Better World? My Ass!

November 19, 2020 – David R. Weiss

Is it mere coincidence that World Toilet Day coincides with “Give to the Max Day” today here in Minnesota? I think not—as least not as karma would have it …

I have learned over the past several years that my body has grown lactose intolerant after a certain point. I no longer drink milk, but yogurt, cheese, and ice cream are all fine—so long as consumed in moderation. For instance, I know that on nights I have pizza for supper, ice cream is NOT a good choice for a late night snack.

But I’m still learning. Margaret and I made plans in the morning to have pizza for supper on Wednesday night. Then I spontaneously chose to enjoy—and I mean enjoy—a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. I remember, as though it were just yesterday (it was!), thinking to myself as the cheese dripped out of the sandwich, “Maybe you should reschedule pizza for supper …” But by supper those thoughts were long gone. Instead we enjoyed our pizza as a late supper while we discussed the six or seven donations we wanted to make to Minnesota nonprofits to celebrate “Give to the Max Day.” After supper I made those donations and after the news I turned my attention to this blog post—on my mind for a week now—to talk toilet tissue choices in honor of world toilet day.

Only by now that savory grilled cheese from lunch was making friends with the pizza from supper to my eternal dismay. (Okay, it was merely my “internal” dismay, but it will not soon be forgotten.) Instead of getting much written, I wound up crawling in bed after weakly praying that I might sleep off my foodie foolishness. Some prayers apparently are not meant to be answered. Or perhaps the pizza had offered a counter-prayer that it be allowed to give birth to fresh wisdom deep in my bowels.

I don’t really think pizza can pray, but ————————————————————— and that dash should run about as long as the path from bed to bathroom at 2:20 a.m.—where for nearly the next two hours I was perched on porcelain … on the very cusp of both World Toilet Day and Give to the Max Day. It wasn’t just irony that stung as I “thoroughly” commemorated both days long before the sun even rose. Fitting, I suppose, since my “celebration” was going on “where the sun don’t shine” anyway.  

So, that was my preparation to write this post. And despite losing far too much of my sleep last night, I’m determined to get this post done and out of my system today … along with everything else apparently.

Here it is short and sweet: Put some bamboo in your loo for your poo—which you can do! That will hardly fix everything wrong in the world, but if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then getting our shit together begins with a single sheet. And making that a sheet of bamboo has ripples that reach around the world …

Today is the twentieth anniversary of World Toilet Day, established in 2001 and later adopted by the UN as an official observance in 2012. Odds are all of you have commemorated it with your own trip to the toilet at least once or twice every November 19 since it started. And that’s sort of the point. Around the world 4.2 billion (that’s a B!) people lack access to safely managed sanitation. That’s more than half the world’s population! (Fine print: about 2 billion lack access to a toilet of any sort; but the number doubles when you include those whose only access is to toilets that are unsafe for people or ecosystems.)

And climate change is making it worse. More frequent extreme weather events and rising floodwaters threaten to overwhelm inadequate toilet systems, spilling untreated waste back into waterways, farm fields, and living areas. Sustainable sanitation systems, on the other hand, can safely collect and store waste, capturing green house gases for energy production; protect drinking water, and turn wastewater and toilet sludge into productive agricultural nutrients. Minimally, access to an adequate toilet is a matter of human dignity. Maximally, it’s about planetary health for the entire ecosystem.

But where does bamboo fit in? Well, between your cheeks of course. There are (at least) two mail order companies that offer toilet paper made from Bamboo to stock your loo for use with your poo. (Which you can do.) And both of them donate a portion of their sales to … make toilets more accessible around the world. That is, they harness the power of your flush to build better sanitation in places across the globe where it’s most needed.

So on World Toilet Day 2020—because what shit hasn’t hit the fan this year?—I’m urging you to make a small change in hygiene habits that can become a modest ongoing contribution to the health of people you’ll never meet and the planet you share with them. The two companies I’ve ordered from are Who Gives a Crap and Reel Paper. WGAC, founded in 2012 in Australia, now with a U.S. branch as well, is older, but both were started with the double-goal of providing a more sustainable TP option to consumers while also funding projects that serve sanitation needs in other parts of the world. They both seem to be good companies.

Now, a little bit of shop talk.

In any conversation about toilet paper, someone will inevitably “go nuclear,” and say “Just get a bidet and bid adieu to TP altogether.” And, yes, there are bidets—both full-blown Euro-style bum-bath sinks as well as toilet seat adaptations that promise to let you spritz with glee all that debris; some will even blow dry whatever glistens down below. And by most accounts the bidet is a greener and better cleaner than TP … but far less culturally practical. Even with toilet seat adaptations, which could, in theory, make almost every U.S. toilet virtually TP-free, this isn’t going to happen. But, if I can nudge even a dozen of my readers to rethink the way they wipe—culturally committed wipers that we are—then I can help tie our bathroom tidying practices to building a better world.

Still, bamboo?

Most conventional toilet paper comes from trees. In the United States, the biggest share of the toilet tissue that ends up in our home bathrooms began in Canada’s boreal forest, which locks away more carbon than any other forest on the planet. It’s a bitter irony that logging in Canada to provide toilet paper for U.S. households in fact drives the same climate crisis that threatens to further undermine precarious toilet options in less developed countries. If you’re planning a long sit on the stool, reading either of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s two very detailed reports on “The Issue with Tissue” (2019) and “The Issue with Tissue 2.0” (2020) is guaranteed to get your blood boiling and your bowels moving.

As these reports make clear, you can make a choice for a better tomorrow even as you’re saying goodbye to yesterday’s breakfast. There are plenty of TP options made from recycled paper, almost any of which are far better eco-options than those that come right from the forest. But here’s the bum rap: if you have a stoic streak that reaches all the way down to your butt cheeks (and beyond), I’ll offer you my raised brow of respect. But, and I’m speaking straight out of my ass here, having auditioned several of these myself, you can call me “Dainty David,” but my derriere delights in a bit more doting than the second-cousin of raw newsprint offers, even when it’s 3-ply and quilted. I’ll tip my hat to WGAC for raising the bar on 100% recycled paper TP—including an astounding 95% post-consumer content. It’s a remarkable product—and earns the top spot in the NRDC sustainable TP scorecard. (NRDC doesn’t score bamboo TP Reel in this report.) But all those recycled fibers give you a toilet paper that—how shall I say this?—sometimes lacks integrity … and lingers. I like a TP that’s a bit less … cheeky.

Which is why bamboo gets my vote. Bamboo is a grass. It has a lot of uses, but in our case, think of it as  … ass-grass. It grows quickly, naturally, and sustainably in China—without pesticide or chemicals—and both WGAC and Reel work hard to ensure that both farmers and factory workers are treated ethically. Its manufacture is much less water-intensive than paper TP. And, because it’s made from “virgin” bamboo (don’t make me blush), the fibers are both softer and stronger than recycled paper fibers. Meaning that when I ask it to kiss my ass, it does—and then it doesn’t hang around. Especially the Reel Paper. When it’s done, it’s gone. Which is exactly why I’m keeping it around these days.

Whether you join me in putting bamboo in your loo for your poo … or decide to raise my brow in respect by choosing 100% recycled paper, I ask you to join me in commemorating World Toilet Day by paying just a little bit more for your TP, knowing that you’re paying it forward while you deal with your backward. Your bum will feel blessed even as your pocketbook helps build bathrooms in places you’ll never see.

Better world? My ass. Yours too.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

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