Market News

 March 13, 2009
Is it time to outlaw toilet paper?

 No, really, hear me out. Think about it: it's something that most of us in the Western world use, (usually) at least once a day. Here's some interesting facts and figures from a TreeHugger article , the rest of which is also worth reading:

We use 36.5 billions rolls of toilet paper in the U.S. each year, this represents at least 15 million trees pulped. This also involves 473,587,500,000 gallons of water to produce the paper and 253,000 tons of chlorine for bleaching purposes. The manufacturing process requires about 17.3 terawatts of electricity annually. Also, there is the energy and materials involved in packaging and transporting the toilet paper to households across the country.

So, to demand all those materials, energy and resources (not to mention the £5 a month - or £60 a year it adds to my shopping bill) - why do we use the stuff rather than some of the alternatives that exist? According to this wikipedia article , the practice started in 6th century China and has since spread to much of the world. It seems likely to me that using paper in the toilet has probably developed more as a sign of status and cultural membership than due to any genuine health benefits over other methods - e.g. bidets.

Much of the rest of the world (including many parts of Europe, the Muslim world and parts of Africa) use water for their post-ablution cleansing - sometimes in conjunction with paper and often without.Certainly the populations of India, Indonesia and the Muslim world doesn't seem to have suffered for the want of toilet paper.

The direct pros and cons of using toilet paper are discussed pretty well in the TreeHugger and Wikipedia articles, and it seems to me that if we can save the energy, resources and materials involved in the toilet paper industry through using water cleansing methods, this is something we should seriously consider. Is this not a great example of where we can make (relatively minor) cultural changes and maintain or even improve our quality of life?

Perhaps more importantly, toilet paper represents a symbolic opportunity to show the developing world that we are willing to examine even the most private aspects of our lifestyles in the search for sustainability, that we are willing to be open about challenges and solutions, and that we are willing to change and to learn from other cultures.

It also wouldn't hurt the struggle to keep sustainability and real-world changes at the forefront of our minds.

Added By: David Lockie