Since I obviously have some readers who are concerned about their impact on the environment (the winner of the free Diva Cup will be announced at the end of this post, by the way), today’s post is a public service announcement on one more way you can save a few hundred pounds of paper from landfills, conserve water, and reduce pollution in our environment.
Ready for it?
Stop using toilet paper.
No, I’m not advocating for a return to corncobs (ouch – whose idea was that?!), but I would like you to at least consider an alternative to the fluffy, bleached stuff. Let’s take a quick look at that squeezable king of the one-time-use products.
Coming Out of the Water Closet (A Brief History of TP)
Toilet paper isn’t new. As early as the 6th century AD, people in medieval China used actual paper to clean their nether regions. In 589 AD, one Chinese scholar wrote that he refused to use any page with “quotations or commentaries from [the] 'Five Classics' . . . .” (1) (If I’m ever forced to use books in the bathroom for more than reading, I can think of a few authors that I wouldn’t mind sacrificing.)
Later Chinese dynasties worked on the art of toilet paper manufacture to produce softer plies, some of which were even perfumed. Other cultures have used wool, lace, wood shavings, leaves, seashells, sponges, or their hands. (2)
By the late 1800’s flush toilets were becoming the standard, so some of the more natural wiping tools did not work with the new indoor plumbing (corncobs tend to get stuck in the pipes no matter how many times you flush). (3) Hence, modern toilet paper was introduced in the United States in 1857 with the tagline “The greatest necessity of the age! Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water-closet.” (4)
Just like feminine products, toilet paper was not considered a topic for polite conversation. One of Gayetty’s competitors, the Scott Paper Company, “was once so embarrassed that it was manufacturing toilet paper that it wouldn’t put its label on the product.” (5) Another company tried to profit on the taboo nature of toilet paper. Their 1930’s advertisements read: “Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won’t have to say toilet paper!” (6)
Eventually, Americans grew to love toilet paper in all of its fluffy glory. We loved it so much that when Johnny Carson “joked about a toilet paper shortage in [a December 1973] opening monologue[,]” frantic viewers took him seriously and bought as much as they could, causing a national shortage. And companies were no longer afraid to stamp their name on toilet paper. Advertising became so rampant that a 1978 “TV Guide poll named Mr. Whipple -- the affable grocer who implored customers, ‘Please don't squeeze the Charmin’ -- the third best-known man in America, behind former President Richard Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham.” (7)
Those advertising dollars have paid off. As a country, we spend more than $6 billion dollars on toilet paper every year. And what does that dollar amount translate to in waste? How about 15,202,986,200 pounds*: today, the average American uses over 50 pounds of toilet paper each year. (*That’s my calculation. The current U.S. population is 304,059,724; I just multiplied that by 50 to get an approximate total number of pounds per year for everyone.) (8)
The Ecological Disaster
“‘No forest of any kind should be used to make toilet paper,’ said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist and waste expert with the Natural Resource Defense Council.” (9) I agree. America (and, therefore, Charmin et al.) does not. Millions of trees – including old growth forests in Canada – are harvested each year to keep the U.S. stocked up. And while manufacturers could make toilet paper from recycled materials at a similar cost, consumers demand a softer ply which can only be obtained from standing trees. (10)
One website calculated that we cut down 7,026,856 trees per year to produce toilet paper for the United States. (11) You may be surprised to discover that trees aren’t the real environmental concern, though. Because we have managed timberlands, we replace as many trees (or more) as are cut down. The real issue is two-fold: 1) the amount of paper waste in our landfills; and 2) the effects of dioxin, which is a bleaching by-product produced throughout the manufacturing process. (12)
1) Our crowded landfills: The average American uses approximately 700 pounds of paper products every year, most of which will end up in landfills. If every person in the U.S. traded one regular roll of toilet paper for a recycled roll, we could save 1.2 million cubic feet of landfill space (as well as 470,000 trees and 169 million gallons of water). (13)
2) Dioxin “is one of the most toxic human-made chemicals.” It is made during manufacturing when the pulp is bleached (it is bleached so our toilet paper is white). And once it is released into the environment, it is there for good (until it gets into our food supply, of course), because natural bacteria cannot break it down. (14) Dioxin was the primary toxic substance in Agent Orange, and it has been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, birth defects, diabetes, immune system suppression, fertility problems, and more. (15)
Using unbleached (or “chlorine free”) recycled paper (toilet paper, coffee filters, napkins, etc.) would greatly decrease the amount of this dangerous chemical building up in our bodies. (On a side note, I was shocked to read that “[i]n just six months of breast feeding, a baby in the United States will, on average, consume the EPA’s maximum lifetime dose of dioxin . . . .” Disgusting!) (16)
Lose the Rolls
So back to my original suggestion: Stop using toilet paper. Or at least stop using the super soft, bleached toilet paper. The effects of switching to a toilet paper alternative are dramatic: “If every household replaced just a single twelve-roll pack of regular bathroom tissue with a recycled variety, it would save almost five million trees and enough paper waste to fill seventeen thousand garbage trucks.” (17)
But even better, just think about the difference your family could make by switching to cloth! We’ve been using cloth wipes for over a year. I’ve also made some cloth wipes to sell – I’d love for some of you to be my very first customers.
