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Issues with tissues - to flush or not to flush?

The only facial tissues I normally buy are Woolworths ‘Essentials’ in packs of 224, or sometimes the similar ‘fragrance-free’ own-brand product from Coles. Both sell for $1 so are excellent value for money compared to name-brands.

Until recently, the Woolies’ product came only in a brown-and-white vine-patterned box which bore no disposal instructions. But now the ‘Essentials’ tissues also come in boxes decorated in ‘limited-edition’ artwork from a design competition. These do have disposal instructions, albeit in easily-overlooked small print: “DO NOT FLUSH. Dispose of in household waste”.

A simple test reveals that the tissues from the brown boxes disintegrate easily in water, like toilet paper, while those from the newly-appeared artwork boxes have wet-strength and remain intact when soaked. Thus no guilt should attach to flushing the former, but to do so with the latter would add to the sewage-treatment plant screen-blockage problem caused by the flushing of wet-strength paper towels and wipes. The Coles tissues also have wet-strength but, unlike the competing product from Woolworths, the boxes bear no disposal instructions.

This raises several issues. Firstly, I can see no good reason why, for most purposes for which they might be used, facial tissues need to have wet strength, thus limiting their disposal options. Secondly, all packs of facial tissues ought to carry appropriate disposal instructions, especially if they are non-flushable. Finally, does wet-strength affect the biodegradability of tissues (or other paper products) and so make composting unsuitable as an alternative means of disposal?

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So called flushable wipes were blocking drains tissues are not tbe same but im using this as another example of misleading information.

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I don’t understand your point. Neither the Woolworths nor the Coles product falsely claims to be flushable. Although in the latter case in particular, where disposal instructions are lacking, users might wrongly assume that that it is OK to flush.
I hope you weren’t implying my post is misleading.

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The only three things that are flushable are the three Ps. Poo, Pee and toilet Paper.

Tissues have never been flushable or recommended to be flushed down the toilet.

A great place for used paper based tissues is to add them to your compost bin if you have one. They break down quickly and add carbon to the mix.

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No i was not meaning anything by comment i put in

@phb, I bet there are many who wouldn’t think twice about flushing a facial tissue, and in the case of the non-wet-strength Woolworths product in the brown box I cannot see that it would cause a problem, because it disintegrates easily in water just like toilet tissue. But can you assert from personal experience or published data that wet-strength tissues break down properly in compost? And if it’s OK to compost used tissues that might carry harmful bacteria or viruses from nasal secretions, shouldn’t the same apply to composting used toilet paper?

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OK, thanks, @passerbye123.

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I thought i was reading it in a different way… I remember hearing about flushable wipes in the news some were misleading pipes were blocked

I believe some wipes are still misleadingly labelled.

And despite being labelled with the correct disposal instructions, a number of other things that shouldn’t be flushed nevertheless often are. A blockage of the drain at my house was triggered by a tampon, for example.

Both. I have worked in the resource recovery industry (including waste composting), and have lectured in the field as well. I also home compost nowdays.

They are cellulose fibres from trees, which have little nutrient value to plants, but compost quickly as they are a carbon source to the microbes which breakdown organic matter.

The different paper tissue types result from different processing techniques. They are all compostable, likewise other paper products used around the home.

I wouldn’t compost non-paper tissues as they may contain materials that don’t compost (like synthetics which are in wipes) or take a very long time to compost.

This is not an issue due to time. Most composting takes 3-6+ months and any viruses or bacteria will be long gone. Pathogenic viruses and bacteria don’t last long outside the human body.

If one achieves a hot compost, this also kills pathogenic viruses and bacteria quickly.

It is also worth noting that compost naturally is alive with microbes…they are the organisms which do the work to make the compost.

Toilet paper with faecal material is very different. Oocysts, pathogenic worms etc as well as pharmaceuticals etc can be present in faeces and survive a long time outside the human body. These typically won’t be removed/killed through aerobic backyard composting.

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Thank you @phb for a comprehensive and most informative reply. I humbly bow to your superior knowledge and experience!

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I think this is a very good point. I believe the majority of people would think like me and in the absence of advice to the contrary would assume facial tissues are manufactured in the same way as toilet tissue and are therefore quite flushable.

Conversely, I am well aware that wipes are not flushable. I have a septic system but never suspected there could be an issue with facial tissues until now. It is crucial consumer information.

I also agree with NPOF in wondering why facial tissues need wet strength. Thank you for the post!

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Not certain, but I wonder if it is due to the action of sneezing/blowing which placed significant forces on tissues, either when wet or dry. The higher the wet strength, the more likely the tissue will hold together when wet. Maybe since Covid, stronger wet tissues are better to ensure a blow or sneeze doesn’t blow straight through the tissue into the surrounding air, potentially increasing risk of aerosol inhalation by others.

