What Not to Flush While Travelling

  • Cynthia Ord
  • 19 November 2012

“Don’t flush paper in the toilet.”

Some variation of this message, often in quirkily translated English, is perhaps the most ubiquitous signage I’ve seen in my travels abroad. To me, it is now a lot like “No smoking” signs; yes, they’re usually clearly stated, but the notion has become implied over time – when in doubt, your best bet is not to do it.

"don't throw paper in the toilet" sign in Galapagos

A sign on a small cruise ship in the ecologically delicate Galapagos Islands. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Ord

Tourism Wear and Tear

I began pondering the problem of flushed paper after I started travelling and studying tourism. A class I took in tourism economics began by juxtaposing the impacts of tourism: positive on the left, negative on the right. On the right side appeared “strain on public infrastructure.”

As we learned and discussed, it’s true. Tourists place a disproportionate amount of stress on a place’s vital systems. Compared to many local populations, we use a lot of fresh water and energy, we generate a lot of waste and we spend a lot of time on the roads and runways.

The question is: How can we curb our impact on local facilities?

Curbing the Impact

The first step for all travellers is to become more mindful of local infrastructure and how delicate it may be, especially compared to our own. For example, most parts of the world simply do not have septic systems as strong as the ones in urban areas of developed countries. Even the small mountain towns of my home state of Colorado can’t handle wastewater as well as my city can.

It’s not the most pleasant topic to think about, but a lot happens when you flush a toilet. You’re assigning the task of wastewater treatment to both the private building you’re using and the public grid to which the building is attached.

So lighten the load a bit by not flushing toilet paper. While it may seem unsanitary to toss used tissue in the wastebasket, it’s actually much more sanitary than clogging up the septic system.

do not flush the toilet paper, Greece

Signage about flushing paper in Greece. Photo courtesy of flickr/nataliedowne

When Not to Flush Paper

Old habits die hard, so it may take some adjusting. If it’s your first time in a new place, pause. Think about the following:

  • If you have seen a “don’t flush paper” sign in any local bathroom, it is probably true for all bathrooms in the area, so don’t flush paper.
  • If you see crumpled toilet paper in the wastebasket, don’t flush paper.
  • If you are travelling in a rural area, don’t flush paper.
  • If you are in a city’s historical centre, don’t flush paper.
  • If the water pressure is very low, don’t flush paper.
  • If you are in a developing country, don’t flush paper.
  • Ladies, don’t flush your sanitary items. It’s a strain for wastewater systems anywhere.
  • If you don’t enjoy using a plunger while travelling, don’t flush paper.
  • If in doubt, don’t flush paper.

Have you seen a sign about flushing toilet paper while traveling? Tell us where you saw it!

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Cynthia Ord

Cynthia Ord discovered the WHL Group while interning with the local partner Outdoor Albania for a summer. She is currently based in her hometown of Denver, Colorado, helping out with The Travel Word newsletter, and planning her next trip. On the side, she writes about the impacts of tourism for her blog, tourism, people and the earth.
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health, how to, opinion, personal experience, responsible travel,

2 Responses to “What Not to Flush While Travelling”

  1. a ward says:

    Cyprus has a no paper policy as all their water is recycled. Each family buys drinking water from slot machines in the street

  2. Mika says:

    This is so true! I come from a developing country, where the norm is to toss all the paper in the trash bin. When I went to Europe and the US, I was surprised to see that everything was tossed in the toilet, including toilet seat covers! Made me think “Wow, why don’t their toilets clog?”

    Another word of advice when travelling in developing nations: Keep a pack of tissue or wet wipes in your bag. It doesn’t come free in public toilets.


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