Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Great American Wipe-Out

There are special days for just about anything and everything in the U.S. We just “celebrated” Earth Day, that special day each spring when we tout the virtues of the environment, everyone goes around looking like it’s St. Patrick’s Day again and then we go merrily on our way the next day spewing pollution and automotive emissions again.

And of course, there’s the “Great American Smoke-Out” in November where we’re all supposed to quit smoking for the day in the hopeful expectation that many of us cigarette puffing sinners giving up the habit (somebody look up the addictive properties of nicotine please) permanently.

So, now I’m going to propose another special day. Just once a year in the hopeful expectation that we can change our habits and protect the environment probably more than all the Earth Days and Great American Smoke-Outs combined.

I’m calling it the Great American Wipe-Out and it has absolutely nothing to do with falling off a surf board. In recent newspaper articles the Natural Resources Defense Council has been critical of the American preference for “ultra-soft or quilted toilet paper”. According to them, in “less-picky” Europe and Latin America, 40% of toilet paper I produced by recycling but Americans demand multi-ply tissue which requires “virgin wood” for 98% of the product.

Now, I don’t know about you but I like soft toilet paper. The but in this equation is how much I like soft, cushy toilet paper within the context that it’s not made of recycled material like old newspaper or bond paper or whatever could be used.

Perhaps I have a bit more of a unique perspective in that I lived in Europe for a while and got used to Italian toilets which either provided on paper at all or perhaps provided a newspaper or if it had toilet paper it was the consistency, absorbency and softness of crepe paper. Additionally, I spent many a summer vacation at my grandparents’ farm in the hills of Kentucky using a privy (that’s fancy talk for an outhouse) and have literally used Sears or Wards catalogue pages to wipe. My brother and I would get so “plugged up” trying to avoid the privy that the morning we were to leave the farm Mom would insist on dosing both of us liberally with Ex-Lax to get things moving, so to speak.

The idea of using 98% “virgin wood” to manufacture soft, fanny-caressing toilet paper is just a bit repugnant to me. But not repugnant enough to get me to quit using it. Now, I have gotten myself to the point where I’m pretty careful about how much I use. I’m a folder rather than a scruncher and I can get by with 3 sheets per wipe as long as I’m pretty gentle about it. And it all depends on how things went down there as to how many wipes.

But a couple of ideas come to mind. How about if we printed paperback novels and popular magazines like “People” or “Time” or “Entertainment” on a paper that could do “double-duty”? This could actually encourage more bathroom reading and maybe even make our kids just a bit more literate. Southern California is now under mandatory water reduction and rationing so bidets don’t present a very viable alternative.

This is really a crappy issue. That’s why I’m proposing an annual “Great American Wipe-Out Day”, perhaps right in the middle of sweet corn season, where we use alternative sources of toilet paper and which will highlight and promote the need for greater conservation of our scarce resources. Otherwise, at some point in the not too distant future, it’s really going to hit the fan.

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