You are what you wipe with?

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Feb 25, 2009 You are what you wipe with?

This blog mainly deals with the law and social justice. Of course, if the environment gets as bad as 1973’s science fiction-fact Soylent Green, the world and social justice will be in even deeper doo-doo than it already is.

Speaking of doo-doo, it is curious how poverty can encourage environmental preservation when it comes to toilet paper and other luxury items. Not until I was twenty-years-old did I come to the realization that the vast majority of the world’s population does not use it, because it is too expensive. A fellow college student who grew up in a poor area of a developing country before moving to Great Neck, Long Island, told me that he had to walk a distance to defecate, and then would clean up with water and his left hand; that was it. When I traveled in Southeast Asia after taking the bar exam, I always carried a supply of toilet paper with me for when there was a public bathroom or outhouse with no paper. My excellent tourguide for a multi-day trek among the hilltribe people that included the Golden Triangle insisted that the hand and water method is much cleaner; he has a point, aside from what gets on the hand. I understand that the left hand is used, making it an insult in some societies to pass food to others with anything but the right hand.

Aside from daily gas and electricity consumption, toilet paper — followed by facial tissues, napkins, and paper towels — probably ranks high as a way that most people in the United States and other economically-wealthy countries daily degrade the environment. Until people substitute the hand-water method for the toilet paper method — and holding one nostril while blowing out the other one onto the street or other ground, which is practiced by millions of poor people around the world — the critical choice is recycled toilet paper, to eliminate the cutting of existing trees and forests for the mere sake of a velvety-soft feel against one’s bottom. The recycled stuff still feels nicer than the paper towel consistency I found in public toilets in France and elsewhere.

Greenpeace has a great online guide that ranks toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towels and napkins based on the criteria of 100% recycled content, at least 50% post-consumer recycled content, and bleaching without chlorine components. That throws out the Mr. Whipple window such brands as Charmin, Kleenex, Bounty, and Scott. The foregoing criteria herald in such products and brands as handkerchiefs, cloth towels, Seventh Generation, Trader Joe’s, 365 and CVS Earth Essentials. Let’s shake on it. Jon Katz

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