Give Now

A Moment of Science

Is It Better To Flush Toilet Paper Or Throw It In The Trash?

Is flushing or throwing away better for the environment?

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 twenty times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.

So, from this perspective, it’s clearly better to flush.

Sewage Treatment Plants

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

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science