An analysis of the breakdown of paper products (toilet paper, tissues and tampons) in natural environments, Tasmania, Australia

J Environ Manage. 2005 Jan;74(1):21-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2004.08.004.


An examination of the relative breakdown rates of unused toilet paper, facial tissues and tampons was undertaken in nine different environments typical of Tasmanian natural areas. Bags of the paper products (toilet paper, facial tissues, tampons) were buried for periods of 6, 12 and 24 months at depths of 5 and 15 cm. A nutrient solution simulating human body wastes was added to half of the samples, to test the hypothesis that the addition of nutrients would enhance the breakdown of paper products buried in the soil. Mean annual rainfall was the most important measured variable determining mean breakdown in the nutrient addition treatment between sites, with high rainfall sites (mean annual rainfall of greater than 650 mm) recording less decayed products than the drier sites (mean annual rainfall of 500-650 mm). Temperature and soil organic content were important influences on the breakdown of the unfertilised products. Toilet paper and tissues decayed more readily than tampons. Nutrient addition enhanced decay for all products across all sites. Depth of burial was not important in determining the degree to which products decayed. In alpine environments, burial under rocks at the surface did not increase the speed of decay of any product. The Western Alpine site, typical of alpine sites in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, showed very little decay over the two-year period, even for nutrient enhanced products. Management prescriptions should be amended to dissuade people from depositing human toilet waste in the extreme (montane to alpine) environments in western Tasmania. Tampons should continue to be carried out as currently prescribed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Environment
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Paper*
  • Rain
  • Recreation
  • Refuse Disposal*
  • Sewage
  • Soil Pollutants*
  • Tampons, Surgical*
  • Tasmania


  • Sewage
  • Soil Pollutants