Today I’m going to talk about an issue that is near and dear to all of us, but about which we rarely speak. In the spirit of Crunchy Chicken, who spares no TMI when it comes to going greener, today I’m going to talk about my latest idea, my next step along the journey of sustainability. I’ve decided to forgo toilet paper and give cloth wipes a try.
Having cloth diapered two children I’m certainly not uncomfortable with the idea of getting close to human waste, but I confess that when my last child finally got the hang of the potty I was thrilled to be done with rinsing poopy diapers in the toilet. The idea of going back to that was just too much for me. I, like most people who even consider the idea of using cloth, was not thrilled with the notion of having dirty wipes hanging out in the bathroom. But thanks to the Cloth Wipe Challenge that the crunchster held last year (or, more specifically, the discussions that ensued) I learned that it needn’t be that way. And so I think I’m ready to take the first baby step – using them for #1 (pee, for anybody who isn’t following the standard numerical system for distinguishing urination from defecation).
Here’s how it works: I get some old flannel shirts, towels, whatever strikes my fancy that is thick and soft and doesn’t fray at the edges when I cut them up into squares (or I could finally put my second-hand sewing machine to use and zig-zag around the edges). I’ll keep a basket of these next to the toilet, along with a squirt bottle – women who have given birth may know these as “peri bottles” – filled with room temperature water (or perhaps warm water in the winter!). I wish I didn’t have to use plastic but I can’t think of anything that would squirt as easily. So…after peeing you give a quick squirt of water to the area which washes off the excess pee and dilutes whatever is left down to near odorless concentrations, then wipe the excess drips with a nice, soft cloth square. Toss the square into a basket (something with a lid perhaps, and lined with a cloth bag or mesh bag). When full, toss the used squares and the bag in with a load of laundry. Now how hard can that be? No smell, and the feel of soft cloth instead of dry paper.
It will mostly be Me doing my bit for the environment in this regard. Husband thinks the idea is crazy and he doesn’t use paper when he pees anyway. My four year old son likes to have “a dab” when he’s done peeing to mop up any drips, so I’ll use cloth for him. Daughter wipes herself but I think she may be too young to handle the squirting (and leaving a squirt bottle in a kids bathroom is asking for trouble anyway). Perhaps after seeing me do it she’ll want to give it a try. On the other hand maybe her first act of rebellion against her psycho-Green mother will be to buy double-quilted Charmin with her allowance.
When hubby asked me why I would bother to go through all this trouble for something that is so inexpensive, I explained: using less toilet paper will save some money, and every dollar counts. But for me that’s not the main motivation. Ever since I saw The Story of Stuff I have thought about what I buy – not just what happens to it when I’m done with it, but what went in to making it.
Yes there are recycled toilet paper brands, those that don’t use bleach in the process, etc. (I buy Seventh Generation toilet paper) but the fact remains that the Earth’s limited resources are consumed to make the stuff, and even 100% recycled paper requires energy, water, and who knows what other substances in the manufacturing process. Then there’s the plastic used to wrap the product, the boxes made to ship the product, fuel and carbon emissions from transporation of the product…you get the picture. And while I understand that one can’t get away from that entirely, certain products are a necessity (for me, a computer) and others I really can live without. I’m also really wanting to get rid of single-use items, and nothing says single use like toilet paper. I also have a sneaking suspicion that once I’ve made this switch I will, as with so many other changes I’ve made, not want to go back. At the very least it will seem wasteful to use TP for peeing, and I’m certain it will turn out be be far more pleasant to wipe with soft cotton than with dry paper.
Once I’m used to using cloth for peeing, I think it won’t be a huge stretch to use it for #2. But that might take a bit more motivation. I’m going to follow the squirt bottle method, which likely entails using a hand to help things along if necessary, so that the amount of stuff that actually ends up on the cloth square is minimal enough that there is little, if any, odor and it doesn’t feel gross tossing it in with the laundry. I do, after all, wash my hands after using the toilet anyway and after using a Diva Cup for the last couple of years I’m definitely used to getting bodily substances on my hands. Problem is that right now I indulge in the very guilty pleasure of using my kids’ flushable wet wipes (I buy a generic brand) for #2, which are oh so much more comfortable than TP and definitely leave me feeling cleaner (not to mention it’s easier when the ol’ hemorrhoids flare up – one more legacy of pregnancy along with the stretch marks and peeing when I cough too hard). So long as those wipes are around (without them the kids would never get themselves properly clean, or they’d clog the toilet trying) it is too tempting to use them myself. But, I will pledge here and now that I would like for that to be my goal: cloth for #1 and #2. But first, baby steps.
A final word: when I explained my long term plans to incorporate #2 into my rinsing and cloth-wiping routine, Hubby said why bother when you can get a bidet? I can think of a few reasons: First, it’s a separate bathroom appliance, and that means one more gross thing I have to clean. Second, it takes up valuable floor space in what is usually already a crowded room. Third, it requires its own water supply and I’d wager it uses far more water than a squirt or three from the ol’ peri bottle. Fourth, you are still supposed to wipe off any excess material before transferring yourself from toilet to bidet, as the bidet is not designed to handle feces, so you are not going to reduce your toilet paper use that way. There are bidet-like attachments you can buy that connect to your toilet but, again, it’s just more parts of the toilet to clean, and ones that don’t consist of smooth, porcelain surfaces either. And the water could be pretty cold at certain times of the year. You still need to wipe, so it seems to me much simpler to just use a squirt bottle.
I’m going to peruse the flannel shirt section of the thrift store next time we go, and I’ll see what I can pick up in terms of fabric ends, remnants, etc. I’ll forgo the fancy cloth wipes available online in the spirit of anti-consumerism, even though they are tempting. It will likely take me a week or two to get that together, then I’ll need to cut them up and find a peri bottle (I think there’s a health supply store near our local hospital that might have them). Stay tuned!