One of the first things we learn in childhood is that everyone goes to the bathroom. (Go ahead and snicker right now if you find that funny.) The never-ending search for a clean, hygienic and palatable solution to our bodily needs has occupied a sizeable portion of humanity’s history. Ancient humans built portable toilets over rivers, relying on the current to wash their business far away from villages and huts. The Romans developed great underground sewer networks to keep waste products out of the public eye and far away from drinking water. In 1906, after several thousand years of incremental research and development, humanity rejoiced when we got our first true “flushometer” toilet courtesy of one William Sloan. Freed from the network of outhouses, latrines, and other crude conveniences, your daily constitutional became as simple as pulling a lever. The toilet industry took off shortly thereafter; in the spirit of good capitalism, companies began offering all kinds of toilet related paraphernalia, including prefabricated rolls of disposable “toilet paper.” Those crazy kids and their trends.
Nobody gave it much thought in 1906, of course, but wiping chews up more irreplaceable natural resources than almost any other kind of timber industry. Lumberjacks in the employ of toileteers cut down more than 27, 000 trees every day. (Laughing now?) That’s why some environmentally conscious furnishers and plumbers are looking for alternate methods of waste removal.
Not every country took to toilet paper as readily as the United States and Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Going to the bathroom is an art as old as history itself, and every culture has come up with different contrivances to facilitate the evacuation of waste. The bidet represented an unconventional evolution in toilet technology, eschewing toilet paper in favor of a quick jet of water or air in, ahem, “certain areas.” No paper, no mess, no fuss. The bidet soon became a popular fixture in many continental European homes, and, perhaps, an environmental move forward in the 21st century.
“But,” I hear environmentalists among us cry, “Isn’t that just as bad? Surely, frivolously using and abusing all that water is going to make just as big a dent in our precious natural resources as toilet paper, especially if we eat a lot of vegan curry?”
Not so fast, says Scientific American in the pages of a new study published this month. Toilet paper, after all, is more than just paper. That special 2-ply roll incorporates dozens of different chemicals, including water, in its processing. In the United States alone, it takes more than 15 million trees, 473,587,500,000 gallons of water, 253 tons of chlorine and 17.3 terawatts of electricity to meet the annual demand for toilet paper. In comparison, a bidet costs about 1000 dollars for a one-time purchase, and then uses an eighth of a gallon for every bum-spraying session. Over the course of your lifetime, you’ll spend more money on toilet paper than you ever will on a bidet, and most are so easy to install that you might not even need to call in a plumber.
We live in a disposable culture, and toilet paper is just part of the problem. If you want to be a part of the solution, take a page from Scientific American and try a bidet. The environment, and your arse, will thank you.