Toilet Paper Decomposition
Toilet paper exposed directly to the elements
Almost everyone uses toilet paper while backpacking. But most of us don't know what happens to it after it is disposed. This simple experiment looks at the decomposition of toilet paper when exposed to different conditions (see graph below). Clean toilet paper (Charmin Ultra Soft 2-Ply) was disposed in three different ways. The toilet paper was directly exposed to the elements, placed under a rock, and buried 6 inches in the dirt.
The toilet paper left directly exposed to the elements showed the least decomposition during times of low precipitation. The toilet paper also showed little microbrial decomposition. The only real signs of decomposition to the toilet paper occurred when the toilet paper was wet due to rain. See the relationship between the percent of decomposition and the reported rain fall (shown below).
The toilet paper left directly under a rock showed some evidence of microbrial decomposition. However, the decomposition was very slow. The rock appeared to shield the toilet paper from any rain therefore limiting decomposition.
The toilet paper buried six inches in the ground decomposed rapidly and at a constant rate. The dry toilet paper quickly absorbed moisture from the soil. The high moisture content and high soil contact appears be the reason for the fast degradation.
Daily Rain fall in inches
Three different types of toilet paper were exposed to a light rain to study the different decomposition rates (see graph below). The 2-Ply toilet paper, Charmin Ultra Soft, showed the slowest decomposition rate. The 1-Ply Scott Extra Soft and 1-Ply Sealand Rapid Dissolving toilet paper showed very similar decomposition rates. Surprisingly the less expensive 1-Ply Scott Extra Soft (Septic Safe) showed the highest decomposition rate when exposed to the elements. Not surprisingly these results suggest that 1-Ply toilet paper shows a superior decomposition rate than heavier 2-Ply toilet paper.
Physical characteristics of the three different types of toilet paper are shown in the table below. The toilet paper with the greatest surface area per gram was the Sealand Rapid Dissolving toilet paper. This toilet paper had almost twice the surface area per gram than the 2-Ply Charmin Ultra Soft. Due to the high surface are per weight it is expected that the Sealand toilet paper would decompose the fastest when disposed of in septic tanks or buried.
Toilet Paper Specifications
|Toilet Paper Type||Weight per Sheet||Weight/ Area||Surface Area per Gram|
|Charmin Ultra Soft 2-Ply||0.509 g||.0151||66 square inches|
|Scott Single Sheet 1-Ply||0.345 g||.0103||97 square inches|
|Sealand Rapid Dissolve 1-Ply||0.267 g||.0079||126 square inches|
Toilet paper dimensions for one sheet was 4.2 x 4.0 inches.
Always follow the appropriate regulations when disposing of toilet paper. In some areas it is required to carry out all human waste including toilet paper.