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a home photo lab - lots of photo chemicals into the septic system might be a problem at this propertySeptic 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
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about using biodegradable toilet paper in homes connected to a septic tank
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Choosing toilet paper:

Should we use special or bio-degradable toilet paper when a home is connected to a private septic system? What kinds of paper or toilet tissue may damage the septic tank or leach fields?



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TOILET TISSUE? - Are Special Toilet Tissue or other Special Septic Products Needed for Homes Connected to a Private Septic Tank & Drainfield?

Low cost toilet paper performs well in septic tanks (C) Daniel FriedmanOrdinary 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.

See TOILET TISSUE TEST for details.

But as we discuss just below at What About Putting No Toilet Paper into the Septic Tank At All?we're not sure about the ultimate breakdown of cellulose fibers from toilet tissue, and the break-down of toilet paper may vary depending on the type of paper and its composition.

Certainly, other types of paper or paper products (writing paper, newspaper, magazine paper, bills and private letters) should not be flushed down a toilet.

See WHAT CAN GO INTO TOILETS & DRAINS?.

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.

Toilet paper San Miguel de Allende (C) Daniel Friedman Toilet paper San Miguel de Allende (C) Daniel Friedman

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?

Sears catalogs were among commonly-available sources of paper used as toilet paper in outhouses and latrines 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

Also see NEVER FLUSH INTO SEPTICS for a complete list.

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

See TOILET TISSUE TEST for an explanation of how bathroom tissue breaks down in the septic system.

See WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS for a simple explanation of how septic systems work.

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

see TOILET TISSUE TEST.

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.

EPA's Recommended Recovered Fiber Content Levels for Commercial/Industrial Sanitary Tissue Products
Item Post consumer Fiber (%): Recovered Fiber (%):
Bathroom Tissue 20-60 20-100
Paper Towels 40-60 40-100
Paper Napkins 30-60 30-100
Facial Tissue 10-15 10-100
General Purpose Industrial Wipers 40 40-100

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:

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