Many people have a knee-jerk reaction when reusable toilet paper is mentioned. People often wrinkle their noses and make expressions of disgust. But what is really disgusting is the waste most of us generate on a daily basis. So ask yourself, is it really so outlandish to want to find a better, more sustainable solution for this most basic of issues?
When it comes right down to it, the 'ick factor' really is just social conditioning. Many people in modern, western nations have been conditioned to think that bodily functions are 'unmentionable' – that they are disgusting things that happen behind closed doors. Our own waste is something most people think about as little as possible – it is something that is quickly and efficiently wiped and flushed, so we don't have to think too deeply about it.
But in order to transition to a more sustainable future, it is quite frankly essential that we all face up to the fragility and, frankly, to the oddity, of our current bathroom systems. When you really think about it, it is bizarre that we take our waste, the paper we use for wiping, and copious amounts of fresh, drinkable water and flush it down drains, where it takes a lot of energy and resources to clean that water and recycle it through our systems.
Combatting societal conditioning can take some time. It is not easy to undo our years of learning that have taught us that we need to always remain at a firm distance from the 'unmentionable' things that occur in what are usually the smallest rooms of our homes. But it is important to try. Ask yourself, what is really wrong with using and washing reusable cloths in place of disposable paper?
An Introduction to 'Family Cloth'
Reusable toilet paper in the form of reusable cloths is often referred to as 'family cloth'. But the first thing to understand is that the name is misleading. This is not an individual cloth used by the whole family! Rather, it is a series of clothes, kept close to the 'throne'. A separate cloth is used on each visit to the toilet.
These pieces of soft, natural fabric can be used dry, or wet. After wiping, these are simply placed not into the toilet, but into a sealed hamper or pale close by. The principles, really, are exactly the same as those involved in using cloth diapers for a baby. Since the pale is sealed, the soiled cloths don't pose a problem for health, and won't stink as long as you deal with them in a timely fashion. The soiled cloths are simply tipped from the pale or hamper into your washing machine, and dealt with during your normal laundry routine. (You will likely want to wash them a little hotter than normal clothes loads, but other than this, no extra steps or fussing are required.)
Once you overcome the 'ick factor', this system really can make a lot of sense. Some people prefer to use a bidet or shower attachment to rinse before wiping, while others simply wipe and go. These individual preferences are things that can be worked out over time. But if you don't try, you won't know what works for you.
Of course, you could try it out for a while, or just some of the time. You don't need to make the switch permanent or all at once. And yes, you could still keep some paper on hand for reluctant guests. There is no need to be a zealot or a toilet paper dictator!
The Benefits of Reusable Toilet Paper
Reusable cloths used in place of toilet paper have a range of benefits, both for the environment, and for your family. They:
- Avoid the deforestation, emissions, energy use, water use and waste associated with the paper pulp industry.
- Reduce the strain on municipal sewerage systems, or reduce the load on a property's septic tank or other septic system.
- Save you a lot of money long term. Just think how much money you could save if you never had to buy any toilet paper for your family ever again!
It is obvious that this is one step too far for many. But if you are already using other reusable items and avoiding other disposable products to reduce waste in your home, this is a natural progression.
If you want to take things further still, look into composting toilets, and the interesting world of 'humanure'. Honestly, once you go down that rabbit hole, you might just rethink the entire way you deal with human waste (and might begin to stop seeing it as 'waste' at all).
Living a more sustainable way of life can sometimes mean making changes that feel a little weird or uncomfortable at first. But those passionate about the environment and the future of humanity will see just how important making those changes can be. Just take things one step at a time and remember, sustainability is a journey – not a destination.