If the Dutch have their way, your toilet paper could soon enjoy a second life after you wipe.
The Netherlands uses nearly 180,000 tonnes (200,000 tons) of toilet paper each year, and its preference for luxury toilet paper has made the soiled waste product a potentially economically-viable source for premium quality cellulose, Carlijn Lahaye, the managing director of Dutch company CirTec BV, told the Guardian. “You remove something that costs energy to pump around, lower the operational cost, there’s more space to treat water and you get money for something that would be burnt as waste,” she said.
Cellulose is a plant-based fiber that can be used to reinforce materials, among other uses. In June, CirTec opened the first treatment plant for recovering cellulose from sewage and launched a two-year pilot called Cellvation Project to commercialize the process. Using an industrial sieve to sift through toilet sludge, the treatment plant extracts 400 kg (882 pounds) of cellulose each day. The result is then cleaned, sterilized, and processed into “fluffy materials or pellets” that can be used as raw materials for other products, reports the Guardian.
CirTec seeks to repurpose the material for reinforced asphalt, which can be used to build longer-lasting roads. In 2016, a demonstration project led by Esha Infra Solutions and KNN Cellulose proved the concept with the first toilet-paper-reinforced bike path. Although the pilot isn’t producing enough cellulose to be profitable, the business case is compelling: Each year the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium process roughly 7.75 million tonnes (8.54 million tons) of asphalt; reinforced asphalt uses on average three kilograms of cellulose per ton. The company has also partnered with researchers in England to turn the cellulose into energy, plastic, and other products.
CirTec isn’t the only Dutch company searching for profits in toilet sludge. AquaMinerals is turning the wastewater into calcite pellets, a mineral that can be used to soften water—the process of making water less corrosive to pipelines—or used as a filler in paint. Last year designer Nienke Hoogvliet created a tableware and furniture collection from recycled toilet paper in partnership with the Dutch Water Authorities.