Beyond Paperless: The Paperless Bathroom

One of my resolutions for 2012 is to not only be more minimalist, like my colleague Matt Ryan, but also to try to save the Earth by going a little more green. I started refusing shopping bags at grocery stores (or bringing my own instead), as well as consolidating shopping trips into one massive shopping spree to reduce fuel consumption. Not only does this benefit the planet, but it also saves me a little more money in the long-term. Another popular trend in this eco-friendly movement is for office-dwellers, like me, to switch to paperless methods of billing, document archiving, and note taking.

One aspect of going paperless that is especially new and trendy, however, is creating a paperless bathroom. That’s right, people, we’re talking no Kleenex, no paper towels, and especially no toilet paper where you do your other daily business. Sound impossible? Think again.

While we haven’t reached a three-seashell Utopia like the one Sandra Bullock teases Sylvester Stallone about in Demolition Man, being paperless in the bathroom is a reality for some people.

Before I dive into the details about how some of the craziest people like Tom Cruise actually make this work in their home, let’s look at a few cold, hard facts. According to the New York Times, approximately 98% of toilet paper rolls sold to consumers in America contain at least some fibers derived from virgin forests. Americans buy more toilet paper than any other country (shocking, I know). Not only are Americans who enjoy soft toilet paper contributing to the demise of forests around the world, but the process required to turn these trees into your favorite luxury brand of toilet paper comes at even higher environmental cost when you consider the chemicals used in the process. Even if you buy cheaper, generic forms of toilet paper, such as the Kirkland brand from Costco, you are still contributing to this ecological disaster.

Some other countries around the world, including Japan and the UK, however, rarely use toilet paper at all. In fact, some people in Tokyo view the “use of tissue paper as odd, outdated, and wasteful.” Instead, many homes in Japan use a bidet instead of toilet paper. A bidet is basically a sink you sit on to gently cleanse your behind with an aerated spray of water after using the toilet, in lieu of you cleaning yourself with toilet paper. Intrigued? Frightened? Keep reading.

In 2008, the Madison Square Garden in New York City even added a paperless washroom, which was really nothing more than an automated toilet with a self-contained bidet. Though the idea of a “bidet” may sound too fancy and beyond your means, this aspect of a paperless bathroom is fairly easy on the budget.

Yes, it’s true: The use of bidets are actually becoming more mainstream, even in the US. They effectively remove the need to buy dozens of rolls of toilet paper for your family every month, and can be purchased from name brands you know like Kohler, as well as locally from the industry leader in bidet systems, Toto. In addition to an actual bidet toilet to replace your traditional toilet system, Toto makes something called a washlet, which is essentially a lid that fits onto your existing toilet and is activated by a simple touch of a convenient, easy-to-read control panel on the side of the unit — now that is fancy. From this panel, you control the temperature and pressure of the “soothing warm aerated water, self-cleaning dual-action spray, and streamlined wand.” The technology, integrated with some of Toto’s new washlets, is indeed quite advanced — especially for a toilet; priced at a point around $400, the low cost may be enticing enough to offset any modern eco-friendly family that already pays thousands per year in paper products for their bathrooms.

Beyond Paperless: The Paperless BathroomFor those of you who aren’t quite ready to convert their normal toilet to a bidet — and I don’t blame you — you can choose to install a bidet sprayer next to your toilet for you and your guests to use at their convenience. While you may be comfortable going paperless and instead getting cleansed after using the toilet with a gentle spray, your mother-in-law may have, well, a different opinion about your new lifestyle. These portable sprayers may remind you of an attachment to your shower head, but they promise cleanliness and hygiene at your own control. (For those with other ideas about this attachment instead, you can stop right there. This is a gentle, aerated bidet spray, after all.)

If the idea of a bidet is just not for you and your family? That’s okay. There are other ways to create a paperless bathroom experience without investing in a new toilet or moving to Japan. You can try cotton cloths as toilet paper, which is what Sayward Rebhal at Bonzai Aphrodite has done in her paperless bathroom. This takes a slightly DIY approach, which is typical for many eco-friendly lifestyle trends.

Sayward basically took old softened tee shirts, and then cut the fabric into strips the width of regular TP. Finally, she cut them into lengths so that when they’re folded in half they’ll make a perfect square. Sayward places new cloths into the a basket behind the toilet. While using cloths for #1 does not leave behind much odor, adult households using cloths for #1 and #2 may want to consider using a wastebasket that is also used for cloth-based baby diapers, such as a Diaper Genie, to reduce odor and prevent bacterial growth. You will also want to wash these towels often and with a bit of lemon juice, Borax, and possibly hydrogen peroxide as a natural bleach.

For those who are strongly considering a paperless bathroom, you likely already use other paperless products, such as cotton bathroom towels and hand towels for drying washed hands. If you are not using cotton towels in your bathroom, hopefully you’ve upgraded from soft, soothing towels to a Dyson Airblade for drying your hands. At around $1200, an Airblade is a little pricey, but you won’t have to worry about washing hand towels or wasting paper towels ever again.

If you still use paper, but aren’t ready for a bidet, how can you baby step toward a paperless bathroom? Be sure to use cloth towels after washing your hands. Cotton handkerchiefs make a comfortable replacement for Kleenex, as well as an easy way to transition into creating a paperless bathroom.

Have you considered going paperless, not only in the office, but in your bathroom too? Or is this idea just a little too crazy? If you have already switched to a paperless bathroom, or have started a paperless project, we’d love to read your ideas. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

This article has been updated to clarify the percentage of toilet paper that is derived from virgin forests. We apologize for any confusion.

Image of paperless toilet cloths via Bonzai Aphrodite.

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Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.