Monday, March 16, 2015

A new Etiquette de Toilette: Let's stop flushing forests and wasting water

My strategy is cheap, easy and hygienically superior
Or get zestfully clean with one of the new, high-tech bidets.
        When you slip into the restroom for a little tinkle, you probably don't realize that you are participating in massive environmental genocide -- but you are. Millions of gallons of water swoosh down the tubes every day, even as water becomes an ever-more precious and limited resource, and the specter of global drought and conflict looms (the U.S. has declared water a "national security issue"). On top of that, more than the equivalent of 9.8 million trees are flushed down the toilet every year, according to Claude Martin of Worldwide Fund for Nature. The expanding global demand for toilet paper has resulted in an assault on forests in both the  Northern and Southern hemispheres by paper companies competing to fill a seemingly inexhaustible, rapidly growing consumer demand for ever-cushier toilet paper. The U.S. alone uses 30 billion rolls a year.
    To make matters worse, the Sanitary Industrial Complex is succeeding brilliantly in its marketing of "flushable" wet wipes for adults ("They get you so clean, you can 'go commando'"), which are gumming the gears of plumbing networks around the nation. According to yesterday's  New York Times, the city has spent more than $18 million in the past five years on wet wipe-related equipment problems.
    My solution mitigates my impact on this forest and water misuse by close to 80 percent.

This is what remains of a gorgeous forest after Georgia Pacific is through with it. Happy wiping!

Those soothing, fragrant wet wipes wind up as hideous, gummy trash./ photo by New York Times
     Sturdier, moistened products for adults have resonated with customers, who realize that conventional toilet paper really isn't a very good product. It's flimsy; it spews lint; and it does a poor job of cleaning us thoroughly. Market research, cited in a Bloomberg News article last year, suggested that from 2008 to 2013, sales of wet wipes had grown 23 percent to $367 million. That figure is expected to exceed $500 million this year.  Dr. Oz said his whole family "adores" these "enlightened" products, but he reversed his position when he was informed of  their horrific effect on sewage systems.
    "Removal is an unpleasant task," the Times reported. "The dank clusters, graying and impenetrable, gain mass like demon snowballs as they travel. Pumps clog. Gears falter. Then, there is the final blow, wrought by an intake of sewage that overwhelmed a portion of a north Brooklyn treatment plant."
    These toileting "advances" are also, as you might imagine, filled with chemicals that are bad for you and for the waterways. Here is a sampling of their ingredients. Do you really want this stuff on your privates and in your bloodstream?:
  • Alcohol Denatured (or alcohol denat): alcohol (ethanol & the kind you drink) with additives to make it gross tasting and poisonous.
  • Parabens (Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Propylparaben): Chemical derived preservatives and anti-fungals which have been found in breast cancer tumors.  May also cause damage to the endocrine system of your body and have been found to cause allergy risks in children.
  • Methylisothiazolinone & Methylchloroisothiazolinone: Chemical derived preservatives with high allergen reactions.  Was used in many leave-in products such as conditioners, but are now regularly seen in rinse-off products.  High concentrations can cause chemical burns.
  • Benzalkonium Chloride: A chemical derived biocide, preservative, anti-static agent, textile softener, and emulsifying agent.  Not good for people with Asthma and other respiratory problems, highly toxic to fish.
  • Isoparaffin: Chemical derived. As a gas, you may know these as butane and propane. As a liquid you may know them as octane, and as a solid they are used in candles.  Isoparaffin is derivied from oil (like the kind that spilled in the Gulf of Mexico) and is used as a thickening agent.  They do not bio-degrade rapidly.
  • Triclosan: Chemical derived anti-bacterial agent which the U.S. FDA is currently reviewing regarding the safety to humans after studies show altered hormone regulation.  Also being investigated is how triclosan is promoting anti-biotic resistant bacteria, which may cause allergy risks in children. Mainly used on toothpaste to prevent the gum disease GINGIVITIS.
  • Phenoxyethanol: An anti-bacterial and stabilizer found in normal stuff like cosmetics, perfume and... jet fuel.  The FDA is looking into this one because it can cause vomiting and diarrhea in infants by depressing the central nervous system. 
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS):  Is it bad, or isn't it?  There's a lot of debate on both sides of the issue, so we decided to stay away from the whole thing and keep Action Wipes SLS free.  But what is SLS?  It's a foaming agent known to cause irritation and some say can lead to cancer.  Used mainly in shampoos, toothpastes, laundry soaps, stain removers, and edible bubbles.
  • Urea: Sounds like urine; doesn't it?  While it's non-toxic and highly soluble in water, it's synthetically formulated urine.  Also used as a source of nitrogen in fertilizers and in animal feed and diuretics.
  • DMDM Hydantoin: Hydantoin is an organic derivative of urea (see above) and glycolic acid, and is used medically in products like Ecstacy and anti-convulsive medicines for Epilepsy.  DMDM Hydantoin is coming under more scrutiny as of late because it is a formaldehyde releaser, meaning it releases formaldehyde.  Like the stuff they use in embalming fluid and film processing chemicals.
  • Fragrance: This may appear harmless, but when a label list fragrance, it may indicate as many as 4,000 different compounds. Many of these can lead to health problems, respiratory distress, and may even be carcinogenic and impose fertility issues or complications.
    Wasted water is the other problematic aspect of modern-day bathroom practices. "Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of residential indoor water consumption. Toilets also happen to be a major source of wasted water," according to the EPA. The average family flushes about 35,000-45,000 gallons of water a year, most of it having nothing in it but a few ounces of urine.
    You've probably seen the aggressive ad campaign for the new Scott toilet paper that comes without the cardboard tube. Actually, it was Scott's parent company, Kimberly-Clark, that introduced the tube in the 1890s. Scott is touting its product as an environmental breakthrough, saying that 17 million tubes -- enough to fill the Empire State Building twice -- are wasted each year.
    Getting rid of the tubes is a laudable move, but the real problem is the paper itself -- and the water. 


