Is use of Bathroom Tissue an Environmental Issue?

by Don Corrigan

“I used to spin that toilet paper like I was on Wheel of Fortune. Now I turn it like I’m cracking a safe.” Several readers sent this piece of humor to me about a month ago. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant in the continuing age of the 2020 Pandemic.

I shopped at several grocery stores just in the last week. The squeeze on Charmin supplies is still ongoing. The cupboards were bare at several stores, except for a sign about rationing – only one package of Charmin, Angel, Coronet or Cottonelle per customer.

Toilet paper is still one of the most coveted items for care packages being assembled at local food banks and beyond. Rolls of paper are gladly accepted at Webster-Rock Hill Ministries. State Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, has put out a call for this essential commodity for those in need on so many levels.

The need is not just for those who are on fixed incomes or who are financially-strapped after being thrown out of work in this health scare crisis. It’s also important for coronavirus at-risk seniors to know where they can obtain a ready supply. They don’t need to be pushing their luck, going from store to store, in search of the holy, two-ply grail.

Lavender’s constituent newsletter suggests bathroom tissue be donated to Kirkcare. Items can be dropped off at a number of locations, including United Methodist Church on 201 W. Adams Ave. The Des Peres Physical Therapy Office at 11247 Manchester Road also is accepting toilet paper packs for drop off.

Doing a little historical research, one finds that newspapers and magazines were once commonly recycled for use in the outhouse. The famous Farmers’ Almanac has a hole in the upper left had corner. That’s for a string to hang the magazine in the outhouse to provide both reading material and toilet paper.

Back in the days – not so long ago – when this news operation was primarily on thin paper called newsprint, there were readers who suggested in an impolite manner that our newspaper best be used in the bathroom. Unfortunately, the pages that contained this column seemed to most often inspire these unseemly comments.

In retrospect, I must say that this imaginative use of a newspaper is another good argument for newsprint over going digital. A digital news site is just not going to cut it for those looking for a cheap substitute for bathroom tissue. Ben Franklin, a newspaper man and a politician, observed that political commentary usually prompted readers to demand that papers be relegated to the outhouse hole.

In that spirit, I cannot resist dragging politics into this musing. Many pundits have observed that our country is divided into red and blue, conservative and liberal camps, even on how to respond to COVID-19. Many conservatives oppose the “in-shelter” regulations and demand that America open up for business. Polls show liberals are much more cautious. There is even a divide on whether to wear protective masks – or not.

Another divide is occurring on the use of toilet paper. Liberal environmentalists point out that we Americans need to be more responsible and conserve toilet paper. They point out that even before the pandemic, China was only using an average of 50 rolls per person annually compared to an American’s 141 rolls. It does sound wasteful.

Even those bratwurst-eating Germans use 10 less rolls annually compared to the average American. And now that Americans – the ones with more paper in their pocketbooks – have been hoarding toilet paper, I suspect that some families are being even less prudent about their paper use habits. In early March, toilet paper sales soared 845%. Somebody’s got a lot of toilet paper to burn through.

It would be nice if our governor called for limiting use of toilet paper squares on a daily basis, considering the current shortage. He would undoubtedly be tarred as a nanny-state dictator. The liberty-loving gun-toters would scream in protest at the statehouse. If only we could wipe the slate clean of political extremes in this time of national emergency. Wipe it clean using no more than 3 squares.

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