Really Radical Recycling!

Nappies | Urine | Toilet Paper | Composting Toilets | Human Faeces | Tampons & Sanitary pads | Tissues | Paper Towels
Recycling sitemap

To recycle means to return things to the cycle from which they came - it is *not* necessarily the industrial process of collecting & finding markets for 'recyclable' throwaways. Indeed this should be a last resort.

What I want to do here is look at some of the unmentionable undisposables - if the thought of handling dirty nappies makes you squeamish, this page is NOT for you. (You still don't have to use disposables, though - why not create local employment & employ a professional Nappy Service. Or just pay someone else to wash them for you, in either cash or LETS)

Research indicates that disposable nappies, which hermetically seal the genitalia inside the nappy, and lead to serious overheating, may be one of the factors in the rapidly declining sperm count of men in the Western world.

There's no better incentive for a child to train itself than the discomfort of a used cloth nappy! And you don't really need to use nappies at all during the day.
But training your baby does not have to be cruel or upsetting for either of you.


So you don't use disposable nappies, or your kids now have kids of their own - but visitors have left you with a used 'disposable' nappy? What to do:

For more information on cloth nappies, visit THE CLOTH DIAPER WEBSITE.This page has world-wide links!
See also Australia's: ZAPPY NAPPY system.
And my Laundry Leaflet No.5 - Nappies

Urine is free fertiliser - don't waste it

The fresh urine of a healthy person is sterile, so you can pee straight onto the garden if you have sufficient privacy, or into a bucket if you haven't. The direct method works well for established trees, or if you are able to pee straight onto thick mulch. But it is better to dilute it (again, grey water is fine), as full-strength it may kill soil bacteria & burn delicate plants & their roots unless diluted. 1 part of urine to 4 parts water is ideal for the garden, 1 part to 20 for seedlings & pots.
Cover your bucket with a thick cloth rather than sealing it, it keeps better that way. Use within 24 hours. Or you could half-fill your pee-bucket with sawdust, wood shavings, or shredded paper, & compost or mulch it daily.

Toilet tissue - there is nothing good to be said about toilet tissue! It's manufacture causes deforestation, dreadful pollution, uses huge amounts of water & energy, & is the reason we need so much water to flush our loos. Even so it stuffs up the sewage system & eventually the ocean, and it makes your bum itch!
Dr.David Harrison estimated on his programme "Back to Basics" that each sheet of toilet paper takes at least a litre of water to manufacture, in addition to the trees and energy involved.
If you or your visitors insist on using paper, & you live in a Western city, there is so much white tissue paper used in packaging that anyone with a little initiative can collect enough of this from the rubbish to cut into squares & keep in the bathroom. And how about all those unused or slightly used paper serviettes left on restaurant tables, or blowing down the street? But paper really isn't good for the sewage system. So get into the habit of composting paper which is only wet, and, if you have a fire, burning soiled paper. The less paper you put into the system, the less energy is needed to treat the sewage.

While the Macrobiotic community claim that a healthy person doesn't need toilet paper, I guess I must just be unhealthy. If you feel like really challenging the system, here are some suggestions.

Use wash-cloths, & wash them out afterwards. It's no worse than washing nappies. A good compromise is to use 'Chux' or similar cellular disposable cloths - they actually last a long time, & wash out very easily. Wash them by hand, and dry them in the air and sun. Don't worry about stains - see the link above to my leaflet about washing nappies. Never dispose of Chux in the toilet pan!

Use water to cleanse yourself. You need to be able to squat, and to keep your fingernails short. You may find this difficult at first, but it will become easier with practice. I can still manage it, and I'm now in my ninth decade.
Use 2 bowls of water. With the first bowl, clean the area around & just inside the anus with one hand, then tip this water into the toilet basin. With the second bowl & your other hand, rinse the area well, then thoroughly wash both your hands. You can rinse the first basin with the grey water from the second, & put them both to drain. Dry them in the sun if you can, if not, give the bowls a good scrub every few days. I now use a couple of children's potties - having a handle, they are easier to grasp and manoevre to the right spot.

If you use a COMPOSTING TOILET, recycled tissue paper should decompose very well, you could even use heavier absorbent paper, like butcher's wrapping (NOT newspaper or old phone books, the ink isn't good for your skin), or you could use large soft green leaves. (A soft-leaved tobacco bush grown beside the outside loo is very handy, and also provides shade. See: THE FRENCH ALTERNATIVE)
If you prefer the water method, use a small bowl for the first cleansing, so you don't overload your system with liquid. The second lot of water & the rinsings can go into the garden compost.


Free e-book! - all you ever wanted or needed to know about Human Ordure, it's composition, uses, and safe disposal. It's also a comprehensive composting manual, with lists of carbon/nitrogen ratios for numerous compostable materials.


Tampons or sanitary towels.
First, you don't have to buy tampons - they aren't sterile anyway. If you want to use internal protection, then use clean cotton wool & 'roll your own'. You can use dental floss or knitting cotton to make your 'extractor'. Personally, I found a finger did the job just as well. The important thing is to make sure your hands are clean before inserting the protection, & before removing it This applies to commercial protection as well!
Whether you (or your visitors) use home-made or commercial tampons, there is nothing unclean about menstrual flow. Simply drop the tampon into a bowl of water, leave to soak, & squeeze out as much of the blood as you can. The resulting solution makes an excellent fertiliser, & is gentle enough for potted plants. The wet cotton can be pulled apart & composted.

