A generation ago, choices of toilet paper were pretty limited. A sufficient supply of single white rolls, wrapped in another sheet of heavy paper, was all anyone cared about. The consumer threw a few rolls into the cart, checked out, put the toilet paper in the cupboard, and that was it. Toilet paper was all very much the same, no matter what the brand. Thanks to television advertising, consumers knew about a half dozen different brands and their relative merits. No one seemed to ask about the best biodegradable toilet paper, because once the paper got flushed into the septic holding tank or into the municipal sewage system it just disappeared, never to be seen again – one hoped.
Toilet paper became kind of sophisticated as time went on. Some was colored to match the bathroom decor (soft pink, blue or yelllow) and it might even by scented. It was certainly bleached white, at least, with strong chlorine. More layers (or "plys") were added to the standard toilet tissue, and consumers were alerted to factors such strength, absorption index (as in all those ads where a blue fluid is spilled onto different toilet papers), and softness. Even texture became an advertising point.
Why Buy Biodegradable?
Toilet paper, though, is something of an environmental nightmare. It is often made from virgin wood pulp, cut from standing forests. It has to be made into paper pulp and then bleached before it is formed into sheets and plyed. Trimming can generate a lot of waste too. The worst factor for health purposes is that some toilet papers do not biodegrade – break down into simple carbon compounds – very quickly. Septic systems can become clogged and overflow. Municipal systems have to hold sludge longer, and a spillover into a waterway turns a river into a nasty, smelly, polluted cesspool. Anyone who has seen this has a vivid memory of snags of toilet paper caught along the shoreline.
The best biodegradable toilet paper is now labeled as "Dissolves Fast." Two brands made for RV and marine use are Thetford Quick Dissolve and KV Marine Toilet Paper. They are still somewhat more expensive than the usual consumer product from the supermarket, but they have been in use for years and are reliable in tempermental systems. Scott Paper makes a "Rapid Dissolve" toilet paper that is popular with people living with rural septic systems."Dissolves Fast" has been a selling point to sailors, homesteaders and campers for several decades. Low-water, vacuum assisted marine heads, composting toilets and RV toilets need paper that can disintegrate in water quickly, facilitating pump-outs and clean dispersal. The drawback was that the consumer had to travel to a marine or RV supply store, and the toilet paper was expensive. For most people, it was worth it to avoid the horror of a plugged and backed up holding tank.
Discount and Premium Brands
An alternative is to buy cheap toilet paper. Thin, low-cost toilet paper as sold in discount outlets and even dollar stores is just plain wood pulp, rolled thin, perforated. It may not be a bargain overall, since the user is tempted to employ extra. It is practical for situations where economy and biodegradable quality are high priorities, such as in an old-fashioned privy or in a rural house with an antiquated septic system.
Premium grade toilet papers do not have the same biodegradable factor, having been made thicker to give the user confidence that the product offers the desired protection in use.
Some premium toilet paper manufacturers have hearkened to the voice of environmentalists, and now make toilet paper from recycled wood fibers, usually waste from paper manufacturing or reclaimed post-consumer paper. It seems to have been a hard battle to overcome the uneasiness of consumers concerning using recycled paper in toilet tissue. The first impression is that toilet paper itself has been recycled. This is, fortunately, not true. Toilet paper is always an end use product. But newsprint, office paper, and cardboard can all by broken down into the original treated wood pulp, and manufactured into new product.
Marcal, 7th Generation, Ecosoft and 2nd Generation all make toilet paper products that biodegrade quickly and do not use chlorine bleach. Some of their products are advertised as "premium," a comparison to the usual products like Charmin and Cashmere. 2nd Generation makes a toilet paper product from the waste products of other industries, using bagasse, which is sugar cane fiber, and eucalyptus in their pulp.
In comparison, I would choose the 7th Generation product as the best biodegradable toilet paper, with Scott as a close second choice. When we lived on a property that had a privy only, the very cheapest paper, often unbranded, degraded the fastest.