"Let's wipe out toilet paper
by Christian Wolmar
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Using tissue after you've been to the loo is bad for the planet. Washing is the greener option – and it's more hygienic too
Toilet paper is a serious issue. But the minute one starts talking about it, the giggles start. So let me get my position out clearly first. Three years ago I went to India and discovered botty nirvana. While I was suffering from one of those inevitable bouts of Delhi belly, I was staying in a room with a spray attachment that allowed me to clean my anus – let's call spades spades here, it is not my bottom – without having to touch it or use paper.
It saved me from piles and rash, and definitely avoided a lot of pain. The first few times I checked whether I was clean with toilet paper but soon I realised that was unnecessary. I was spotless every time in both senses of the word.
So when I got back to Britain, I found that fortunately I had a shower attachment that reached over to the toilet and I could perform the same task. Result: large amounts of toilet paper saved, and a far cleaner and refreshed feeling that was far more hygienic. As for the wetness, there is a choice – either dab off with a small amount of toilet paper or use a towel specially for the purpose. Remember the towel is nothing more than drying off clean buttocks, pretty much the same as coming out of the shower, but obviously I change it regularly. Of course in the Indian heat, a bit of dampness did not matter.
Enough of my personal hygiene. Now for the wider points. If everyone in the world used as much toilet paper as people in the UK, let alone Americans, there would not be a single tree left. It is all very well talking about the sustainability of different brands, but in truth we should all be using water sprays. They are increasingly being fitted in India, replacing the rather more difficult jug and left hand technique which requires rather more contact than most westerners can contemplate.
Of course, on the continent they have bidets whose purpose has always been a mystery for the British – but it suggests that they have a better understanding of cleaning their private parts than we do. Indeed, you can never get properly clean by simply wiping, since you are, effectively, pushing the stuff into your skin. Would anyone dream of cleaning their hands by simply wiping them on tissue paper?
The ideal would be a toilet designed to spray and dry. The brilliant hand air sprays developed by James Dyson, which dry your hands in 10 seconds, are rapidly taking over in public toilets in hotels and restaurants. His next task should be to design the environmentally friendly loo with water and air spray built in. I have heard they exist in Japan already. The only downside might be that men will stay on the loo even longer to read their papers, enjoying a draught of hot air up their backsides.
Above all, though, we need to talk about this issue. There are serious environmental considerations at issue. The fact that it is so difficult even to mention this subject is down to our Victorian prudishness. A few years ago, dog doo-doos were in the same unmentionable category but now owners have to get used to the idea of picking up the brown stuff, a far more yucky task than using water spray to clean one's anus.
This should be the next area where massive environmental gains can be made with very little downside, except for Kimberley Clark and those irritating puppies that waste a forest of trees in every Andrex advert.
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