There are a number of brands & types of washable or re-fillable sanitary towels around these days. Visit WEMOON'S ALTERNATIVE SANITARY PRODUCTS PAGE or look in the ads. of magazines like EARTH GARDEN, (see the March & June 1995 issues for a 2-part article on 'Green Methods for Women') Grass Roots, or MOTHER EARTH NEWS . Or make your own. Don't expect to get them spotless when you wash them - & don't forget to soak them in cold water overnight & get out most of the blood before washing them. Hot water sets protein stains! (Use soaking water as above.)
The best pads I have seen are made of maroon or purple tracksuit fabric, in a poly-cotton blend. Pure cotton holds onto the stains much harder.
Refillables look a bit like G-strings, with a pouch in the crutch. This can be padded with spaghmum moss (if you have a sustainable source), soft dried grass, clean cotton waste, or shredded rag. Anything absorbent, clean & non-irritant will do. Simply put the used padding straight into the compost & wash the cover.
Since these days pants fit really neatly, you could simply use clean soft rags (more radical recycling!) & a couple of safety pins. Easily washed, & much less fuss!
Used commercial pads can be disposed of in exactly the same way as the 'disposable' nappies.
As for 'pantie pads' - what the hell's wrong with washing your pants?! And keeping a spare pair & a plastic bag in your purse for emergencies?

Please consider the alternatives, like handkerchiefs! But if you do use tissues, & you have an infection of any kind, please burn them! This may involve going to some trouble - but compost does NOT destroy viruses. Do you really want all those viruses going into landfill?
You might also consider reducing the number of tissues, or handkerchiefs, used during a nasty infection by spitting the muck directly into the toilet bowl, or using wide-mouthed jars with tightly fitting lids as spittoons. A lttle water containing a few drops of oil of eucalyptus or tea tree oil in the bottom of the jar will reduce the unpleasantness, and the entire contents can be carefully emptied into the loo periodically, and the jar then then thoroughly boiled to disinfect it. (In hot weather use the sun to sterilise jars.) When the infection is over, clean all the jars, then see they are commercially recycled. When I was nursing in a chest hospital before the advent of cheap tissues this is the way we dealt with infectious sputum - except that the spittoons were made of stainless steel, with lids attached. They were autoclaved between uses.
Yucky handkerchiefs can be soaked in salt water, which destroys most germs & makes it easier to remove the mucus. (Dispose of salt water in the loo, not on the garden.) Then rub them out, & hand-wash in clean water, before pegging on the line. Use cold water, like blood, mucus contains protein which will harden in hot water, but can be washed out with cold. Leave them for at least half an hour in the sun after they are dry. If you don't have any sun, place in a old pan of clean water, bring to the boil & boil for a few minutes. Or using a suitable container, microwave them. Ironing hankies with a really hot iron is good back-up treatment, but they stay softer if left unironed.
These days so much fabric is discarded, it is easy to have a supply of soft rags for use when you are at home with the 'flu. These can be burnt if they are too dreadful to wash! And they don't irritate your nose like paper tissues (Yes, even the ones with Aloe Vera & XYZ!)

Paper Towels
These are totally unnecessary in an ordinary household. Even 'Chux', sponges, or J-cloths can be re-used a number of times, before being composted! And recent research (March 2000) has shown that the plain article is just as effective as those impregnated with antiseptics. So don't be taken in or frightened by false advertising. It is perfectly safe & hygenic to use mops or floor-cloths for the floor, dish-cloths for wiping up spills, tea-cloths for draining & drying food & utensils, and towels for drying your hands. Keep them sweet by hanging them to dry after use, clean by regular washing, and if they need sterilising for any reason, either hang them in the sun to dry, or boil them for a few minutes after washing them, then iron with a hot iron, before re-use. Greasy foods, if you occasionally prepare them, can be drained onto recycled tissue paper or butcher's paper, with a few layers of old newspaper underneath. Use the paper afterwards for lighting the fire or barbecue. You can use these recycled items for wiping out greasy pans too, though better ways are explored in my leaflet about washing up. Old cotton underwear, T-shirts & windcheaters make excellent dish or floorcloths, dusters and polishing cloths.

You may like to re-consider the use of antiseptics and disinfectants, including bleach. They are similar in action to pesticides, herbicides, and anti-biotics - very effective when used appropriately, but necessary only in rare emergencies. Their irresponsible and lavish use results in the development of bacterial resistance to them, at the same time making the environment so sterile that people's immune systems are unable to develop properly because they are no longer routinely exposed to common bacteria.

Remember - building a better mousetrap results in smarter mice.

Dealing with the odd "disposable" nappy:

You will still have to put the plastic & the cover into the rubbish bin, but at least you've done your best - take a bow!


In researching & offering suggestions about earthwise living, Margaret offers information, opinion, & personal experience, but no quick fixes! Readers should evaluate these offerings in the context of their own situations; they are suggestions, *not* recommendations. Any responsibility for their implementation rests *solely* with the reader.

Visit THE LIBRARY OF AWARENESS for a comprehensive list of Radical Alternative Links
See also:
Just Let me Get My Hands on your Rubbish!
Return to Radical Recycling........................Return to Sustainable Solutions
No Such Thing As Rubbish(pdf file)
Prints as both sides of 2 sheets of A4)
rtf version - download or read online
If you're feeling discouraged, read:
Why recycle?

Rough Guide to Site.......Site Map

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