    For the past several years, I have defied our wasteful "toilet protocol," reducing my use of water and toilet paper drastically. First, I bought a package of inexpensive washcloths, in a color that complements my bathroom, and cut them into neat five-by-five inch squares. I use these dampened, nicely textured cloths to cleanse myself after I urinate. Then, I wash the cloth with soap and water while I am washing my hands. I hang the moist, cucumber-scented "wipe" neatly over my toilet-paper holder for my next event, and it looks much more civilized than the paper does. This saves money, it saves trees, and it provides a far superior cleansing to the genitourinary area than paper does, which is why commercial wet wipes have become so popular. With a dampened washcloth, you are really washing yourself, not merely wiping or blotting. You'll have that "fresh feeling" all the time, with none of the lint residue that is so notorious with toilet paper.   
   We pee like mad all day, as our hydration levels have improved with our ubiquitous water bottles, Big Gulps, sodas and coffee.The EPA estimates that each of us flushes the toilet 10 to 15 times in a 24-hour period.
    I chug endlessly, and I pee frequently, but no longer am I slaughtering trees in the process. 
My "moist towelette" awaits me, as does my spray bottle of mint-scented water.
     Naturally, you need to use toilet paper when you have a bowel movement, but for most people, that's just once or twice a day. Keep a spray bottle filled with water, perhaps adding a few drops of aromatic oil (I like bergamot or lemon) or shampoo/shower gel, next to your toilet paper, to moisten it and give your bum a superior cleansing.


    I am not depleting waterways, either. It may seem unsavory at first, but there is no need to flush the toilet every time you pee. Just use your moist cloth for a thorough cleansing, put the lid down, and walk away. This sounds repugnant, but so do people dying of thirst, crops dying in the parched earth, and wars over access and ownership.
     By "saving up" your pee, you can rescue thousands of gallons of water that would otherwise be wasted -- and you can reduce your annual water bill by about $2,000 as well. It takes some getting used to, but pretty soon it will become habitual. You may come to regard flushing after every urination as quite barbaric, when the environmental stakes are so high.
        People in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have been using bidets after toileting for years, and sales are rising exponentially. The bidet uses a spray of warm water to clean the affected area. Those who use them regard toilet paper as an outmoded, barbaric form of "hygiene."
    “You don’t try to clean the rest of your body with a dry towel, right?” said Jerry Bougher, the marketing manager for toilet seats at Kohler, the plumbing fixtures company. Say you’re covered with mud, he said. “Will you clean yourself up with a bunch of paper? No, obviously, you’ll take a shower. It comes down to the same thing with this. Here in the United States we’ve used dry toilet paper to clean ourselves, and it doesn’t always do the job effectively. Cleaning with water is kind of like taking a shower. It’s just, you know, cleaner.”
    A New York Times reporter wrote on April 30, 2015, "It may sound as if I’m exaggerating when I say that a high-tech, heated, warm-water-spraying bidet toilet seat ruined me for regular toilets, but I’m not. I don’t know how you guys do it. I look at your normal toilets, the ones with seats that are as cold as ice, the ones that don’t spray and buff your nethers with a soothing shower of cleansing H2O, and I shake my head. I look at your dry-wiping ways, and I wonder how your mom raised you. Don’t you want to be clean? Don’t you ever feel ... not so fresh?" (
    Though the market in the United States is still tiny compared with the rest of the world, sales have grown by 20 percent annually in each of the last five years.

    If we don't want to invest in a bidet, maybe we should adopt a "vintage" or even "tribal" approach to fecal hygiene and let our so-called "civilized" slaughtered-tree products fade into obscurity. After all, toilet paper is a relatively recent phenomenon. Cultures around the world and throughout history have done quite well without it.
Tribal people live in beauty and dignity with "green" toilet paper.

