Toilet rolls – blessing, or curse of modern society?

Every day 27,000 trees are used to meet our need for toilet roll. That’s 9,855,000 a year. I’m not quite sure how many mature trees you get to the acre or how old a tree is when you harvest it, but the total amount of resources consumed must be huge.

About 75% of the world’s population does not use toilet paper.

According to figures from 2007, each person in the UK uses 17.6 kilos of toilet paper per year. The Americans only use 15.7 kilos. Consumption is forecast to rise by 40% by 2017 thanks to innovative marketing techniques. That’s a lot of trees.

I’m not surprised that it hasn’t become a major subject for discussion because the very thought of alternatives makes me shudder. I’ll quite happily discuss, and use, composting toilets (because it’s a massive waste of drinking water to use it in toilets) but I’m not so keen on doing without paper.

Faced with the choice of doing without toilet paper or a car  I’m not sure what I’d decide. It would be inconvenient to do without either but without a car the worst that can happen is that you have to walk. Or possibly share a bus with a drunk, a dozen school kids and a woman with facial piercings. Without toilet paper you undermine the whole basis of my life.

However, when I pause to think I have to admit that I’m in the first generation of my family who has always had access to proper toilet roll and it doesn’t seem to have done my forebears any harm. The Romans were reasonably successful and they only had sponges on sticks. Even the Vikings, though not great house guests, were fairly successful at looting and pillaging, and they, I’m reliably informed, used moss in place of toilet roll. (Yes, those trips to Hadrian’s Wall  and the Jorvik Centre definitely paid off).

Back in the 60s, there was a lot of Izal about. My grandparents had it, public buildings had it and even in the 70s I remember visiting a nurses’ home that had Izal printed with “Property of the National Health Service” in pale blue. If you do remember it, stop shuddering. If you don’t remember it, it made great tracing paper.

It’s a wide-ranging subject, with the Chinese leading the way, first with paper in the 10th Century then with specially made toilet paper in the 14th Century. One British maker, G.W.Atkins & Co, claimed to have royal warrants dating back to 1817. The Americans followed in the mid-19th Century.


In the 1930s one manufacturer was advertising that his paper was “now splinter free” . Makes you think, doesn’t it?

I think that’s enough now. There’s only so much thinking you can do about toilet roll.




23 thoughts on “Toilet rolls – blessing, or curse of modern society?

      1. quercuscommunity

        It’s amazing how things have moved on. I used to like visiting my grandparents (who lived in the same village about 150 miles away from us) but always tried to avoid the Izal favoured by the grandfather who was known to be “careful” with his money.

  1. jodierichelle

    When I had babies, I did the launder diapers thing. I could certainly handle that still, especially if my “babies” were to clean up their own messes and just leave me the messy cloths. But that won’t ever happen. Ever. They just won’t.

      1. jodierichelle

        LOL – We all fail miserably, most of the time. I appreciate those who do what they can when they can do it. That’s about my best.

  2. arlingwoman

    I don’t know about in Britain, but trees are a crop here, certain kinds of them. They aren’t chopping down virgin forest for TP (lumber maybe, but not TP). There’s also a lot of paper recycling and that helps too. You forgot corn cobs. I’ve heard those were used to. And pages of magazines. But I have to say, I’d be relieved to use splinter-free TP. No kidding!

    1. quercuscommunity

      No, I didn’t forget corn cobs, like some of the other methods I just tried to blank them out.
      My parents grew up using newspaper and the wrappings that used to come on fruit.
      We do have some forestry but with 660 people per square mile compared to your 85 we don’t have much room for trees. 🙂

  3. Helen

    I remember Izal from my primary school days. Not sure if things had moved on by the time I went to senior school. If anything could be as bad it was the recycled toilet paper used in public toilets in West Germany at the end of the 80s. I really can’t see why it had to be like cardboard.

    I have actually lived in a part of the world when toilet paper was only for Westerners like myself. I’m sure you can find out for yourself if you want to know what my then husband and family did.

    So many trees being cut down, though. At least, the recycled toilet paper I use (from Sainsbury’s also) is much like virgin paper rather than the aforementioned in Germany.

  4. The Snail of Happiness

    We have a friend in his 80s who insists on having Izal, or whatever the modern equivalent is… his wife, on the other hand, has joined the rest of the world in the land of absorbent loo roll.
    We always buy loo roll made from recycled paper – Sainsbury’s do a good one, for example – no trees being cut down for our personal hygiene.
    There is, you may be interested to know a move (movement? – teehee) towards giving up loo rolls by those with environmental leanings. The idea is to use washable cloths instead… I haven’t had the nerve to suggest this to Mr Snail yet… if we were married I think he might consider it grounds for a divorce.


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