Written by sylvia kronstadt
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Thursday, 23 January 2014

image for The case of the shrinking toilet paper: Let's get to the bottom of it

(This article also includes a colorful look at how other cultures and other eras have avoided tree slaughter and still maintained excellent hygiene.)

Over the past several years, our noble capitalist system has been downsizing everything in the grocery store while upsizing the prices. This they generally do in a deliberately deceptive way, keeping the packaging size the same, but cutting back on the amount of product.

For some reason (I guess Freud would know), the thing that really kicked me in the behind was the toilet paper. I recently bought a couple of 36-roll packs at a case-lot sale, and when I took out a few rolls to put in the bathroom cabinet, I was stunned. They were about 20 percent smaller and cost 20 percent more than the last ones I bought, several of which were still in there. What makes this especially shitty is that the industry is already "flush" with profits.

I propose not a sit-in at Cottonelle but rather a "sit down" on a piece of white stationery after not having used toilet paper. Mail these to the CEOs of all the big TP companies and say, "Sorry dude -- I can't afford to buy your Barbie-sized crap anymore." That would certainly get their attention.

I am totally happy for Barbie. But what about the rest of us?

Each of us has a breaking point -- a point at which we say "no more," a point at which we draw a line in the sand. I don't know why the indignity of these pathetic little toilet rolls hit me harder than the overpriced, watered down shampoo, or the 12.5 ounces of rigatoni pasta that was slipped sneakily into the 16-ounce box size, or any number of other cynical, callous, disgraceful tricks the market is trying to play on us. But it did. I'm fighting back. I am finding alternatives to this product, which is not only a financial rip-off, but is also devastating environmentally. Entire forests are being clear cut to provide us with this silly invention, which other cultures regard as quite barbaric and not very effective or sanitary.

SCOTT'S STEALTHILY SLASHES ITS SQUARE FOOTAGE

Did you know that a four-pack of Scott's 1,000-sheet rolls has almost 48 square feet less paper than it did in 2005, having dropped from 4.5 inches by 4.5 inches in 2005 to 3.9 inches by 3.2 inches in 2012?

Meanwhile, the price has gone up every year, even though Scott tissue "was the thinnest and wimpiest we tested," Consumer Reports says.

They have 48 square feet less paper per four-pack than they did in 20005!

Kimberly-Clark, the parent company of Scott products, posted an increase in profits of 8.11 percent last year, and a return on equity of more than 30 percent. It had revenues of more than $20 billion, and it was paying a 3.9 percent dividend yield on its stock. The price per share was up from $61 to $74.06.

These profit figures are in line with the industry as a whole.

They're on a roll, all right.

SOMEONE SHOULD WIPE THE GRINS OFF THEIR FACES

"Tissue products have among the highest profit margins in North American paper production and are relatively immune to the international factors roiling other sectors of the paper industry," according to Yahoo's financial analysts.

The Tycoons of Toilet Paper get richer while the rest of us watch helplessly as our lives become increasingly proscribed and meager. Are we going to let them, and their fellow good old boys in the top one percent, turn us into one of those Bosnia-type countries, where people put on three coats and have hot water flavored with potato skins for dinner? Will we wear babushkas? Will we have to give up moisturizer and use the same tea bag for a week?

Will we have to cover up our anal aroma by sliding a piece of orange rind between our buttocks? What about some peanut butter -- that seems strangely appealing. Or perhaps we'd prefer one of those bouquets garni that chefs create with pleasantly pungent herbs?

Hey, maybe this is why eau de toilette was invented so long ago, in a France that loved cultivation but lacked sanitation. Perhaps we've been misguided as we sprayed it into our bosoms all these decades or centuries, whatever. The French have probably been snorting their noses off at our backwardness!

Just stick it in there good, and you'll smell like springtime.

I have two proposals. One involves finding alternatives to toilet paper, which I will discuss below. Actually, I think we can turn it into a fun adventure, and maybe even into a reality show.

A SIT-IN THAT LEAVES A REAL IMPRESSION

The first proposal, mentioned earlier, is that we engage in a bare-bottomed sit-in. Or actually, a "sit on." Rather than traveling to the headquarters of the major players -- Georgia Pacific, Kimberly-Clark, and Procter & Gamble -- we could just mail our "impressions" of the current situation to these paragons of the free market, with a note saying, "Here's what your greed hath wrought."

