When Did A Roll of Toilet Paper Gain Such Prominence?

A Friends of the Earth newsletter arrived at my home the other day. The bold headline, “Flushing Our Future” stared me in the face. It stated that Canada’s boreal forest was being destroyed . . . for toilet paper.

Proctor and Gamble and Costco harvest old-growth trees to manufacture toilet paper products. (Charmin and Kirkland brands)

Boreal trees provide virgin tissue pulp for the production of quality toilet paper. When will Big Corporations stop putting profit before their impact on our planet?

 A forest can take a millennium to recover. Consider the repercussion on plants and animals when their habitat disappears. 

Then I remembered a Natural Resources Defense Council statement . . . “Forests are the lungs of the earth. A boreal forest is a massive storehouse for carbon. Clearcutting reduces its capacity to absorb and store man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

Canada’s boreal forest. Source: NRDC

Trader Joe’s and 365 Bath Tissue are using recycled material for their toilet tissue. I’m glad some companies value our relationship to Mother Earth. 

Those articles got me thinking, “I hadn’t paid much attention to the production of toilet paper before.” So I searched the internet for historical reference on this home necessity.

When Did Man Start Using Toilet Paper?

The earliest reference to its use comes from China.  Elsewhere, wealthy people wiped their behinds with wool or hemp. The common man used rags, leaves, grass or moss. The method varied due to country, weather conditions or social customs. The Romans used a sponge on a stick. Afterwards they placed it in a pail of vinegar for later use.

In many parts of the world toilet paper isn’t available or there is no plumbing. Those people feel water is much cleaner and sanitary over using paper. Europe has a bidet in their bathrooms for this purpose. Countries with poor sanitary practices consider squatting to be more hygienic.

Americans were the biggest users but China is surpassing us today.

Joseph Gayetty invented it. Stores sold them as individual sheets in 1857. Seth Wheeler of Albany, NY received a patent for toilet paper and its dispensers. The Scott Paper Company introduced rolls in1890.

A working flush toilet was in use during Queen Elizabeth’s reign in1596. It took several centuries to become popular. The Industrial Revolution made significant improvements to waste disposal. Houses built after WWII included a bathroom and indoor toilet. Thomas Crapper invented a ballcock to aid in toilet tank refill, still in use today.

What Did People Do Before Toilet Paper?

People used an outhouse, chamber pots, and a hole in the ground before toilets became widespread. A crescent moon on an outhouse denoted its use for women. A full moon indicated it was for men. Mankind used lime to hide odors and reduce flies. There are still some outhouses in use today.

As late as 1940 many houses lacked hot piped water, a bathtub or shower, or a flush toilet. 

Pioneers used corncobs in the 1700s. Newspapers and magazines were popular items also. Cowboys used soft leaves of Mullein and Thimbleberry or those of Wooly lambs ears. Lumberjacks favored the large leaf aster plant. The Corn lily found at high elevations in California and the West is a good choice in a pinch.

Civil war soldiers used books, leaves, grass, twigs and corncobs. Pirates squatted over a hole at the bow, called the head.

During Times of Worldwide Panic and Fear, People Hoard Toilet Paper

It becomes almost more valuable than gold. Isn’t that hilarious? I remember the panic at the end of 1999. People were afraid our world would change forever when 2000 rolled into being. They stampeded stores to stock up on everything. Toilet paper definitely topped their list. 

Y2K was the reason for the panic state. Those of us who worked in grocery stores couldn’t believe it. Cardboard boxes of canned goods crowded the aisles to meet the demand. We left work with these parting words, “It’s been great working with you. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.” As we left for home.

Then along came the Covid 19 lockdown. There was another rush to hoard toilet paper. As if we couldn’t get along without it. Toilet paper jokes flooded social media. Humans are a crazy species. Mankind survived without toilet paper in the past. We can also, if necessary. 

Some Enlightening Facts

Some 75% of the world’s people don’t use toilet paper.
Part of this is due to a lack of trees.
Others can’t afford the luxury of it.
Still others are too cheap to spend the money to wipe their behinds.
Water is the universal solvent, not paper.
Toilet paper has other uses — nose care, removing makeup, covering toilet seats, packing material, cleaning mirrors and glasses, etc.
Don’t forget its use as a prank in TPing favored by adolescents.
Children and cats love to unroll it and dogs will tear it to shreds.

Some Truths to Give You Pause When About to Use Toilet Paper

  1. One tree produces @ 800 rolls of toilet paper. 
  2. Global production requires 27,000 trees per day. 
  3. Millions of trees are harvested in the US, Canada, and South America. Most are from tree farms, the rest from second-generation, old growth forests. 

Consider Using Other Materials

There are alternatives currently in use, such as recycled paper. 

Bamboo grows faster than trees on less land and water.

Bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane, is already grown for sugar production.   

The most earth-friendly method relies on soap and water for hygiene. 

Cut an old towel into squares. Use them as wipes and wash for reuse.

Should America follow Europe’s example and install bidets in our bathrooms? What do you think?

Air Quality of Pulp Factories to Our Atmosphere

The pulp process uses sulfur compounds to break wood down into pulp. Some molecules escape into the air. Sulfides and ammonia are very pungent. Most plants don’t have odor control devices.

Controlling emissions is the responsibility of industrial companies.There are EPA guidelines but no adequate enforcement to make them comply. 

Odorous chemical pollution from pulp plants affects air quality in surrounding communities. I have driven past a pulp plant and had to roll up my car windows to dampen the smell. 

Big corporations will do what is best for their profit margin. Often they fail to follow best moral and social practices.

Southern yellow pine & Douglas firs make toilet paper strong. Oaks & maples give it a soft texture. Virginia pine pulp produces the most softness.

There are no reports of increased risk of lung cancer with pulp and paper workers or residents living nearby.  

What Does This Mean For the Future?

Americans haven’t embraced the bidet out of habit. Our bathrooms don’t have the  space or plumbing setup for the fixtures either. 

Bare shelves are present again. The media blames it on:

  • omicron,
  • the labor shortage,
  • climate change,
  • supply chain problems,
  • port congestion,
  • And lack of shipping containers.

In the end, we may have to embrace the hygiene habits of the majority of the world’s populace. Don’t forget nature’s plants revealed within this article. We are a resilient species. We can adapt and ensure the health of our planet for years to come.

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