Is tissue paper recyclable?

Tissue paper is an extremely light paper that we primarily use to clean surfaces or to maintain personal hygiene. In this article, I will answer the question of whether tissue paper is recyclable. 

Additionally, I will explain what can be done with used tissue paper and if recycling is an option. Lastly, I will discuss the impacts of over-using tissue paper on the environment.

Can tissue paper be recycled? 

Yes, tissue paper can be recycled. However, in most cases, it isn’t.  

The reason tissue is mostly not recycled is because of its use. It’s used to wipe off bodily fluids like sweat, saliva, and mucus. 

In other cases, it’s used to clean surfaces. The dust, grime, greases, and fluids tissue paper accumulates make it very hard to clean. And this is why most cities do not recycle tissue paper.  

Tissue paper is sometimes used as decoration or in packaging or gift wrapping, in these cases, it can be thrown into the recycling bin. 

One thing to take note of is that, no matter what the material is, your city may or may not recycle said item, so it is always important to check local guidelines on recyclable items. 

Tissue paper is a widely used commodity in almost every household. It comes in many shapes, sizes, and textures for a variety of needs. 

In 2018, a survey showed that per capita consumption of tissue paper was 25.6 kilograms whereas the global average was 5.2 kilograms. 

Needless to say that tissue paper consumption borders on wastefulness in North America.

If it cannot be recycled, it means all this tissue ends up in the landfill. 

The other obstacle in recycled tissue paper is the quality of the pulp made from it. The pulp is very low quality and generally cannot be used to make a variety of recycled goods. This is why most cities instruct their citizens to simply discard tissue paper. 

What is tissue paper made of? 

Tissue paper is often made from recycled paper. The thin, light texture of the material makes it possible to be made from low-quality pulp. 

In most countries, tissue paper is made from recycled paper which gives it a rough texture. This rough texture is the only drawback of making tissue paper from recycled material. 

This roughness also makes it unappealing to many customers who expect a soft, smooth texture in their products. 

This level of softness is not attainable from recycled paper, which is why many companies like Kleenex make their products from high-grade wood pulp.  

This pulp is treated with certain chemicals which gives Kleenex its signature smoothness. 

Until recently almost all the tissue paper was either made by soft or hardwood pulp or old cartons and paper. 

These days, some companies are making “biodegradable” tissue paper which is a bit pricier than regular tissue paper. 

These are made of sustainable sources, such as, 

  • Hemp
  • Bamboo
  • Kenaf
  • Sugar cane by-product

What to do with used tissue paper: 

Most of the tissue we use will be dirty and cannot be recycled. A great way to make use of this waste is by composting it. Tissue is made of short wood fibers which makes it biodegradable. Adding tissue to compost makes it less smelly, tissue also retains more water which makes the compost less leaky. 

According to the City of Calgary, facial tissues used to wipe, sweat, mucus or saliva can be composted. Paper towels or napkins used to soak up drinks or wipe food or grease off of kitchen counters can also be composted.  

Keep in mind that any tissue used to clean a surface with cleaning agents, or tissue used to remove makeup cannot be composted. Any tissue which comes in contact with chemicals is not compostable. These would release dangerous chemicals into the compost and can harm the plants or the people working with the compost. 

Any tissue contaminated with blood, makeup, or cleaning agents should be thrown into the garbage.  

The decomposition rate of tissue relies on a variety of factors, temperature, moisture level, pH of the soil, etc. In colder, drier climates it breaks down much slower than hot, humid climates. 

Is tissue paper bad for the environment? 

The answer is, yes. It is bad for the environment in most cases.  

As things stand now, most consumers prefer soft ply tissue. These soft ply tissue cannot be made from recycled paper because tissue made from recycled paper cannot be made to have the desired texture. 

As a result, companies rely on wood-pulp to make these, which ends up causing more deforestation. 

The number of trees cut down each year to make tissue paper is staggeringly high at 27,000 trees per day. 

The wood needed for tissue is sourced from boreal forests. Boreal forests lie just below the arctic circle spanning Canada, Alaska, Russia, and China. 

It’s the snow covered crown of this planet that houses millions of acres of land. Pine trees are the main vegetation of this forest. 

Over the last 30 years, millions of acres of boreal forest have been cleared out to make industrial goods, the top among which is tissue paper. 

Other than the high environmental costs, tissue paper can also fill up in landfills. 

Tissue paper is biodegradable, under the right conditions it can degrade in a matter of months. However, how the tissue is disposed of is very important. If it’s thrown out in dry and in another packaging, for example, it can take years for it to decompose.  

Sometimes some chemical agents are added to make the fibers bind more strongly. These tissues are harder to decompose and take longer. 

Even though all tissue is biodegradable since they are all made from wood or alternative sources like bamboo or hemp, not all tissues decompose at the same rate. 

Even though all tissue is degradable, only tissue made from alternative sources is labeled biodegradable. 

