at very low prices.
It's more entertainment than a serious "how to" book on septic systems design, maintenance, or repair. Not recommended -- DF.
US EPA Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Manual Top Reference: US EPA's Design Manual for Onsite Wastewater Treatment and Disposal, 1980, available from the US EPA, the US GPO Superintendent of Documents (Pueblo CO), and from the National Small Flows Clearinghouse. Original source http://www.epa.gov/ORD/NRMRL/Pubs/625R00008/625R00008.htm
Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook, R. Dodge Woodson. This book is in the upper price range, but is worth the cost for serious septic installers and designers.
Quoting Amazon: Each year, thousands upon thousands of Americans install water wells and septic systems on their properties. But with a maze of codes governing their use along with a host of design requirements that ensure their functionality where can someone turn for comprehensive, one-stop guidance? Enter the Water Wells and Septic Systems Handbook from McGraw-Hill. Written in language any property owner can understand yet detailed enough for professionals and technical students this easy-to-use volume delivers the latest techniques and code requirements for designing, building, rehabilitating, and maintaining private water wells and septic systems. Bolstered by a wealth of informative charts, tables, and illustrations, this book delivers: * Current construction, maintenance, and repair methods
* New International Private Sewage Disposal Code
* Up-to-date standards from the American Water Works Association
Wells and Septic Systems, Alth, Max and Charlet, Rev. by S. Blackwell Duncan, $ 18.95; Tab Books 1992. We have found this text very useful for conventional well and septic systems design and maintenance --DF.
Quoting an Amazon description:Here's all the information you need to build a well or septic system yourself - and save a lot of time, money, and frustration. S. Blackwell Duncan has thoroughly revised and updated this second edition of Wells and Septic Systems to conform to current codes and requirements. He also has expanded this national bestseller to include new material on well and septic installation, water storage and distribution, water treatment, ecological considerations, and septic systems for problem building sites.
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The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
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