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To Flush or Not to Flush?

toilet paper

Is it better to flush toilet paper or throw it away?

Most sewage ends up either in a septic system or in a sewage treatment plant.

In either case, bacteria process the organic waste and decompose it, and--at the same time--decompose the cellulose fibers that make up toilet paper. And these bacteria release carbon dioxide as a byproduct--and that's a greenhouse gas. On the other hand, in landfills, once the oxygen is gone, garbage-eating bacteria take over that don't require oxygen. But this process produces methane, which has about 20 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.

Except that many sewage treatment plants use a similar process to degrade the solids that settle out of the wastewater. And because degradation happens faster in moist environments, this process may actually release more methane compared to landfills, where moisture is limited to avoid contaminating ground water. So it isn't really clear whether landfills or sewage treatment plants release more harmful gasses.

However, flushing is way more sanitary than carting used toilet paper to the local landfill.

Read More:

"Sewage or Trash?" (New York Times)

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