Are toilet paper rolls biodegradable? Can they be composted?! You bet!

  • Date: June 8, 2022

It is estimated that every American uses three toilet rolls a week. Although this is contested, even if we used half of that, the waste we produce in terms of toilet paper tubes is astronomical! Since they are made from cardboard they are biodegradable and, thankfully, they contain no nasty substances that could rule out composting. Here we will take a closer look and consider some of the ways to make the process even more straight-forward…

Firstly, what are toilet paper rolls made from?

If we know what an item is actually composed of, it gives us a good idea as to whether it is biodegradable and/or compostable or not. Toilet paper rolls are made from thin cardboard. This is a natural product that is made from the cellulose fibers of hardwood or softwood trees.

They ensure that the product maintains its shape throughout the supply chain and enable us to attach the roll to a traditional holder in the bathroom. However, in terms of the environment, they are not ideal – we go through a LOT of toilet paper and this leads to a lot of excess waste.  

Are toilet paper rolls/tubes biodegradable?

Although not the only sign of a planet-friendly item, biodegradability is always a good sign! Biodegradability refers to when an item can be broken down by micro-organisms, such as bacteria, into its component parts. Essentially, it allows the item to return to nature and provide some nourishment to the environment.

Generally, items that come from nature can return to nature by biodegradation whilst synthetic items (like, say, plastic bottles) will not biodegrade. Synthetic materials will, instead, breakdown into tiny pieces over time – and can cause more harm than good to the environment.

Since toilet paper rolls are made from cardboard, and the cardboard originated from trees, these are classed as biodegradable. In suitable conditions, they will take a matter of months to biodegrade – not bad going!

However, it should be stressed here that there must be suitable conditions. Many people think that an item will biodegrade in landfill in the quoted timeframes. This is, often, not the case. Poor airflow and lack of sufficient moisture can make the breakdown process challenging, even for the most biodegradable items! You should always take this into consideration when disposing of a natural, biodegradable item. Try to divert it from landfill any way you can – whether that be composting, recycling or re-use.

So, can you compost toilet paper rolls/tubes?

The process of composting allows us to dispose of household waste. You are, basically, providing the best conditions for natural breakdown – and reaping the rewards in the form of nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden!

Toilet paper rolls are biodegradable – so they must be compostable, right? This is a common myth amongst the general, non-composting public. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Although all compostable items are biodegradable, not all biodegradable items can be composted! There can be several reasons why an item is not fit for you compost pile or bin.  For example, biodegradable items may contain chemicals or biological waste that could cause contamination and damage plants that you use the final fertilizer product on. Some items may even attract unwanted pests in your yard.

As far as composting goes though, it doesn’t get much easier than composting cardboard – especially the thin stuff that toilet rolls are made from!

Toilet paper rolls, and other cardboard items, do not provide the most nutrients when compared to other items such as food scraps. However, in addition to adding to the carbon-rich portion of the ratio, they can play a vital role in other ways too. The toilet roll tubes pieces within the compost will help give the pile some extra structure. This allows air to flow freely which aids the breakdown process. It can also soak up extra moisture – which, if left, can lead to unwanted odors.

Things to consider when composting toilet paper rolls/tubes…

It is good practice when composting any item, from crab shells to linen, to chop/rip/grind items into small pieces. It will speed up the process – the microbes have more surface area to work on. It also ensures the benefits of a particular ingredient (moisture-wicking, structure and carbon in the case of toilet roll tubes) can be spread to all areas of the pile. Pop the pieces in and give the pile a good mix. If you haven’t done this step before adding an item to your pile it is not a big problem. It will still break down but may simply take a little bit longer to do so.

More importantly, you must be careful not to add too many toilet roll tubes to your home compost pile. In the composting world items fits into two main types: carbon-rich ‘browns’ and nitrogen-rich ‘greens’. Toilet roll tubes, and cardboard in general, falls firmly in the ‘brown’ category. As you may know, you need an adequate mixture of the two types for a well-functioning compost pile. Too much carbon can lead to dryness and an ant infestation.  Be sure to monitor it regularly as you go and make the necessary changes to maintain the health of your pile. 

The bottom line

Cardboard toilet roll tubes, although biodegradable, should be diverted from landfill where possible. Composting is a great way to do this – whilst getting some homemade fertilizer into the bargain! It adds some carbon to the pile whilst providing additional benefits, such as structure, too. Whilst recycling is, arguably, a better option since less new cardboard needs to be produced, composting is a great option too.