Toilet Paper

I shuddered at the staggering amount of toilet paper my apartment goes through in a month. Just looking into the waste basket by the toilet one can see the bones of the toilet rolls sticking their brown turd-like heads out of the basket as I reach for another wad of Cottonelle to wipe my butt with. Where does all of this paper come from? I mean, seriously, if I’m using a crap-load of paper, then there must be people all over North America, Europe and Asia who are doing the same. And then it dawned on me that Toilet Paper is a perfect mascot for the widespread consumerism that my children and my children’s children will read about in Textbooks and laugh over. “Seriously, Mom?” They’d say. “Your entire family and all of your friends wiped your poopy butts with non recycled tree pulp treated with chemicals, threw it all into fresh water, and then flushed gallons of all of that into a plant that used a ton of electricity and fossil fuels to bleach that water which was then flushed back into the rivers and oceans?” And I’ll nod, my head in my hands, and say “I’m sorry. We left you a world full of garbage covered in our crap and you have to clean it up.”

In my month abroad in Thailand I was confronted, for the second time in my life (first time being India were I spent 6 weeks desperately stealing paper napkins and stuffing them into every available pocket), with bathrooms that carried no toilet paper at all. Instead (if lucky!) there was a hose attached to the toilet that one could spray down with and then call it a day. Being the Western Paper-dependent, Marathon wiper that I am, I had a hard time bringing myself to use the hoses until all of the paper napkins I carried in my backpack were used up. The first time I used the hose: my life was changed. I felt clean! The entire operation took a ridiculous 10 seconds! I stared in wonder at the hose, a happy little nozzle lazily hanging from its hook on the side of the bowl and wondered why I was ever scared to use it.

When using Toilet Paper, as the bear in the Charmin commercials charmingly demonstrates, there can be all sorts of… residue left behind. No so with water. Seriously, water washed away everything and left me feeling cleaner than when I fist sat down! I got so used to the happy clean feeling, that when I got back to the good ‘ole U. S. of A. and habitually looked for the hose, I felt disappointed. The Toilet Paper I had once sworn by was now too scratchy, left me feeling kinda dirty, and was a labor-intensive activity that I found annoying. And then, unfortunately, I did some research on the TeePee phenomenon of our generation and was deeply disappointed in our collective lack of awareness to what impact all that paper is having on our planet.

According to Noelle Robbins of WorldWatch.org:

Kimberly-Clark, headquartered in Texas, is the largest tissue maker in the world. Kimberly-Clark (K-C) products are sold in 150 countries, and the company estimates that 1.3 billion people use its tissues every day. K-C maintains a position of either first or second in market share in at least 80 countries. According to K-C’s 2007 Sustainability Report, North America ranks the lowest in use of recycled fiber, at about 20 percent for all K-C tissue products. By comparison, Europe’s recycled-content tissue product use is about 36 percent and Latin America’s is 67 percent. “

Shit. Literally. We’re pooping ourselves into deforestation. If only 20% of our tissue paper is recycled then someone’s going out there to get the wood to make the pulp to make the paper and where are they getting it from? According to Leslie Kaufman of the NYTimes:

“...fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them.

I think back to my days in India where even a hose was a luxury. Most of the time, if I had to use the facilities, I knew going in to bring my napkins or else be faced with the bucket of tepid water that is dutifully filled and left sitting in the corner of the latrine. But, despite my fear of the water, I noticed the bathrooms with no toilet paper were cleaner, smelled better, and had fewer lines. Although I haven’t found a solid argument one way or another as to which is more sanitary, water bathrooms generally struck me as cleaner simply because there was less garbage to cover the floor and toilet with.

A bucket of water is still a mystery to me, however, as I got used to using the hose and not the standard pot of H2O. I wasn’t sure how to utilize that until I came across this rather hysterical tutorial about how to use a bucket of water in Tamil Nadu, India.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKkryfdtMNQ&feature=player_embedded

Honestly, I don’t know when the culture here in the states will swing more toward a sustainable system of dealing with wiping. I’m just a guilty as the rest of us because I use oodles of paper products (although I do try to use as much recycled products as I can). According to Josh Madison of JoshMadison.com, he used 49 rolls of toilet paper in one year, stating that the average quoted in other websites were grossly understating the amount used which was originally cited at 23.6 rolls. That’s a LOT of paper for one person! Imagine 1.3 billion people using that much a year! Imagine, if we all cut that amount in half by using water? Or, just using 100% recycled paper?

Sorry, kids. Mommy needed to wipe! Maybe you guys can come up with a better system, or, at least see that the system we have here in Western 1st world countries is ridiculous and led to a lot of deforestation and environmental problems.

List of sources used:
Robbins, Noelle. “Flushing Forests.” World Watch Magazine. June 2010 <http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6403>

Kaufman, Leslie. “Mr. Whipple Left It Out: Soft Is Rough On Forests.” NYTimes. Feb 25, 2009. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/26/science/earth/26charmin.html?_r=1&th&emc=th>

Madison, Josh. “Toilet Paper Usage Analysis.” JoshMadison.com. May 9, 2007. <http://joshmadison.com/2007/05/09/toilet-paper-usage-analysis/>

February 20, 2013 at 8:14 pm by Natalie Allen