I have managed to become quite shocked, since reading No Impact Man, about just how terrible it is that in our society we chop down trees and use this valuable resource to make things that we use once and throw away. Have you ever made paper? If so you'll know how much water goes into the making. And I'm sure conventional toilet paper also comes with heavy use of electricity, petrol and more. Even the recycled toilet paper, which is not directly contributing to the chopping down of trees, comes with significant resource use.When I read Collapse, by Jared Diamond, I became more aware of how utterly valuable and essential trees are to our survival. Cutting them down for frivolous use is a very very bad idea indeed. Entire societies have collapsed when they cut down the last tree in their region, and it seems to have happened, over and over again, in the history of humans on earth.
So, I've been on a mission to get toilet paper, serviettes and tissues out of my life, as well as other forms of throwaway tree products, like wrapping paper. Tissues were the first to go - I sewed myself some hankies and have since collected many more from op shops. At least, as a society, we have a memory of the hanky as a conventional item, even if it's not popular now, thanks to germophobia, or perhaps I should phrase that as: thanks to increased attention to hygiene. Germs or not, I'm using hankies - in fact I get sick less than ever now, thanks to an improved immune system, (see side bar for traditional foods for good health). Serviettes are easy too - I take a napkin when I go to a restaurant. I use squares of newspaper on the rare occasions I would like to use kitchen paper to wipe grease off something. But toilet paper? That's been a hard one.
I decided to try toilet cloths for wees (I'm still working on a poo-solution), despite not being able to find any information about them on the internet. I had to make up my own rules. I've been living with toilet cloths for many months now and I don't find them any more fuss than hankies. In fact, they are easy, softer than regular toilet paper, and kind of pleasanter to use. Making the change was hard, especially psychologically as it felt "icky", but since I got past that, it's no big deal at all.
So, here's what you do:
First make some toilet cloths. This can be as simple as zigzagging around a square of flannelette, about the same size as a hanky. With experimentation though I've found I prefer to fold the square in half, stitch along two of the raw edges, turn it through, turn the other raw edge under, and top-stitch it closed. Now I have a rectangular shaped cloth of double thickness, perfect for wiping.
Create a spot for them by the toilet. You could put them on a plate, in a bowl or small bucket, anything washable. At home I have a nail for mine, and I sewed little fabric loops into each one so that it hangs nicely from the nail.
When I'm on tour I bring them with me in a small metal pencil case, and I leave the pencil case open on the floor by the toilet, with my current cloth in it. The pencil case can also go into my bag when I go out, and I take it with me into the toilet room when I go.
I use one cloth for a whole day, mainly because I didn't want to sew or wash enough cloths for every single wee I do in a week. This way I go through seven cloths in a week, and I like to have eight cloths in total so I've got one to use on wash-day. So, you need to reuse your cloth for each wee in a day. This is the bit that is psychologically icky, though once you've tried it, it really isn't yucky at all. The cloth generally dries out reasonably well between wees, and I find I can use a fresh piece of the cloth for each wee, eventually folding the cloth over and using the back. Now when you do this, you touch a bit of dried wee from earlier in the day with your hands, but you wash your hands after you've been to the toilet, right? If you're not sure about this, you could try allocating two cloths per day, and see how you go with that.
Now, depending on how many cloths you have, you could either wash them out in the sink with some soap at night when you brush your teeth, and hang them over the bath/shower/whatever to dry, and use your other cloth the next day (you only need two cloths this way), or else you can wash them at the end of the week. I don't get my clothes dirty enough to wash them every week, so if I'm not doing a load in the machine, I chuck my toilet cloths (and usually a few undies and socks) into the bathroom sick and wash them out with warm water and a bit of soap. It's easy - it really doesn't take long. Dry them on the line and you're done.
So, who's game to try?