The Secret Life of Toilet Paper
We may take this good for granted, however it truly is a marker of civilization.
Before the invention of toilet paper, a variety of other items were used throughout human history. Scooping sticks made from wood and precious metals, to sand and pebbles, mussel shells, corn cobs, sponges, and more were used as the go to cleanup item when someone needed to go.
Once paper become a more widely available item, after the fifteenth century, it became the primary tool for post-bathroom cleanup. Old correspondence, newspapers, paper bags, and other scrap paper were held onto for this purpose.
Then, around 1880, the British Perforated Paper Company created one of the greatest inventions for mass consumer development in human history.
Well, you’d think that is how we would label it. Unfortunately for toilet paper, due to how it is actually used, it was very much an “unmentionable” product. Shoppers would discreetly ask shopkeepers for it and would carry it home concealed in brown wrapping paper.
Although toilet paper has not changed drastically since its inception, there have been some vast improvements. Originally somewhat course and plain, toilet paper has become much more bottom-friendly, and even decorative in some cases.
Today’s toilet paper is very much a processed item to ensure quality and sanitation.
Logs of wood enter the plant are chipped into small pieces. These pieces are then cooked with various chemicals into pulp. The pulp then goes through a washing process which removes the cooking chemicals. The washed pulp then goes through a bleaching process using various other chemicals. Once bleached, the pulp is then mixed with water again to create paper stock, which is then drained. This results in a matted fiber which is then pressed and heated to reduce the existing moisture. The paper is then creped and scraped into sheets which are then wound around long, thin cardboard tubing. This paper log is then cut up into rolls and wrapped.
Below is an image providing a more in-depth look at the process.
It is estimated that 27,000 trees a day are being flushed or dumped as toilet paper, worldwide. That is not a small number.
Growing populations and the continued adaptation of Western culture will only lead to an increased usage of trees for toilet paper.
The answer to this issue has been toilet paper made from recycled materials.
Many consumers tend to avoid these items because of the perceived notion that recycled toilet paper lacks the strength and softness of conventional toilet paper.
This is true for some, but not all brands.
Regardless of whether toilet paper is made from virgin wood or recycled paper materials, the creation of the final product requires the use of many chemicals.
Another issue is the amount of water needed in the production. While recycled toilet paper uses less water than standard toilet paper, tons of gallons are still being used to cleanse the paper of the various chemicals and bleaches being used.
So where does the story of toilet paper go from here?
The environmental impact of this item does not seem to be anywhere near the forefront of public awareness.
The deforestation, water and chemical usage is high and ever growing.
With all the technology and innovation we have available to us, when will someone think of a better way to clean up after ourselves?
Using thousands of trees a day, just to be flushed down the toilet, does not seem viable.
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