Can you recycle tissue boxes or tissues?

  • Date: June 30, 2022

With hay fever (allergic rhinitis) season in full flow, many people will be grabbing for the tissues. This, inevitably, leads to a lot of waste in the form of used tissues and empty tissue boxes. Tissue boxes are easily recyclable and are, typically, accepted in standard curbside collections. Tissues, used or otherwise, are not – but composting, may be an option. Here we will take a closer look at the eco-friendly disposal of tissue boxes and tissues…

Can you recycle tissue boxes (even those with plastic liners)?

Standard paper-based tissue boxes are one of the easiest items to recycle.  If in doubt, check with your local recycling center, however paper/cardboard items are generally accepted in the standard curbside collections. The ones with the plastic bit can also be recycled – although some recycling centers ask that you remove it, check out the rules in your local area first.

It is important to recycle where possible. Although the tissue boxes (minus the plastic insert) are biodegradable, if they end up in landfill it can take a lot more time than expected for them to breakdown naturally. Landfill conditions are not optimal – they tend to be cramped, making oxygen and moisture limited. Diverting them from landfill is key and recycling is the best option.

They can also be re-used around the house in many ways, from being repurposed into a garbage bag dispenser to a simple storage box. The YouTube channel Simplified Living have put together a short video with some great ideas. Check it out.

Can you recycle tissues?

Tissues, used or otherwise, are not suitable for recycling. Their paper fibers are much too short and this makes them unsuitable. The good news is that most tissues actually come from recycled paper – so they have been re-used already in different ways. But sadly, they are now at the end of their recycling journey!

But you can (usually) compost them…

Although tissues are a no-go for recycling due to their short fibers, they are not automatically destined for landfill. Composting may be an option. This will allow you to reduce the amount of household waste you send to landfill whilst providing you with some free, homemade nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. A win-win!

Germ-free tissues are great for composting. They are rich in carbon, so contribute well to the ‘brown’ elements of the compost pile. Paper tends to decompose well in the compost pile – they usually take between 4 and 6 weeks to break down fully. Tissues, being a relatively weak type of paper, breaks down even quicker.

In terms of used tissues, what you have used them for is an important factor. And even then, there is a wide variety of opinions. It is generally it considered okay to compost used tissues that have dried tears or saliva. In terms of illness – if you have a cold or flu and sneezed into a tissue, its best to avoid the regular compost bin. It is generally accepted that your average household compost pile does not reach the temperature to kill off the germs. However, in some areas (such as in Chittenden County, Vermont), a drop-off composting service is available. In the case of Chittenden County, they accept germ-ridden used tissues. Their composting facility equipment can reach higher temperatures than a standard garden pile. Pathogens don’t stand a chance!

If your tissue box is wet or dirty and not suitable for recycling, it can also be added to the compost pile. It will, generally, take a bit longer to break down than the tissues (since it is much thicker) but will add some much- needed carbon-rich material to the pile. Paper, and cardboard, also has the added benefit of providing structure to the compost pile. This allows air to flow easily and makes decomposition even more efficient. If you are new to composting, have a look at the answers to our common newbie questions here.

The bottom line

Tissue boxes are some of the most easily recyclable items out there – even with the plastic insert they can, generally, be recycled (but the recycling center sometimes prefer it to be removed). Tissues, on the other hand, are not suitable for recycling – but they can often be composted, depending on what they have been used for. Although tissue boxes and tissues are paper-based and biodegradable, diverting them from landfill via recycling or composting is so important for the health of the planet.