Toilet paper has been around long enough to have many nicknames: “‘loo roll/paper,’ ‘toilet roll,’ ‘dunny roll/paper,’ ‘bathroom/toilet tissue, ‘TP’ or just ‘tissue.’” (18)
I’d like to help make cloth wipes mainstream enough to enjoy their own nicknames. My sister and her boyfriend fondly refers to hers as “pee pads" (credit to Darin for coming up with that particular alliteration). Most cloth wipe makers call them “family cloth.” Personally I like to call the ones I make “Tee Pee,” because they are two sided – one side is made of soft, snuggly flannel, the other side of 100% cotton recycled t-shirts (hence the “tee”), and they are made with your pee in mind. Well, maybe not *yours* specifically, but pee in general. Poo, too, if you’re brave (and are already doing a load of diaper laundry anyway).
Speaking of laundry, you can just throw your Tee Pee in with your regular wash. Think of it this way – have you ever laughed so hard that you peed yourself? Come on, admit it. Yeah. Did you throw out your undies? No, you laundered them without a second thought. These shouldn’t give you pause either – just toss them in the laundry basket. And as for the practical question of where to put them after use but before laundry day, I have a washable bag hanging on my bathroom door – I throw them in there and then grab it on my way to the washing machine. Easy peasy.
Here are a few pictures of some of the wipes I have available for sale. Let me know if you’re interested in getting some. They are .75 per wipe or 5 for $3.50. They will more than pay for themselves since you will not be buying over 50 pounds of toilet paper for each person in your house every year.
They are also super handy to use as baby wipes (I can also make & sell you some wonderful wipe solution, if you're interested). I can even get cutesy flannel for those of you who want to coordinate with your bathroom or your baby decor. :)
I’d like to thank everyone one more time for reading my post on feminine products. I know that time is a precious commodity, and I’m honored that you chose to spend a few minutes with me. Like I said before, I wish every one of you could win a free Diva Cup, but they’re only giving one away. And because I am unable to commit to one winner, many thanks to Brookie-Lee from Happybottomus who was impartial enough to select one lucky lady.
Be sure to head over to www.happybottomus.com – everyone who commented will get 10% off of non-diaper items and 5% off of diaper items. Brookie-Lee carries Diva Cups, cloth pads/panty liners/nursing pads (I got mine there at an incredibly reasonable price!), and more.
Drum roll for our winner . . . MEGHANMONGEON will receive a free Diva Cup!
Here is what Brookie-Lee said about her choice:
I have found through the last several years that the best way to help parents to improve their health, their child’s health, and keep the environment healthy is through education. People just don’t know about a lot of things. They don’t realize how their waste is impacting the earth, they don’t realize that the chemicals in disposables are dangerous, they don’t realize there are better options that will save them time and money. I used a diva cup for the first time for a few cycles between my second and third child. And when my menses returns I will use it again. I love it and as many have stated it’s like I don’t have a period. This product is not only a waste free option, it is the healthiest alternative(along with cloth pads) to tampons and conventional pads. And the most comfortable option for mom in my opinion. So in reading through the different responses to Dionna’s blog, meghanmongeon's post really stuck out to me. Not only does she sound like a mama that could benefit from the gift of a Diva Cup but her passion for education and her access to new mamas is exciting for the natural movement. Hopefully more people will learn about healthy and eco-friendly products like the Diva Cup and these products will become mainstream someday. But for the time being the more families that can be reached, the healthier our fellow man. Congratulations meghanmoneon! And please spread the Diva Cup love!
I also loved the post from Aravinda, “The cup is the eco-feminist solution of the century!” I may have to put that on a sign in my store. :D
Mother of 3
Owner of Happybottomus
MEGHANMONGEON - I know you through MDC, right? Send me a PM so I can get your info to ship you the Diva Cup!
(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper ("Wikipedia")
(3) http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/07/07/mf.toilet.paper.history/index.html ("CNN")
(9) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/26/science/earth/26charmin.html ("NY Times")
(10) NY Times
(12) http://encyclopedia.toiletpaperworld.com/toilet-paper-history/toilet-paper-and-the-environment ("Toilet Paper World")
(13) Toilet Paper World
(14) Toilet Paper World
(17) Rogers, Elizabeth & Kostigen, Thomas M., "The Green Book" at 66 (2007)