Your unwiped-butt print would be sort of like the Rorschach ink-blot test in which the person's mental health is gauged by his interpretation of the print. The dude might really freak out and realize that what he has dumped on America is sick and stinky!

It seems quite bass ackwards to screw your customers when you're already getting an excellent return on your investment.

BIGGER PROFITS FOR BIG-LEAGUE ASSES

But profit isn't the goal. Ever-bigger profits is. Getting all you can squeeze out of the "little people" is the pinnacle. The buttheads get headier as the rest of us stagger around, anguished and desperate to get back our quality of life.

IF THESE COMPANIES WEREN'T SO GREEDY, they'd be giving us larger rolls for less money, and they'd still earn a profit.

Toilet paper has always been a product of questionable value and virtue anyway. Maybe this absurd pricing crisis will motivate us to find more enlightened solutions to our hygiene issues.

Can't we have forests AND delightfully clean bums?

And that brings me to my second proposal. Let's look for better ways to accomplish our toileting goals without helping the industry or hurting the environment.

Humankind got along pretty well for a long time without toilet paper. Surely we can figure out how to return to those glorious days in which trees weren't slaughtered to cleanse our behinds.

A few years ago, singer Sheryl Crow created an uproar when she suggested that people use only two sheets of toilet paper per "event." About 83 million rolls are produced per day, and millions of trees are clear-cut to meet our excretory needs.

This is what remains of a forest after Georgia Pacific is through with it. Happy wiping!

Americans use an average of 23.6 rolls per capita a year, according to a 2009 New York Times article, and 26 billion rolls are sold each year.

I tried Sheryl Crow's two-sheet idea, and readily discovered that I had been using three or four times as much as I needed, just out of habit. Two really is enough, if you fold it over a few times, and if all you did was pee. I still tended to yank off more than I needed, though, until I discovered the industry's downsizing machinations.

RINSE AND REPEAT -- IT'S ALL VERY NEAT

Fighting back, that's what must be done. Buy one of those packs of lightweight washcloths. Use a nice, warm damp one to cleanse yourself in front, then get up and wash it out and hang it back up, near the toilet. It probably a better job at cleaning you thoroughly and comfortably than TP does, and it doesn't leave all that stupid lint behind. This is not a gross idea. It's fast and easy to wash the cloth while you wash your hands with soap. Anyway, urine is sterile.

I have cut my use of toilet paper by about two-thirds using this approach. I chug fluids all day, and I pee all day, but no longer am I slaughtering trees in the process.

Tribal people live in beauty and dignity without toilet paper.

As for the issue of Number Two, maybe we should adopt a "vintage" or even "tribal" approach to fecal hygiene and let our so-called "civilized" products fade into obscurity, along with the "bathroom tissue" jerks who ripped off the environment and us to become multimillionaires.

THERE'S A WHOLE WORLD OF POTENTIAL SUBSTITUTES

Many interesting materials were used before the advent of toilet paper, and some cultures even today regard toilet paper as an inferior means of cleaning oneself. The brown "skid marks" that so many poor housewives grapple with as they launder their husbands' underwear buttress, so to speak, this opinion.

I am particularly attracted to the idea of using a corncob -- doesn't that sound rather pleasant? It seems like something a chimp would do, and I love chimps.

Corncobs were the utensil of choice back in the outhouse days, and I think we ought to consider returning to those halcyon times (while remaining indoors, please).

Maybe we should all find that kernel of redneck in us.

I would have some trepidation about using a corncob, though, because it might feel so very excellent back there that we would wind up spending way more time in the john than we should. Maybe we'd find that necessity is the mother of ecstasy.

Given the huge demand for corn -- to use as animal feed, ethanol and the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup -- don't you think there must be massive piles of corncobs just praying for some useful role on this planet of ours? Hey, I found them:

Millions of cobs, waiting for jobs.

After my run this morning, I spied a pine cone. I spy pine cones all the time, because we have about 45 huge spruces in our yard, but I had never scrutinized them through the eyes of someone who wants to boycott toilet paper. I expected it to be hard and rough, but it was quite delightful: gentle and feathery. What's more, pine oil is a natural disinfectant. Isn't that magically appropriate, as if revealed by Someone Above? Let's look around our homes and yards with fresh eyes to find alternatives to toilet paper -- a real grass-roots movement.