Wet strength doesn’t appear to relate to flushability. This test is different. See…

And this document.

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In the flushable things category Yarra Valley Water recently had ‘survey II’ that included a question about products one would consider buying from them.

Drum Roll: Flushable wipes was one of the products listed.

They do not have ‘retail’ yet but seem to be actively considering when to roll it out and what to offer. When ‘the water company’ sells ‘flushables’ the foundations of debate shift regardless of details.

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Facial tissue breaks down in a different way to toilet paper. CHOICE even did a short video in February 2018 with a quote from Sydney Water
Why you shouldn’t flush tissues – CHOICE - YouTube

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I cam here to also share the 3 Ps :slight_smile:

After seeing in particular the references to Choice’s 2018 examination of this topic, and also @phb’s erudite dissertation on the subject, I have formed the opinion that maybe I ought to have done a tad more research before initiating the present thread.

With the aid of a teaspoon and a glass of water, I have conducted a dispersion experiment of my own. This confirms that toilet paper (I tried two brands) indeed disintegrates readily and completely. A facial tissue from one of the new ‘limited edition’ Woolworths ‘Essentials’ boxes remained intact and simply draped around the spoon. A tissue from one of the previous brown-and-white ‘Essentials’ boxes behaved quite differently. It did take longer than toilet paper to break down and did not do so quite as completely, but even so it dispersed pretty well (see photo), and I should therefore not feel extreme remorse or that I must do severe penance if I were found to have flushed one of these.

Also, I had occasion to visit my local Woolies yesterday and took the opportunity to check out the labelling on the various brands of facial tissues on the shelves. As I reported previously, the new-style boxes of the ‘Essentials’ tissues carry a do-not-flush warning. The same is true for all the following makes: Symphony (another Woolworths own-brand), Quilton, Sorbent, Vevelle and Kleenex. Perhaps ironically, given their name, No Issues Eco tissues (derived from bamboo), lacked any disposal advice. They thus share this feature with the ‘Essentials’ tissues from the previous brown-and-white boxes and the own-brand budget tissues from Coles.

None of the products was tagged as compostable, though. Should they be? Or would there be concern that although any pathogens the used tissues might contain might be inactivated during the composting process, there would be an infection risk for those handling the tissues beforehand? I find it hard to believe such risk would be much greater than that attached to handling general household waste containing the tissues. And where the local council has a FOGO collection service, used tissues and paper towels are normally approved for inclusion, e.g. https://www.warrnambool.vic.gov.au/sites/warrnambool.vic.gov.au/files/documents/Residents/waste_management/FOGO%20FAQ.pdf. The FOGO waste is professionally composted too, whereas an inexpertly-conducted DIY composting job might not attain the temperatures necessary to inactivate the relevant pathogens in a reasonably short space of time. Then again, even professionally produced compost can pose some health risks of its own to the user. For example, go to https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/legionnaires-disease and scroll down to the heading “Take care with potting mix”. Or go to Bunnings and read the safety warnings on the bags of compost and potting mix.

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@phb seems to have answered this.

P.S.
Bamboo toilet paper and tissues are manufactured by the same process as products made from trees/wood chip (wood pulp).

Without testing these tissues who knows, they too may not breakdown readily?

Like many Australian homes we don’t have access to reticulated sewage. The proposition is much simpler. Do I want to risk clogging up the septic, the transfer pump or …

The 3 P’s rule works fine.

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I’m aware @phb covered the issue of the fate of pathogens during the composting of tissues. Maybe I could have worded my comments better, but what I was attempting to explore was the reason why tissue manufacturers don’t suggest composting or, where there is a service available, inclusion with FOGO waste, as alternatives to disposal in general household waste. And if, as appears to be the case, there is no substantial reason to exclude those options, shouldn’t their mention on the box be at least encouraged, or even mandatory?

I’d also like to see the labelling always include the country of origin, rather than “Packed in Australia from imported materials”.

Unfortunately many businesses are risk adverse (run by accountants and lawyers). Composting tissues are a risk which they possibly don’t want to promote as they aren’t in control of the outcome…they can’t guarantee that the tissues will be composted for many months and decompose forming organic matter (and free of short living nasal pathogens). As they can’t control the outcome, they are likely to believe that if they make such disposal techniques as a recommendation, they may take on some of the responsibility/liability if a consumer does not compost a tissue properly and in the rare event, something goes wrong.

They possibly also don’t realise that a healthy compost would pose far more risk than a fugitive tissue which hasn’t been composted.