Monday, September 19, 2016

In Praise of Papier De Toilette Alternatives

When we started this blog, we said we'd be talking about more than 'just' gardening and landscaping, and we have done a blog article or two on other topics.  We think it's time for another to continue to show how holistic, or all encompassing, our view of environs enhancement can be. 

Today, the topic is something near and maybe, or maybe not, dear to all of us: the bathroom.  Not decorating, in this case, but using it.  To be more specific, finding alternatives for that product we all buy and use, but few are comfortable talking about: toilette paper.  First of all, what is it?  We all use it, but what do we really know about it?
Your basic roll of 2-ply, quilted toilette paper or 'TP' (Brandon Blinkenberg, Wikimedia Commons)

Toilette paper in the United States, at any rate, is made (regardless of what brand is largely printed on the package) by five companies: Kimberly Clark, Georgia Pacific, Fort James, Marcal, and Proctor & Gamble.  It primarily comes from trees that are grown in orchards or man-planted plantations that are carefully managed just like any other crop.  I have personally been to such a plantation in Southeast Oklahoma and saw those pine trees growing in rows with trees of different ages growing in different sections of the place.  As soon as they cut down a portion of a section that has trees of the age they need, they plant new tree seedlings in the place of the cut trees.  Those trees were being used mostly for printing paper, cardboard and particle-board products, but they told us that this technique is how almost all of the wood for products made in America is grown these days. 
Pine Trees planted specifically for timber harvest. The sort of place TP ultimately comes from. (Wikimedia Commons)

The farmed trees are taken to a mill where the branches are removed and the needles are removed from the branches to make pine oil for soaps and scented products.  The branches and smallest trunks are ground into a fine sawdust that is almost as fine as chalk dust. That's why paper products such as typing paper and toilette paper are so smooth and you don't see chunks of wood or fibers in them.  They mix the dust with water, usually grey water (that isn't potable or drinkable and is reused from some other process) and bleach most of the resulting plup so that it all looks uniformly white.  Increasingly, people are buying 'natural' paper which isn't bleached, so they don't bleach all of it anymore. 

The paper that is made for toilette paper is very, very thin so that it feels 'soft' to the touch.  To keep it from just wadding up the instant it gets damp, they add stuff to the slurry, kind of like they do for paper money, like cotton fibers and chemical additives to make it tougher without making it rougher. 

When they are pressing out most of the water and forming the pulp into sheets, some companies put patterns on the presses so that the sheets will be 'quilted' which we are told will make them clean our bums better. Well, that's what the red bears say on TV, anyway.  Some brands also press two or more sheets together to give us the 'stronger' 2-ply or even 3-ply paper.

There's more to it, of course, but let's get on to the main topic at hand.  There are three reasons why we suggest using something other than the usual roll of dry toilette paper: cleanliness, economy of effort and environmental concerns. 

Cleanliness: The regular toilette paper brands advertising today tell us that their product will get our bums amazingly clean, but can they really? Have you ever gotten a little (or maybe a lot) of poo on your fingers while changing a baby's diaper? Or, perhaps when you yourself are having a 'loose stool'?  What luck did you have getting it off with dry toilette paper?  Not much. Did you leave it at that? No. If a sink wasn't right there, you grabbed a pre-moistened wipe to get it off.  So, we say, why not just use a pre-moistened flushable wipe to begin with each time you need TP?  If you can't get it off your fingers with dry paper, what makes you think you are getting it off your bum with that stuff, even if it is 3-ply with the latest quilt design?
TP Versus The Pre-Moistened Flushable Wipe

Another aspect of cleanliness with dry toilette paper that we think about even less is lint.  In the course of our work in cleaning and decorating homes, we spend a fair amount of time dusting, with lint and dust attracting cloths these days, but that's another blog.  One of the dustiest rooms in any home, we've found, is the bathroom.  Why?  Out of curiosity, I've used different colors of dusting cloths to see what I'm picking up better.  I've noticed in bathrooms, that much of it is white, fluffy stuff of which the thickest layers are always near the......toilette paper dispenser.  It's lint and dust that flies off that soft stuff each time we pull sheets off the roll.  Using an alternative to the usual toilette paper, we've found, really cuts down on the amount of dust in a bathroom, and thus the amount of time and effort needed to clean the room.  Not to mention the fact that the people spending time in those rooms are breathing that stuff in. Talk about indoor air quality issues.  If you use pre-moistened flushable wipes, there's no white fluffy dust at all.

Economy of Effort:  According to studies by Charmin, the average person uses 8.6 sheets per trip to the bathroom (that they need TP for). They also found that a roll of their TP lasts an average of 5 days.  No wonder we have to buy new rolls of TP so often.  Here at Enfield Enhanced Environs headquarters, we find that we only need one or two sheets, three at the most, of the pre-moistened flushable wipes per trip.  A 144 sheet-pack of them usually lasts us around two weeks. 

If you want to pay less than $1 or $2 per roll of dry TP, you have to go to the big box membership only stores and buy 'off-branded' massive 30 roll packs, which then use up storage space in your home or office. Even then, you'll only get the price down to $0.80 or so per roll.  And that's for a 400 sheets-roll that the studies say you'll use up in less than a week.  Or, you can go to any regular store, that doesn't require a membership, and get a 144 sheet pack of premoistened flushable wipes for around $4.00.  It's $0.03 per sheet.  500 sheets of it would be about $15.  But, it only takes one or two sheets of the flushable wipes to do what 8 (often quite a bit more, if things get messy) sheets of dry TP kind of does.

