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Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper
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Jason Klass
(jasonklass) - F

Locale: Parker, CO
Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/10/2007 05:14:16 MDT Print View

After reading conflicting information on the net, I'm wondering if someone can answer this question for me: will biodegradable toilet paper still break down in arid climates such as Southern Utah or Colorado?

PLEASE NOTE: I am not asking about the ethical or legal implications of using toilet paper in the back country--only the science behind decomposition.

If anyone has particular ecological or other scientific expertise in this area, I would love to hear an explanation of why or why it won't break down. Thanks!

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/10/2007 11:44:20 MDT Print View

I am interested in knowing too... particularly in a desert environment. If biodegradable toilet paper is used and buried in catholes 4-6 inches deep in the desert ground, will they biodegrade away nicely? Or will it take an inordinate length of time? Thanks.

Edited by ben2world on 04/10/2007 11:45:37 MDT.

Colleen Clemens
(tarbubble) - F

Locale: dirtville, CA
Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/10/2007 11:50:31 MDT Print View

i am no expert, but it has been my experience that very little will biodegrade in arid environments. it's the same principle that applies to food storage - moisture & oxidants are the enemy. arid environments have oxidants, but without moisture they work much more slowly. unless you bury that toilet paper in moist soil (actual soil with organic matter in it, not just sand), it's not going to decompose any time within your lifetime. again, i'm not a scientist, i'm just going off of my experience that the desert tends to preserve rather than decay.

Jason Klass
(jasonklass) - F

Locale: Parker, CO
Re: Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/10/2007 17:29:35 MDT Print View

I understand that moisture is a component of decomposition but, there is some moisture in the Southwest and there are certainly microbes. My questions is if toilet paper that is made to be biodegradable will decompose in arid climates because somehow it breaks down more easily. Would there be enough moisture in a desert environment let's say 10 or 12 inches under the surface to aid decomposition?

I've read that burying anything anywhere actually slows down decomposition (even in more humid environments).

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/10/2007 17:46:12 MDT Print View

Because almost all of the US Southwest has an annual wet season, I'll speculate that some amount of decomposition will indeed occur, helped by moisture flux. Chronically dry regions could probably preserve toilet paper for decades, however. (In porous soils you'd still get some oxidation.) An argument for burning?

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/10/2007 18:38:25 MDT Print View

Hmmm... given that folks can only deposit solid wastes in areas far away from any water source, then by definition, those would be the areas least conducive to decomposition! That may be the reason for the rule against leaving toilet papers in those desert areas...

Edited by ben2world on 04/10/2007 18:39:19 MDT.

Colleen Clemens
(tarbubble) - F

Locale: dirtville, CA
Re: Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/11/2007 10:00:27 MDT Print View

by analyzing human fecal samples found at ancient Anasazi sites on the Colorado Plateau, scientists were able to determine that at the very end of the Anasazi civilization, everything went ape-poo enough that a few somebodies engaged in cannibalism.

what this tells me is that the high deserts are indeed excellent places to preserve poo-poo for thousands of years. now, due to its semi-fragile nature, i assume TP wouldn't last quite as long, but it would definitely linger for a while.

i always pack out my TP.

burning is only a good idea if you are ABSOLUTELY nowhere near anything flammable. like barren sand in every direction. there was a big fire in the Grand canyon just a few years ago - TP burning. there is a section of the PCT in the Angeles NF that features no trees now - TP burning.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/13/2007 17:28:50 MDT Print View

I'm a member of the burn-it-in-the-cathole club. Very little left when you get through. If fire danger is a concern, hold off on emptying your bladder until after burning is complete(an un-natural act, I admit) and then quench the embers. This is SOP for me in the backcountry. In desert areas it would have the added benefit of providing moisture to get the decomposition process started.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/13/2007 17:42:02 MDT Print View

"burying anything anywhere actually slows down decomposition". The reason burying something slows down decomposition is that it deprives the process of oxygen, and the most efficient decomposition is by aerobic bacteria. However, you have to bring the substrate in contact with soil to provide the decomposing bacteria access to it-they're not very mobile. In agriculture, the rule of thumb is to bury the material to be decomposed(fertilizer, cover crop, etc) no deeper than 4 inches, in order to provide adequate oxygen for the bacteria. This is supported by a lot of research that shows the number of bacteria in soil declining rapidly below 4 inches or so, depending on soil type. I would guess that is why cat-holes are supposed to be ~6 inches deep? 2 inches for fecal matter covered by 4 inches of soil?

