With TP Scarce, Will the Bidet Finally Make it Across the Pond?

By Les Firestein   |   March 26, 2020

For a smart species, humans can also have bizarre gaps in their logic. For example, the wheel was invented around 3500 BC… but wasn’t affixed to the bottom of luggage till 1970. In a similar brain fart of civilization, people have been duking it out over toilet paper at Costco, when, a few aisles over, you could buy a washlet aka inexpensive “toilet seat bidet” and go back to your bomb shelter, binge watch Friends, and let the Apocalypse play out as it may.

There are two main reasons to consider scrapping our precious bleached white rolls of 2-ply and embracing the dancing waters from France instead. #1 the bidet is far superior for personal hygiene. And #2 toilet paper is essentially carbon-horrendous.

Slow Your Roll: The Case Against Cases of TP

According to Scientific American, our country consumes nearly 40 billion rolls of toilet paper per year, which is five times the global average per capita (or as I like to say, crapita). These clearings of forest represent the pulping of some 15 million trees annually. Put another way, since 1996, North America has converted six million acres of boreal forest into scorched earth in order to provide a product that simply gets flushed down the drain. As a commodity, tissue paper recently surpassed newsprint, which says a lot about both industries and also our priorities as a civilization.

And if you think you’re being “waterwise” for choosing TP over the bidet or washlet, you’re not. Weirdly, it takes about 500 billion gallons of water to produce those 40 billion annual rolls of Cottonelle we’re hip checking our fellow shoppers for.

And the environmental evils of TP don’t stop at carbon. Our odd TP addiction consumes some 253,000 annual tons of chlorine necessary for bleaching boreal pulp, and 17.3 terawatts of electricity per year. That’s before we wrap our TP bundles in – what else? Plastic. And then stack those 36-roll bolsters on to wood pallets, whereupon they are wrapped in more plastic, only to be loaded on to diesel trucks bound for almost every home in North America.

As the TP manufacturers compete for market share, they keep making their product thicker and “quiltier,” approaching velvet corduroy, with these new super papers more resistant to recycling. “Ultra-strong” toilet paper actually gets that way from an infusion of formaldehyde, which is like steroids for your TP, with, just for good measure, some BPAs (that nasty, endocrine disrupting part of plastic) thrown in like sprinkles. It’s quite the chemical tortilla we apply to the most vulnerable membranes on our bodies.

Furthermore, wiping is bad science. Since this is a family newspaper, I’ll put it this way: If you went into a restaurant and they were simply wiping off the dishes with paper towels and putting them back out… you wouldn’t likely return to that restaurant. We don’t have to look any further than today’s Covid disaster to know there are dangers in the world not visible to the naked eye. And what is the remedy for these microbial menaces? In large part, say the global health experts and President Fauci, the solution is frequent use of running water and soap. Wisdom points to the spray options from overseas.

U.S. Behind the Times in Hygiene

It makes sense, of course, that while the US massively out consumes the rest of the world in per capita TP consumption, we also have amongst the lowest proliferation of bidets. In contrast, in Spain, bidets have been mandatory in new construction since 1975, Venezuela has almost 100% bidet penetration, and Japan actually uses bidet proliferation as a leading indicator of economic prosperity.

The important thing is that with toilet paper in scarce supply (or perceived to be in scarce supply) and in a quarantine with many unknowns, the way we handle our personal hygiene – and waste – is ripe for a disruption. That disruption is a 200-year-old invention from France called the bidet.

The Case for the Shataf Spray ($42)

First off, for those of you who think the bidet may be too pricey, for 42 bucks you can get a “shataf” which is basically a Muslim derivative of your kitchen dish spray, but fitted to draw H2O from the same water supply line as your toilet. FYI the average American spends at least $50 a year on TP so you can afford a shataf and even install it yourself.

The Washlet – An Easy Switcheroo in the Loo

The next price point up from the shataf is the “washlet,” a toilet seat version of the bidet, which you substitute for your current toilet seat, can need electricity but which uses the plumbing you already have. Washlets run $100 – $500 and you can find them just a few aisles over from the toilet paper wars aka “bum fights” at pretty much every big box store in the country.

The High End, As It Were

If you don’t already have a bidet, or don’t have room in your WC for a stand-alone unit, people swap out their toilet for an all-in-one toilet/bidet combo that is fancily styled and can range in price from about $1,000 to ten times that amount.

If James Bond ever used the toilet, which I don’t think he does, the Aston-Martin of loos is probably the Kohler “Numi” which does everything to your nethers (wash, dry, perfume) short of delivering a mint and sending you a thank you note. The Numi will in fact play your very own theme music as you approach since it syncs with your smartphone, though I have to say in the age of the Russian hack, I fairly dread what could go awry with a smartphone camera in your home’s most private space… and with the most private parts of your body.

Other high-end accoutrements include an ultraviolet system that is constantly disinfecting the bowl water, which would be nice for uncouth mutts like mine, colored lighting, and backup power that will give you 100 flushes even in an outage.

Get Off of My Cloud

Regardless of which way you go, high end or low, most people agree once you go bidet you’ll never miss your old rolls of Angel Soft. I never understood that brand anyway. The implication of “Angel Soft” is it’s like wiping your nethers with an angel. All that effort to get to Heaven and then… wow. As we face the perils of Covid, it definitely makes me think twice about how I might be spending the afterlife.


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