A second life for used toilet paper

22 000 kilometres of toilet paper in Dutch sewage per day

Did you know that a citizen of Western Europe uses an average of 10 to 14 kilo toilet paper each year and that globally about 83 million rolls are produced per day? In the Netherlands it means that we flush approximately 22 000 kilometres of paper down our toilets each day. All this paper ends up as sewage sludge and is dried composted or incinerated. Imagine if we could be able to give all this waste material a new life.

Research conducted by Bioclear earth shows that it is technically possible to recycle this waste product. After treating the sewage sludge with fine screens, the sieved material that is secreted mainly consist of cellulose, which has enormous potential as a raw material. It can be recycled as insulation material, cat litter or as an additive to asphalt for road-construction, and can also be used for the production of basic chemicals.

What about the hygiene?

Because of the bad image of sewage sludge, recycling this material is objectionable. Therefore an important issue in this project was to guarantee a hygienic final product. By combining the expertise of several companies in the recycling chain of this product, it is possible to make this sewage sludge suitable as a raw material for new products.

For water control boards recycling of sewage sludge is very profitable. It leads to a considerable reduction of the costs of sludge processing and delivers a tradable raw material.

From waste to cycling enjoyment

This project of giving toilet paper a second life resulted in a practical application of this waste material; we used it to improve the homogeneity of asphalt.  A “bicycle highway” was constructed in the village of Jelsum with the sewage sludge as component. This “bicycle highway” is the first of its kind worldwide. Now kilometres of waste toilet paper have become kilometres of cycling enjoyment.

Waste flows like sewage sludge will always remain a part of our existence and therefore are an inexhaustible resource of raw materials. Recycling of these waste flows are an indispensable step towards a sustainable future.


Rik Winters
Senior consultant water