Steve O
(HechoEnDetroit) - F

Locale: South Kak
TP Biodegradation on 11/28/2007 21:25:57 MST Print View

Q:
"will biodegradable toilet paper still break down in arid climates such as Southern Utah or Colorado?"

A:
If the cathole is in moist soil, yes it will break down. If the soil is bone dry, then no, it won't. As the previous poster noted, the cathole shouldn't be very deep due to the aerobic microbes' requirements for oxygen. You will need to balance these two issues. One caveat: if the soil is salty (I know some desert soils can be salty) that may impede degradation.

More rambling:
Microbes need 4 things before they can decompose TP: Proper temperatures (hopefully above freezing), a nitrogen source (your excrement has plenty of "N"), a carbon source (TP and faeces are carbon rich but urine is not), and moisture.

I have often thought that burying extra carbon (ie: TP) with a nice "steamy one" could be seen as benefitial from soil and water quality prospectives. The extra carbon provided by the TP helps to tie-up "N" that could be leached down into a shallow aquifer or into nearby surface water (a bad thing). Later, the N (and other nutrients) will be slowly released and hopefully utilized by surrounding vegetation. In addition, the TP coould increase the water available to microbes for degradation as well as mediate fluctuations.

This corresponds with how gardeners and farmers compost their manure. Raw manure is rarely applied as it provides too much N at once.

Anyone care to do some field testing?

Edited by HechoEnDetroit on 11/29/2007 11:55:15 MST.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Anyone care to do some field testing? on 11/29/2007 13:04:10 MST Print View

We're always doing field testings!!! What we lack are volunteers to analyze results and report back! :)

Steve O
(HechoEnDetroit) - F

Locale: South Kak
TP Field Testing on 12/14/2007 02:27:36 MST Print View

Ahh, I can see it now, a multilocation completely randomized split-split plot design. Maybe BPL has some funds available for this kind of research?

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: Re: Science question: Biodegradable Toilet Paper on 04/30/2010 16:46:40 MDT Print View

> there is a section of the PCT in the Angeles NF that features no trees now - TP burning.
Colleen, are you serious? Which fire is that and when did that occur?

Thanks,

HJ

John A
(JohnA) - F

Locale: Great Lakes State
Re: TP Field Testing on 05/02/2010 07:24:05 MDT Print View

Isn't there some Google Earth application that could be used to map these locations with GPS? Quite the Geocache find.


JohnA

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: TP Study on 05/02/2010 07:36:49 MDT Print View

"If anyone has particular ecological or other scientific expertise in this area, I would love to hear an explanation of why or why it won't break down."

Lynn Tramper cited This Study.


Edit: Found it. Linked it.

Edited by greg23 on 05/02/2010 07:45:04 MDT.

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: TP Study on 05/02/2010 20:02:21 MDT Print View

Interesting. Thank you, Greg.

So basically, whether it's specifically designed to be biodegradable or not, pretty much any TP is going to be gone in two years.

Seems like (am I over reaching here?) that burying TP isn't a big deal except maybe in high use areas. Is that a fair conclusion?

HJ

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: TP Study on 05/02/2010 20:14:59 MDT Print View

I provide links to studies,
but you won't get Me to offer an Opinion on this topic ;-)

oh baby....no way.....

Hikin' Jim
(hikin_jim) - MLife

Locale: Orange County, CA, USA
Re: Re: TP Study on 05/02/2010 23:55:25 MDT Print View

lol. Tough crowd, eh?

Thanks again for the link,

HJ