Regular tissue paper takes around a few months to fully decompose. The tissues labeled as biodegradable by the manufacturers decompose up to 4 times faster than regular tissue. 

For example, some tissue made of hemp decomposes in a matter of weeks.

Most biodegradable tissues are better for the environment than regular tissue. They take less water to decompose. 

The manufacturing process of these tissues is also environmentally more sustainable. The most harmful of the alternative tissues would be the bamboo-derived tissue. 

These take a lot of energy to produce. The rough texture of bamboo also requires the product to undergo extensive chemical treatments before it’s packaged.

Even so, all of the biodegradable tissue is environmentally friendlier than regular tissue. 

Regular tissue paper is hard to recycle and most cities instruct its citizens to throw it in a compost pile or in the garbage if they contain harmful chemicals or plastic. 

The overuse of tissue, especially in North America, is a matter of concern for all of us as the product is made from wood. Cutting down woodlands to make tissue paper has been the cause of mass deforestation in the boreal forest. 

To reforest these lands we will have to wait at least 100 years. What’s even worse is some lands are so damaged by heavy machinery used to cut down and transport trees, it’ll take decades for them to recover. This means it’ll be a long time before any vegetation grows on these patches. 

Tissue paper manufacturing has many direct and indirect influences on the environment, it is up to us to make more sensible and informed decisions about how we use tissue moving forward. 

Even though biodegradable tissue is a tad bit more expensive than regular tissue, it’s still a worthwhile investment if you think about the number of trees we can keep from being cut down. 

Tissue paper from recycled material is also a better alternative to regular tissue. Even if it doesn’t have a smooth and soft texture, it’s still a better alternative if you consider the environment. 

 

Conclusion

In this article, I answered the question of whether tissue paper is recyclable. 

Additionally, I explained what can be done with used tissue paper and if recycling is an option. Lastly, I discussed the impacts of over-using tissue paper on the environment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is tissue paper recyclable? 

Is used tissue paper recyclable? 

No. Tissue paper that’s used to wipe bodily fluids, grease, or any type of dirt or chemicals is not-recyclable. However, if it’s used for packaging or decoration it can be recycled. Make sure to check your city’s policy on tissue paper recycling.

Is coloured tissue paper recyclable? 

Coloured tissue paper usually contains dies and chemicals which some recycling centers do not accept. But clean tissue is accepted by some recycling centers, you have to check with the local authorities. 

Should I recycle tissue paper or compost it? 

Clean tissue can be recycled. Simply throw it in the curbside recycling. However, the majority of tissue paper is used which contaminates it with biological wastes, grease, chemicals, and food wastes. This contaminated tissue is better off composted. You can drop it off at a local composting center or make your garden compost. 

Is tissue paper biodegradable? 

Yes, it is. Tissue paper is made with wood pulp which is an organic material. This decomposes in the soil. 

Can colored tissue paper be composted? 

Yes, it can be composted. However, make sure it does not have any plastic or glitter attached to it.

 

Is tissue paper eco-friendly? 

Not in most cases. If it is made from recycled paper then it is eco-friendly for the most part. However, some companies use fresh wood pulp to make tissues soft and smooth. 

Excess use of these types of tissue paper imposes a burden on our forests as it exacerbates the issue of deforestation. 

Moreover, biodegradable tissue paper made from bamboo requires a lot of energy to make, which makes it a bad alternative to regular tissue paper. 

References: 

  1. Tissue Paper – San Jose Recycles. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://sanjoserecycles.org/guide/tissue-paper/
  2. Tissue Paper: To Recycle or Compost?. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://www.ecoenclose.com/blog/tissue-paper-to-recycle-or-compost/
  3. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://www.beeco.green/facts/is-tissue-paper-recyclable/
  4. How do I recycle specialty gift wrap like tissue paper or shiny wrapping paper?. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://sfenvironment.org/recycle-specialty-gift-wrap-tissue-paper-or-shiny-wrapping-paper
  5. Is Tissue Paper Recyclable? (And Is It Compostable?) – Conserve Energy Future. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/is-tissue-paper-recyclable.php
  6. 5 Things You Didn’t Know You Can’t Recycle. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://www.thisiseco.co.uk/news_and_blog/5_Things_You_Didnt_Know_You_Cant_Recycle.html
  7. Is tissue paper eco-friendly? – Packaging Ideas and Guides. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://www.transpack.co.uk/blog/is-tissue-paper-eco-friendly/
  8. Is Tissue Paper Biodegradable and Eco-friendly? – HankyBook. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://hankybook.com/is-tissue-paper-biodegradable/
  9. Is Tissue Paper Biodegradable? – Thinking Sustainably. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://www.thinkingsustainably.com/is-tissue-paper-biodegradable/
  10. Soft Tissue Paper is Hard on the Environment — Simple Ecology. (2021). Retrieved 1 December 2021, from https://www.simpleecology.com/blog/soft-tissue-paper

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