People have been using grass -- as well as rags, wood shavings, sand, leaves, fruit peelings, moss, a sponge on a stick (which is stored in salt water) -- for centuries.

Squat toilets in India and Asia are sanitary and promote full evacuation.

Muslims, Zoroastrians and Jews were instructed to recite a prayer of gratitude after a satisfying excretory event, and both cultures had strict rules on hygiene that would certainly have regarded a paper "wipe" -- essentially a smear -- as inadequate and quite barbaric. They and Hindus, who use a "squat toilet," all find water to be essential to adequate cleansing (I bet they're right).

SEASHELLS, POTTERY, PEBBLES -- ALL QUITE PICTURESQUE

They use their hands to get it all swished off, and then they wash their hands with soap and water (at least that's what their mothers told them to do). Some of them use pebbles, broken pottery and seashells, but I would need to see a demonstration before I could get a grip on that concept.

In more recent times, the Sears and Roebuck catalog did double duty.

First you peruse it, and then you use it.

Our wonderful forbears seemed to get along perfectly well using the catalog. Think of all that junk mail we get -- it's such a shame for it to go straight into the trash. Could it work, I wonder? Since they're using soy-based inks these days, it might even be nutritious. And since those trees are as dead as they'll ever be, maybe we should get as much use of these majestic creatures as we can (perhaps reciting a prayer of apology in the meantime).

HOSING DOWN YOUR 'DOWN UNDER'

Bidets seem to be a civilized idea. For those of us who don't have the space or the money, wouldn't it work pretty well to use a Water Pik? You can also buy a bidet fixture to affix to your existing toilet seat. You can adjust the temperature and pressure of the water. Those who have written reviews for these products -- even the cheapest ones -- seem to be enjoying them thoroughly, feeling squeaky clean and refreshed, and getting dramatic relief from hemorrhoids.

This is a nice alternative to a bidet.

We will either devote more and more of our dwindling personal resources to TOILET PAPER, or we will learn to improvise, or we will have smellier butts.

PUTTING A SOCK IN IT

I have about 25 years worth of clean, old running socks that have holes in the toes. For years, I thought I would sew the holes up, like my mom used to do, easily doubling the life of each sock. It seemed absurd not to do it, but I never did.

So when it comes to my personal toilette, maybe I'll just put a sock in it.

The rich won't, of course. Have you used the bathroom in a mansion or an ultra-elite resort lately?

A fireplace by the tub and gold-plated fixtures, plus the best toilet paper on Earth.

Their toilet paper shouldn't even be called paper. It is more akin to a satin, down-filled comforter, often infused with an exotic essential oil from the Far East, such as bergamot or patchouli, and a soothing hint of aloe. I think something more tingly would be nice, like peppermint or menthol. While you're sitting there, you could roll it up and smoke it, or chew it as a breath freshener.

If you are interested in learning "fun facts" and "high points in our history," be sure to check out ToiletPaperWorld.com. It's as charming (or should we say "Charmin") as it sounds.

This site did introduce me to a brand I hadn't heard of -- one that might ease the consciences of those who love trees AND toilet paper.

Marcal manufactures and distributes various paper products made from recycled materials, including eco-friendly paper towels, tissues, and napkins. Started in 1932 by an Italian immigrant, the company regards itself as "one of the first truly 'green' manufacturers - before it was the hip thing to do." The company's slogan is "Paper from paper, not from trees." It collects paper from roadside pickup containers in residential areas, from office buildings throughout the U.S., and even from the U.S. Postal Service's unwanted mail, saving over 200,000 tons of paper annually, according to its website. Marcal has over 900 employees, manufacturers its products in two states (New Jersey and Illinois), and has helped save over 21 million trees.

Marcal bath tissue meets EPA standards, according to company literature. It contains 100% recycled material, minimum 60% post-consumer. It is whitened without chlorine bleaching, and no dyes or fragrances are added. Marcal says its product has come a long way in softness and absorbency since the first "green" toilet tissue was introduced.

PRETEND YOU'RE NOBLY ENDURING A SOVIET LIFE

People are learning to cut back on a lot of things. Eat less -- lose weight. That might be a good thing. Plus, you'll need less toilet paper, right?

The Big Boys are not only giving you fewer ounces of shampoo these days (in bottles designed to look larger) -- they're also watering it down (ditto with the dish soap). White Rain shampoo has a pathetic approach to describing the watering-down -- it's called "Hydroplex -- our new, lighter formula." How stupid do they think we are?

