Is tissue paper biodegradable? Can it be composted?

  • Date: May 13, 2022

(Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer on Flickr, under CC license)

Tissue paper is a great way to make a gift look extra special. However, when the holidays are a distant memory you will likely have a bunch of it to dispose of. Re-using is a great way of diverting it from landfill. But, it isn’t the most durable of papers and won’t last too many rounds of gifting! What are the other alternatives? Is tissue paper biodegradable and can it be composted?

(Just to clarify – he we are just discussing gift/craft tissue paper. If you are wondering if you can compost snotty, used tissues have a look at our article here!)

Firstly, what is tissue paper made of?

When determining if an item is biodegradable, it is important to know what it is made from – is it synthetic or natural? Gifting tissue paper is an extremely thin paper which is made from wood pulp or recycled items such as newspapers or cardboard. It is natural. However, depending on the variety, it may have additional elements such as glitter. These are, generally, synthetic.

Is tissue paper biodegradable?

A material is regarded as biodegradable if it can be broken down naturally by micro-organisms such as bacteria. Since tissue paper (minus additional synthetic elements) is made from a natural material it can, essentially, return to nature. It will breakdown within a matter of weeks.

As with all biodegradable items, optimal conditions are really important. Landfill is not just like a massive compost pile. Poor airflow and limited moisture make the breakdown process much slower than breakdown figures quoted. Keep this in mind when you throw any biodegradable item in the trash – it may still be around for a much longer time than you’d expect. This even applies to quickly biodegrading items such as tissue paper!

Can tissue paper be composted?

Composting is becoming more and more popular. Not only is it a great way to dispose of organic waste, it also provides a (free) nutrient-rich fertilizer to use in your garden. A win-win! Many people think that any biodegradable item can be popped in the compost bin – this is, unfortunately, not the case. The terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ are not interchangeable. However, if a biodegradable item is not with laden chemicals that could contaminate the final product it is, generally, suitable. Gift tissue paper, thankfully, fits the bill!

As you might know – composting materials can be divided into two main categories. ‘Green’ materials refer to items that are rich in nitrogen such as coffee grounds. ‘Browns’ are rich in carbon and include items such as shredded paper.  Tissue paper – although not the most nutritious of ingredients – is carbon rich. It is important to ensure you have an adequate mixture of both ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ in your compost pile. Too much carbon-rich material can mean a dry pile, too many ‘greens’ can result in a sludgy mess. As with all composting, a bit of trial-and-error is required, but you won’t go far wrong with a 1:1 ratio. Monitor it and adjust as you go.

If you take the correct steps to make sure your compost pile is healthy, you should find composting tissue paper a really simple process. However, if you are new to composting, we have answered some of the most common newbie questions here to help you on your way.

Things to consider when composting paper tissue…

Before adding tissue paper to your compost pile, ensure that it does not have any additional synthetic elements such as glitter or tape. These, generally, won’t breakdown. And some may even introduce unwanted chemicals into the pile, contaminating the final product. You don’t want you fertilizer to do your garden more harm than good! On the topic of contamination – colored tissue paper is not considered toxic or a source of chemical leaching. But if you are concerned, err on the side of caution.

Ripping the tissue paper into smaller pieces before adding it to the pile is also recommended. It will help create gaps that will aid air flow. This allows oxygen to circulate which, in turn, helps the microbes work optimally and prevents a foul-smelling heap. It will also breakdown that little bit quicker.

The bottom line

Wrapping tissue paper is biodegradable and makes a suitable composting item. You likely won’t get a lot of compost from it – but it is, nonetheless, a great way to divert it from landfill where conditions are not ideal for natural breakdown. Make sure that it doesn’t have any plastics attached, rip in into bits and mix it in. You can’t go far wrong!