Can I Recycle Used Tissues?

A stuffy nose can be miserable, but you don't have to load up with medication to get relief. . (Photo: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock)

Q: My son, husband, and I (and I think the dog, too) are all sick with a nasty cold. The amount of tissues we’ve gone through in the last day alone is staggering. It’s crazy that one family can go through so many! I feel bad throwing them all away. Can I recycle these used tissues?

A: First of all, ewww. Second of all, ewww.

I have to be completely honest with you, I've never thought about this question before. My family has an average of about nine colds a flu season (that’s three for each of us), and we also go through a boatload of tissues. Not once have I ever stopped to think about recycling all those tissues, so I gotta hand it to you — kudos for being so environmentally minded even while ill. Maybe you should get a job here at MNN (not mine, of course).

Now on to business. The truth is, tissues are essentially paper, and unused, these can definitely be recycled with the rest of your paper recycling (though I’m not sure why you’d be recycling unused tissues). Dirty tissues covered in your germy snot, however, should not be recycled.

Interestingly, I found a lot of people online who (claim to) compost their dirty tissues. There’s a lot of controversy about this, however. You see, some say that the germs in your tissues are rendered harmless because of the high temperatures created during the composting process. Others disagree and say that the pathogens in your dirty tissues might survive during composting, and that’s not stuff you want to spread around your vegetable garden.

So if you’re daring, you might want to go ahead and try it. Or if you’re a little less daring, why not wait until you get better and compost all those regular tissues you go through? Sure, it’s not the same volume but at least you’re doing something. Not sure about composting at all?

I’ve got to be honest with you though. I’m a germophobe, so I would err on the side of caution on this one and just toss your tissues into the garbage. But that’s just me, the person who carries hand sanitizer on her keychain and who disinvited sick adults from her child’s first birthday party.

Another route to try is to use recycled tissues to begin with. Possibly the most eco-friendly choice of all? The handkerchief. You know — the one that your father (OK, my father) still carries around with him. This simple, cotton, square of fabric has been around for centuries and is definitely the most Earth-friendly choice when it comes to your suffering snout. It may not be pretty, but then again, neither are all those tissues clogging our landfills. I wish you and your family a speedy recovery!