    Many interesting materials were used before the advent of toilet paper, and some cultures even today regard toilet paper as an inferior means of cleaning oneself. The brown "skid marks" that so many poor housewives grapple with as they launder their husbands' underwear buttress, so to speak, this opinion.
    I am particularly attracted to the idea of using a corncob -- doesn't that sound rather pleasant? It seems like something a chimp would do, and I love chimps. 
    Corncobs were the utensil of choice back in the outhouse days, and I think we ought to consider returning to those halcyon times (while remaining indoors, please).
Maybe we should all find that kernel of redneck in us.
     I would have some trepidation about using a corncob, though, because it might feel so very excellent back there that we would wind up spending way more time in the john than we should. Maybe we'd find that necessity is the mother  of ecstasy.
   Given the huge demand for corn -- to use as animal feed, ethanol and the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup -- don't you think there must be massive piles of corncobs just praying for some useful role on this planet of ours? Hey, I found them:
Millions of cobs, waiting for jobs.
      Let's look around our homes and yards with fresh eyes to find alternatives to toilet paper -- a real grass-roots movement.
    People have been using grass -- as well as rags, wood shavings,  sand, leaves, fruit peelings, moss, a sponge on a stick (which is stored in salt water) -- for centuries. 
Squat toilets in India and Asia are sanitary and promote full evacuation.
     Muslims, Zoroastrians and Jews were instructed to recite a prayer of gratitude after a satisfying excretory event, and both cultures had strict rules on hygiene that would certainly have regarded a paper "wipe" -- essentially a smear -- as inadequate and quite barbaric. They and Hindus, who use a "squat toilet," all find water to be vital to adequate cleansing (I bet they're right)

    They use their hands to get it all swished off, and then they wash their hands with soap and water (at least that's what their mothers told them to do). Some of them use pebbles, broken pottery and seashells, but I would need to see a demonstration before I could get a grip on that concept.
    In more recent times, the Sears and Roebuck catalog did double duty, as my mother vividly recalls.
First you peruse it, and then you use it.
     Our wonderful forbears seemed to get along perfectly well using the catalog. Think of all that junk mail we get -- it's such a shame for it to go straight into the trash. Could it work, I wonder? Since they're using soy-based inks these days, it might even be nutritious. And since those trees are as dead as they'll ever be, maybe we should get as much use of these majestic creatures as we can (perhaps reciting a prayer of apology in the meantime). 

       Bidets seem to be a civilized idea. For those who lack the room or money for one, you can  buy a bidet fixture to affix to your existing toilet seat. You can adjust the temperature and pressure of the water. Those who have written reviews for these products -- even the cheapest ones -- seem to be enjoying them thoroughly, feeling squeaky clean and refreshed, and getting dramatic relief from hemorrhoids.    
This is a nice alternative to a bidet.

    If you are interested in learning "fun facts" and "high points in our history," be sure to check out It's as charming (or should we say "Charmin") as it sounds.
    This site did introduce me to a brand I hadn't heard of -- one that might ease the consciences of those who love trees AND toilet paper.
    Marcal manufactures and distributes various paper products made from recycled materials, including eco-friendly paper towels, tissues, and napkins.  Started in 1932 by an Italian immigrant, the company regards itself as  “one of the first truly ‘green’ manufacturers – before it was the hip thing to do.”  The company's slogan is “Paper from paper, not from trees.” It collects paper from roadside pickup containers in residential areas, from office buildings throughout the U.S., and even from the U.S. Postal Service’s unwanted mail, saving over 200,000 tons of paper annually, according to its website.   Marcal has over 900 employees, manufacturers its products in two states (New Jersey and Illinois), and has helped save over 21 million trees.

    Marcal bath tissue meets EPA standards, according to company literature. It contains 100% recycled material, minimum 60% post-consumer. It is whitened without chlorine bleaching, and no dyes or fragrances are added. Marcal says its product has come a long way in softness and absorbency since the first "green" toilet tissue was introduced.
     People are learning to cut back on a lot of things. Eat less -- lose weight. That might be a good thing. Plus, you'll need less toilet paper, right?

    Did you know that a four-pack of Scott's 1,000-sheet rolls has almost 48 square feet less paper than it did in 2005, having dropped from 4.5 inches by 4.5 inches in 2005 to 3.9 inches by 3.2 inches in 2012?
    Meanwhile, the price has gone up every year, even though Scott tissue "was the thinnest and wimpiest we tested," Consumer Reports says.
They have 48 square feet less paper per four-pack than they did in 20005!
       Kimberly-Clark, the parent company of Scott products, is posting annual increases in profits of  close to 10 percent last year, and a return on equity of more than 30 percent. It had revenues of more than $30 billion last year, and it was paying a 3.9 percent dividend yield on its stock. The price per share was up from $61 to $74.06.  
    These profit figures are in line with the industry as a whole.
    They're on a roll, all right.   

    "Tissue products have among the highest profit margins in North American paper production and are relatively immune to the international factors roiling other sectors of the paper industry," according to Yahoo's financial analysts.

Let's look for better ways to accomplish our toileting goals without helping the industry or hurting the environment.
    Humankind got along pretty well for a long time without toilet paper. Surely we can figure out how to return to those glorious days in which trees weren't slaughtered to cleanse our behinds.