It’s the kind of thing that you use but never really stop to think about. After all, its a product sourced from natural materials and biodegradable, so it has to be eco-friendly, right?
Wrong, toilet paper is far from the innocent product that you think it is.
The shocking reality is that this 30 Billion pound industry spends a lot of its cash with one objective in mind. And that is, preventing the public from discovering the dirty truth about toilet paper and the devastating environmental damage that it causes.
After all, if you had a multi-billion pound industry that was under threat from a cleaner, safer, and more eco-friendly alternative, would you not want to protect it?
So what is the real truth about toilet paper? And just what is this eco-friendly alternative that they don’t want you to know about?
Well, let’s dive in and take a look.
The Origin of Toilet Paper
In the western world, we have been wiping our rear with whatever we could get hold of for many years. Sticks, stones, grass, leaves, even broken pottery… Ouch!
However, over time our views on toiletry hygiene have changed, and this is especially apparent the further East you travel. This change is partly due to wealth, status, and opportunity, but mostly it stems from cultural differences.
In Rome, for example, they used a sea sponge that was attached to a stick and stored in a bucket of saltwater or vinegar. This was a great step up from groveling around on the floor looking for some cleanish looking straw.
Unfortunately, the sponge was also passed around and reused several times so it was not quite as hygienic as you might think.
If we travel further East, we find that cultures became more tactile. These cultures regularly blessed, prayed, communicated, and ate with their hands and therefore, hand hygiene became more important to them. This facilitated the evolvement from wiping to washing as only through washing can a body be said to be truly clean.
Evidence Of Washing
There is evidence of this from northwest china where archaeologists discovered seven so-called hygiene sticks made from bamboo.
These sticks had cloth wrapped around them and had been designed to be used for wiping and or drying. In this way, the hands could be far away from the dirty, area so personal hygiene could be maintained.
By 1393, rice paper had taken over from the humble cloth on a stick and was being mass-produced for the imperial royal family. At the time, this may have been classed as toilet paper, but was it only used as drying paper?
At the same time, the West developed ways of eating food with utensils. This put a different view on personal hygiene, and toilet paper was viewed as just another tool to achieve a task.
Here behinds were being ravaged by old parchment, manuscripts, newspaper, corn cobs, and then other improvised toilet items. A particular favorite was the multi-page Sears mail-order catalog.
It was this way of thinking that leads to the acceptance of wiping as being the right and proper way to get the job done. And so with the invention of J.C. Gayetty’s Medicated Paper for the Water Closet in 1857, the toilet paper industry was born. Since then, billions have been invested, and it is not in the interests of the manufactures to promote alternatives.
However, the stark reality is that those little paper rolls are one of the most costly items in the world. Not only costly to our wallets but devastatingly costly to entire ecosystems and the world at large.
The Dirty Truth About Toilet Paper And The Environment
At the beginning of the article, I said toilet paper was sourced from natural materials and biodegradable. So it must be eco-friendly, right?
Well, let’s look at that statement a bit more closely.
While toilet paper is made from natural resources, it is vital to understand that that natural resource is wood. To be more precise, its a mixture of approximately 70% hardwood and 30% softwood from virgin trees.
And at present, simply to feed the toilet paper industry, the American population alone devours about 15 million trees per year.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The American market alone devours about 15 million trees per year. Or in other words, deforestation is happening on a grand scale just so that you can smear your butt when you defecate.
Then take a second moment to imagine empty countryside where a vast and thriving ecosystem once stood. Now do those thoughts make you feel happy and content?
If the answer is no, please do me a favor and read this full article as you do have the power to change this picture.
The Dirty Truth About Toilet Paper And Deforestation.
You may have seen some toilet paper companies advertise that for every tree felled, that they will replant X amount. Sounds good, does it not? However, as usual, all is not what it seems.
Unfortunately, the logic of the industry is more focused on economics than ecology. So the reality is that the industry prefers to plant only one species of tree to replace a forest of many indigenous to a region.