So, maybe the flushable wipes aren't cheaper according to the math, but they are a lot cheaper when you think about things that there aren't exactly hard figures for, but that nevertheless matter a lot to us in our daily lives.  I call this Economy of Effort and it is part of the Enfield Enhanced Environs philosophy: Make achieving the desired goal take as little time and effort as possible. Our time is the most precious commodity we have and is ultimately the only non-renewable one. Barring the unlikely, however alluring, invention of time travel, we'll never be able to get back the time we have already spent. How we spend that time matters too.  The less of a perceived ordeal or effort the activity we are spending our time on is, the more we tend to enjoy it (sports enthusiasts such as marathon runners and such are an exception to this, but you know what I mean).  It takes far less time  and effort (and gas and wear and tear on cars, etc) to go to the nearest grocery or department store and pick up two packs of the flushable wipes than it does to go through the above mentioned extreme to get enough dry TP to last as long as the flushable wipes do. 

Space is precious too.  Even if you haven't joined the minimalist or tiny house movements, I'm sure you can think of better uses for the space that those giant packs of dry TP take up.  Meanwhile, a couple packs of flushable wipes can sit comfortably on a little shelf mounted on the wall next to the toilette. 

And, yes, they are flushable if you follow the recommended use and keep your plumbing working properly.  We've had plenty of problems with plugged toilets in the past, but not since we switched to the flushable wipes. The plumbers I've talked to say the main causes of plumbing clogs are faulty toilets that don't flush with enough water pressure and people cramming too many things in the bowl per flush. The wipes, they say, only cause clogs when too many are used at a time and the toilet isn't set to use enough pressure per flush.

Environmental Concerns: Our primary concern with traditional toilet paper is that it just takes far too much of it per use per person for it to even come close to doing what the companies claim it does.  As we mentioned above, and as you've not doubt observed yourself, it does take a lot of sheets of TP, even the quilted multi-ply stuff, to do the job.  Simply switching to an alternative that uses less paper to make and that takes less of the product to get the job done, is one way to cut down on waste. There are other, even more environmentally friendly alternatives out there, of course. We'll discuss some of them below.

We've focused on the pre-moistened flushable wipes in this article, but there are other alternatives to consider too.  None of them appeal to me, necessarily, but they are worth considering if one is desiring to stop using the TP we've been talking about but also don't want to use the flushable wipes.

"Family Cloths": These are essentially squares of flannel cloth (usually cotton).  You spray your bum with a mister or moisten the cloth with a little water and alcohol before you sit down; wipe your bum with it; then put the used cloth in a bucket of water mixed with alcohol or some plant oil such as teatree; then later on, wash all the used cloths. You can wash them by hand if you are really into it, or put them in a pillow case and wash them in the washing machine.  My grandmother said that the best invention of the modern age was the disposable diaper. She remembered all too well, and none too fondly, the days of having to wash cloth baby diapers before there was an alternative.

Plant Leaves: This is what some call the 'original TP'. It's certainly the most natural of options, if green, soft leaves are available.  You have to be careful, though, to make sure the leaves you are picking are from plants that don't have irritating or even toxic sap, spines, irritating 'stiff hairs' (fine waxy scales on the leaves that stick to your skin and then make you itch), etc.  If you can find and identify them, some good choices are: Verbascum thapsus or Common mullein; Stachys byzantina or Lamb's Ear; Artemesia ludoviciana or Woolly sagewort; or Plantago patigonica or Woolly plantain. The last two are quite prevalent here in the Desert Southwest in the spring.  As you might imagine, you'll be quite tempted to 'cheat' on this method by also washing your hands, and possibly even your bum, with something else when you are done.  If you should find yourself in the urban jungle where most of such wild plants aren't readily available, you could try your luck in the produce department of your local grocery store.  Some of the species or varieties of lettuce and cabbage might do the trick, though they'll lack the 'soft fine hairs' that make the above wild plants a bit more comfy on the skin. Check out the pictures below to aid in identification of these plants. 

Smooth River Stone: Yes, apparently, according to my research, some cultures use, or have used, smooth stones that were large enough to hold comfortably in the hand. They would get them wet and then basically scrub their bum clean, often having to rinse the stone off a few times during the process.  A fine alternative, is suppose, if you find yourself near a fast moving stream that is relatively clean and you remember to do this process downstream from where you collect your drinking water. 

Sponge or Brush on a Stick: This method is, as you might guess from the name, attaching a sponge or brush to a stick or handle.  It's a technique we are already familiar with when it comes to cleaning our toilet bowls.  What they say, is that you can get or make something similar, only with a shorter handle and much softer end material to do the same thing to your bum.  My wife tried it when she had shoulder surgery and had trouble reaching down and behind her far enough to use the wipes.  Apparently, the flushable wipe method is better, because as soon as she was healed enough from surgery to be able to reach as far as before, she abandoned the brush on the stick and went back to the wipes.  The key challenge that I can see to this method, besides getting used to carefully getting this contraption in position and using it without hurting yourself, would be keeping the thing itself clean.  About as much trouble as the 'family cloths', except you might not get any poo on your hand with the stick method. 
Verbascum thapsus or Common mullein (Wikimedia Commons)

Soft, fine 'hairs' on leaves that make them feel soft. They are actually wax projections on the leaf surface that reduce water loss from wind and help the plant be drought tolerant.
Artemesia ludoviciana or Woolly sagewort (Wikimedia Commons)

Plantago patigonica or Woolly plantain
Stachys byzantina or Lamb's Ear

While the other alternatives are interesting, and would probably work okay if regular TP were not available, but our own family would rather stay with the flushable wipes when we can.

We would include  more pictures of the other methods, but all of the pictures we found were either copy-write protected or were of branded products. We never recommend and try to avoid appearing to recommend one brand over another on this blog. 

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