I've learned that I've been using way more shampoo all my life than I needed to, so thanks, guys, for being inadvertently helpful.

Even the cheap stuff isn't cheap anymore.

And I can get by very well without dish soap -- a good scrub sponge does a great job. A little vinegar and/or baking soda shines up those pans beautifully.

They've been adding more and more water to canned cat food for years now. My cat makes no use of her water dish anymore. She gets plenty of fluid from her food.

I can cut back on my coffee drinking, Just sip more delicately -- no big deal.

THERE'S NO INFLATION -- JUST HIGHER PRICES

They keep telling us there's no inflation. What?? I buy the plainest food there is -- fresh produce, dried beans, rice, oats -- and the cost has gone up between 50 percent and 100 percent over the past several years. There is virtually never a good price on anything anymore.

I did get some Kroger coffee at what I thought was a good price a couple of months ago. As I wrote at the time, I discovered that the several cans I got had expired between four and six years ago.

That prompted me to look at the bottom of some Western Family coffee I'd also purchased on sale recently at Dan's. It had expired nine months ago.

The mouthwash that was on sale at Fresh Market expired the month before.

SELLING US THE CRAP THEY USED TO GIVE TO POOR PEOPLE

The big cases of canned tomatoes and beans were set to expire within a few months, which is not the way case-lot consumers are using the products. (If store managers disclosed this information, and let the consumer make his buying decision based upon the facts, that would be fine -- but the way it's done is deceptive and fraudulent. It's also a sign of the times. In the past, stores would have dumped this stuff off at the food bank for the inferior folks, so the "real people" could have fresh products.)

The extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil from Italy that we bought on sale at the Black Cherry Mediterranean Market turned out, if you happened to read the very fine print, to be CORN OIL that contained "UP TO" 65 percent olive oil. "Up to" could mean zero, and it smelled like zero to me.

I received a beautifully wrapped box of "deluxe" nuts from Western Nut over the holidays. They were stale. The vice president acknowledged that the nuts had been on the shelves for a long time, and it was certainly possible that they were no longer fresh.

His question to me was, "What do you expect us to do about it?"

It seems to me that it wasn't very long ago that customer service meant something, and people took pride in the quality and integrity of their enterprises.

He shouldn't have needed to ask such a question. I told him that if the answer wasn't obvious to him, let's just forget the whole thing.

CLAWING THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE'S CASTAWAYS

We're all devising strategies to deal with the downward trajectory of our quality of life. Everyone is looking for sales, clipping coupons, rummaging through piles of used clothes and roaming the aisles of dollar stores, desperate for a bargain or an affordable treat.

(Actually, this is the way I've always lived, but it was by choice, which makes a big difference. I love to buy used items. And why would anyone not shop the sales, whether the economy is going down the crapper or not?)

What's so striking is our helplessness as everything crashes down around us. We are not free. We are not masters of our own fates.

We never really were, but we came a lot closer.

Our country has never been what it purported to be, but it hasn't been this far from what it purports to be since we had slavery.

We might as well have a dictator. Maybe he could get things moving.

FEELING KINDA HOMELESS ALREADY

Even people who are lucky enough to have homes are living more and more like homeless people, lining up at food banks and at job fairs and at retraining centers. It's like we're refugees in our own country, which is becoming more stark and gray and sullen with each passing month.

What happened to the "shining city on the hill" that Ronald Reagan used to describe our country? Why he called it a city I guess we can chalk up to his intellectual deficits. That's Reaganism for you -- it's all messed up, and what we've come to is really a natural outgrowth of his values and those who attempt to grab some of his undeserved luster.

THE LIGHTS HAVE GONE OUT IN THE SHINING CITY

We aren't shining anymore. At least not the 99 percent.

Will thousands of us continue standing in line for every 35 jobs that open up? Will we have to start eating clay dirt, like the poor people in the South did, to get some nutrients and stave off hunger pangs? Will the poorest among us -- the most abused, deprived and ignored -- finally rise up and start taking what they need by force? I would, especially if I had kids.

Will those of us who are lucky enough to have decent homes be morally obliged to take in despondent families who did everything right but lost it all? (I'm already feeling the pressure). If we do share our homes, will we have to provide toilet paper? Can't Oprah just take care of this -- send us all a gift-wrapped supply annually?

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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