This species is generally the Douglas-fir, which quickly grows and can be harvested in regular rotations. This is tree farming, not ecosystem or forest replacement.
According to John Lennon Campbell, a forest ecologist at Oregon State University, the intensive forest management practices that logged landscapes experience, echo what is seen in other factory-farming monocultures.
Logging debris and dead trees are turned into profits before they can become vital parts of the food web through decomposition.
Smaller plant species beneath the mighty Douglas-firs, and the animals that depend on them for nourishment, are forced out with herbicides.
Bears and other mammals that might pose a threat to these lucrative saplings are trapped and killed.
And all these living ecosystems are being killed just so that some humans can defecate and smear it onto soft paper.
Soft Paper that we had previously chemically treated, and now we just mindlessly flush into our water systems without a second thought.
The Dirty Truth About Toilet Paper And Resources
Please be aware that I will just concentrate on the American market here as it will keep the figures in context.
I use America for this as Americans use more toilet paper than the rest of the world. While making up just 4% of the world population, they use 20% of the global production of toilet paper.
So according to Justin Thomas, the editor of the website metaefficient.com his analysis shows that per year:
- Americans use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper
- Requiring the pulping of some 15 million trees
- For this, it requires 473,587,500,000 gallons of water
- This water also requires 253,000 tons of chlorine for bleaching
- Plus, the manufacturing process uses about 17.3 terawatts of electricity
For those who like things, a little simpler Lloyd Alter of the website treehugger.com reports this. The resources required to make a single roll of toilet paper are:
- 1.5 pounds of wood
- 37 gallons of water (+ chemicals)
- 1.3 kilowatt/hours of electricity
It must also be noted that the figures above do not include the significantly associated add on costs.
These costs include the energy and materials used in the packaging, transportation, marketing, storing, and selling of the toilet rolls themselves.
Furthermore, we have the cleanup costs as toilet paper clogs toilets, pipes, and sewage systems, which in turn puts a significant load onto any treatment works.
In addition to all of that, we have recycled toilet paper.
This is made by mixing several different kinds of used paper and mashing them together. Unfortunately, both the virgin tree and recycled mashing methods require huge amounts of processing.
However, recycled paper only accounts for 2% of the American market, leaving a staggering 98% for virgin wood deforestation!
The reason for this low number could be that the paper which forms recycled toilet paper comes from many sources.
Some of these sources can contain BPA that is a potentially toxic endocrine disruptor that has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and infertility.
A study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found BPA in many paper products, including 80 of the 99 toilet paper containing samples tested.
The Dirty Truth About Toilet Paper And Personal Hygiene
Earlier I made the statement deforestation is happening on a grand scale just so that you can smear your butt when you defecate!
Well, I know that makes me cringe, and it also sounds horrible, but just think about it for a moment. If you had feces on any visible part of your body, would you just wipe it off with a tissue and be satisfied?
If your pet defecates on the floor, do you get a tissue and smear it about until its barely visible?
Of course not because that would be unhygienic. So why do you do it to yourself just because an advert tells you that you should?
An advert whose only purpose is to make you part with your hard-earned cash by the way.
And here we reveal the dirty truth about toilet paper. Toilet paper doesn’t actually clean very well at all!
As we have just demonstrated, toilet paper does not remove all fecal matter, (but it does smear it around).
This fecal residue then leads to itching and aggressive and excessive wiping, causing numerous health problems.
Which leads me to my next question; why does this fecal matter make us feel soo itchy?
There is no getting around this one, but estimates show that there are nearly 100 billion bacteria per gram of wet stool. Furthermore, one study found that almost 50% of the bacteria were alive.
So if you have wiped but can still feel the warm, living bacteria moving around your anus…
WOULD YOU WANT TO WIPE AGGRESSIVELY?
So is it just a cleanliness issue, or are there any health concerns related to excessive wiping?
Health problems associated with excessive wiping include:
Anal Fissures – An anal fissure is a tear in the lining of the rectum and can cause bleeding or pain for the person when they are pooping.
