Toilet tales attract more attention than trains

I might have to consider giving up writing about trains. I penned a piece for the Guardian about the fact that I have given up using toilet roll. Nothing to do with transport, I confess, but there is a clear environmental message. You can read the article here.

The response was amazing. Over 350 comments, many positive, some hilarious – you can catch up with those on the Guardian’s website. But clearly I have missed an opportunity here and chosen the wrong career path. My blogs on trains never attract more than half that number and I suppose it is pretty obvious that while only a proportion of the population uses the railways, virtually everyone has a dump most days.

There is, though, a serious issue, too. As I put in the piece, if everyone in the world used toilet paper in the profligate way we do in the west, there simply would not be any trees left. I am happy for the debate to continue here, of course.

  • Nick

    True Story, I read it with my own eyes on a plane from Florida…

    In the early 90s the Orlando Sentinel letters page had to request no more letters on the topic of which way to hang the toilet roll (i.e. down the back or over the top) and the pros and cons of each method.

    Apparently they received more letters about this than the first Gulf War!

    Me? I just put the new toilet roll on as it comes, sometimes it’s down the back other times it’s down the front. I have no real preference. What does anybody else think?


    P.S I think I heard there’s been a bit of bother over in Iraq recently too.

  • Dan

    Well, I guess your not going to get a column in the paper indusrty press! (Or maybe you will).

    I confess no expert knowledge on recycling, but I was under the impression that (recycled) tissue can be made of paper recycled from other papers, but which are no good for making recycled paper of any quality (eg to write on), as each time paper is pulped the fibres break down and then don’t have the strength to be made into new high quality paper (so in theory there is presumably a ‘paper chain’ of quality down from the high quality papers, through lower quality, cardboard, newsprint, to tissue etc).

    Now, to get back on topic – I must say I do find annoying those toliet roll dispensers that issue tiny sheets of single paper. Most train operators now seem to have gone in for them, and you end up using fist fulls. What was wrong with the standard rolls BR used to use (‘Bronco type’ of course, presumably to deter theft). I bet this isn’t specified by the DfT in the franchises specs!

  • Derek L

    Dan, I am not sure that the recycling issue is “off topic”. If the toilet roll use is the reasonable last end user in the recycling process then the argument against using the stuff is seriously weakened.

    I was under the same impression as you are as to the recycling process. I have since noticed that the reasonable quality photocopy paper in my office is described as “recycled”, which suggests that there may have been improvement in techniques. Newspapers also say they use a lot of recycled paper, which is also a demanding use – although the paper may not appear great, it is subject to high stresses in the printing process. “Recycled” in these contexts, though, may mean a mix of recycled material and new.

    If you use the public bins in the Birmingham area to recycle paper, I can tell you that it goes to Kappa SSK who use it to make cardboard box material, whatever the quality of the incoming product.

    I agree with you on the single sheet dispensers. Presumably designed to constrain use, they are exceptionally wasteful, as you say.

  • Nigel Frampton

    I’m wondering if recycling paper is the best approach to this issue, from an environmental perspective? The recycling process itself uses energy and other resources; and so, of course, do the hot air dryers and water sprays that you refer to in the original article. Water is itself a scarce resource.

    I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I suggest that one would need an accurate comparison of the resource usage of the various methods in order to make a truly informed decision.

    From the hygiene perspective, I guess you have a point. There is also the option of moist toilet tissue (I presume it’s available in the UK – I’m an expat), which whilst naturally more expensive, I find it is more ‘efficient’ and one uses much less than when one uses only dry toilet tissue.

  • RapidAssistant

    Oh dear CW, you’ve kicked up a right stink here (pardon the pun….)

    Getting back onto railways, I for one would love to see toilets on long distance trains that are no longer choked up with toilet paper that doesn’t flush away, nor the appalling state that fellow passengers leave them in. Pretty sure the track workers will be glad to see the back of track discharging toilets as well.

    Now that that IEP (or whatever it’s called now) is being built by Hitachi; maybe they will build the coaches with those wonderful fangled Japanese toilets that do the whole thing at the touch of a button. No loo roll, no mess. As long as they aren’t designed by the same people that did the loos for the Pendolinos and Voyagers…..need I say more???

  • Jublet

    There is a serious matter here. We may lose a darn good journalist from Transport to Digestive Transport. Don’t do it, Christian.