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What is the most sustainable way to dispose of toilet paper?

Certainly you must have come across a sign that said "Do not dispose of toilet paper in the toilet" in any bathroom you have ever been in. This is because here in Brazil it is not a custom, different from what happens in other countries such as Belgium for example.

One of the main reasons is the plumbing system in our country that was not planned for this type of disposal, which may not accept it and lead to clogging. However, according to Companhia de Saneamento Básico do Estado de São Paulo (SABESP), the main reason for clogging is the disposal of garbage, but they also do not recommend disposing of the paper.

Below we will see some pros and cons in relation to this disposal here in Brazil:


Less plastic

Considering an ideal scenario, where the sewage network is prepared to receive the paper, the raw material for toilet paper would not offer any environmental risk or risk to sewage treatment and would still provide the advantage of reducing the quantity of one of the biggest enemies of landfills: the plastic bag - plastic bags can take up to a thousand years to decompose.

Lower risk of biological contamination

Bathroom garbage often containS substances such as blood, feces, urine and wound secretions. Especially considering the covid-19 pandemic, cleaning agents may be exposed to biological contamination risks, especially if these garbage bags are visited by animals while awaiting collection at public dumps. Waste pickers, who sometimes search for recyclable items in bins with waste that has not been sorted already, may also be at risk. From this perspective, flushing waste wins hands down.

Greater convenience

The same decreased risk as the previous topic applies here as well. Spending less time at residence, dirty toilet paper is less likely to contaminate residents of the same house (if someone has an infectious disease), as well as avoiding handling the biological waste in general.

Easy to treat

The main compound of toilet paper is cellulose fiber, which is naturally biodegradable. When thrown into the water, this type of paper breaks down into small fiber particles. Although it does not dissolve, these residues are normally retained in one of the stages of sewage treatment, offering no complications in process efficiency.


Lack of infrastructure

There is still a lack of infrastructure in Brazilian hydraulic projects, it would be necessary to use different types of pipes at the residential level and/or sanitary crushers. In terms of structure, public areas would not suffer a great impact, but in residential areas as the citizens themselves would have to bear the costs. This makes it unfeasible, taking into account the income of the average Brazilian. The cheaper option would be to separate the sewage pipes. In Brazil, this is a measure recently taken by some construction companies, but it is not a rule.

Sewage treatment needs to improve

Sewage collection in Brazil does not reach 47% of Brazilians. Of the 53% that is collected, only 46% is treated, according to data from Pesquisa Nacional de Saneamento Básico [National sanitation survey] (PNSB), from Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE). Therefore, disposal may not be even a viable option, as sanitation is not complete and there are gaps in treatment, which can cause these residues to reach rivers, streams and seas.

Occasional clogging

When toilet paper is released into the sewage system, the greatest risk is clogging the residential network, rarely affecting the public network. However, taking into account other improperly disposed waste, such as solid waste and fats present in the sewers, there is a possibility that these paper fibers aggregate into these particles and create obstructions.

Higher water expenses

More potable water is required to flush toilet paper, as even if it is diluted in the liquid medium, it requires a higher pressure to pass through the plumbing and consequently costs more.


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