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.