Hemorrhoids – Hemorrhoids are swollen veins and tissue in the lower rectum and anus and are more serious than fissures.
External hemorrhoids – External hemorrhoids happen around the rim and are the ones that are typically irritated from excessive wiping.
Urinary tract infections – UTIs are usually caused by bacteria from poo entering the urinary tract. If people wipe from back-to-front, they are pulling bacteria from the anus towards the front of the body.
Women have a shorter urethra than men, which means that bacteria are more likely to reach the bladder or kidneys and cause an infection.
Anal Itching – Anal itching can be caused by fecal buildup, dryness, fissures, and hemorrhoids but can also be a symptom of an allergic reaction. This reaction could be caused by chemicals in the paper, or from another source such as a dietary reaction.
Another thing to note about toilet paper is that not all people wash their hands after a visit to the toilet. Fecal contact through broken toilet paper is a real possibility as the quality of toilet papers varies considerably.
In fact, Bidet maker BioRelief reports that almost 80% of all infectious diseases are passed on through human to human contact.
Therefore, If you use toilet paper, ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS!!!
AND DO NOT EAT THE PEANUTS ON THE BAR!
So, just what is the fascination with toilet paper?
Is wiping really superior?
Or have we all been conned by the manufacturers when there is simply a better way of doing things?
How the Rest of the World Gets Clean
There are only two ways to clean your sensitive areas, and those are, wash or wipe.
Toilet paper is the wipe method and is favored by the American market. The washing method comes in the form of bidets and is favored more strongly in the east.
A bidet works by directing a stream of water to fulfill a similar function to toilet paper. A full explanation can be found here.
Bidets are common all over Europe, the Middle East, China, and Japan, and they are now gaining popularity in the states. In Japan, more than 80% of households with two or more people own electronic toilets equipped with bidet functions.
Furthermore, if you head to Asia, you will find bidets are commonplace in many homes, airports, public bathrooms, stadiums, and train stations.
And this is because people here believe that bidets are much more hygienic and sanitary than toilet paper.
After all, when you wash away the fecal matter and then dry, as you would after a shower, you are free of the problems associated with excessive wiping.
Common Bidet Features
- Heated seats
- Adjustable spray temperature.
- Remote or side panel control.
- Energy-efficient settings.
- Adjustable pressure.
- Heated air dryers.
So as you can see, bidets don’t just blast your bum with a turbojet of freezing water anymore!
Furthermore, In the world of today, most bidets are integrated with actual toilet seats, which technically makes them washlets. This negates the space required for another unit in your bathroom and reduces the cost considerably.
Get A Bidet – It Is Better Than Toilet Paper
When you wash rather than wipe you increase your cleanliness and reduce the risk of irritations and painful conditions. Indeed many people report that once they started using a bidet, they no longer experienced any irritations at all.
And who doesn’t want a fecal free bottom combined with a zero risk of that; paper ripping poop on hand torment?
Toilet paper is big business with Americans alone spending about $8 billion a year on the soft stuff. However, the cost to the environment is far greater. And the loss of entire ecosystems just so that we can wipe our butts is totally unforgivable.
The real dirty truth about toilet paper then is that we are all conned into buying it as it does no good.
Even the tree replacement programs come with a hidden catch.
Yes, the tree is replaced with another, however, it’s generally not of the same species. And it is no longer in a naturally thriving and diverse ecosystem that benefits the planet.
However, washing your butt is good for both your health and the health of the environment. So now is the perfect time to make the switch from wiping to washing.
And for those of you worried about the water costs…
Bidets only use about 1/8th of a gallon of water per usage compared with 1.5 gallons per average flush. Now, add that to an 80% drop in toilet paper purchasing, and you are laughing all the way to the bank!
By the way, if you dry yourself with small and washable eco-friendly flannel or cloth, you can make a 100% saving on toilet paper!
Say NO to toilet paper.
Buy a bidet.
Save a few ecosystems.
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Preserve our resources.
And stop the smear!
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Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, would be amateur actor and green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.
He now has an army of followers who are like hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.