Like most people, I’ve used toilet paper for most of my life. Isn’t that why there’s a holder there in every bathroom next to the toilet?? Because it’s the right and only option? In my quest to reduce my waste, a couple of years ago I began to question if I could somehow reduce the amount of paper I threw down the toilet every day. This was a real battle for me, because I didn’t know what other options I had. Moving from the UK to Spain meant that I saw a lot of bidets around, a very uncommon thing in the UK. But I seriously didn’t even know where to start with learning how to use them. So I switched to recycled, unbleached 2ply toilet paper, which was considerably more expensive than the 24 rolls of bleached 3ply triple roll super-soft type in recyclable plastic that I was buying before. GAH. The former came in a package of 9 rolls, wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. With the latter, I was saving money and not buying single-use plastic, but was contributing to deforestation and degradation of waterways (through bleach) via the ‘luxury’ of 3ply white toilet paper. CAN.NOT.WIN.
Each year, a million acres of virgin forest is cleared in Canada alone to make toilet paper that ends up in the oceans or landfills after its single but very important job has been fulfilled. Even if you buy unbleached and recycled, you are still creating waste–through plastic wrapping or otherwise. There must be another way!?
So I carried on this journey for a while. The recycled toilet paper was more expensive but I figured that would make me more conscious of my usage and consumption. Negative. I still balled up far more paper than necessary each time I used the bathroom. Even blowing my nose I would double over the sheets. This wasn’t working, I needed to find another solution. I asked other zero wasters, spoke to people who had lived in or visited countries where a bidet was the norm, asked Google. The conclusion was….if I really want to minimize the waste I create using the toilet, I’m going to have to switch to a bidet and make toilet paper a thing of the past.
I got to researching and found that the most economical and the least terrifying to me, was what I called a ‘bumgun’; a little hose you attach to the water supply to the toilet. You point and shoot. Having that control of the hose in my hand made me feel a little….safer about the whole thing, rather than sitting over a stream of water like the bidets I knew of…which just sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. They’re easy to find online and cheap and easy to install yourself if you have a standard toilet setup (which it turns out I did not but the less about that the better!). I spent 15€ on the hose itself, and less than 5€ on various plumbing adapters I needed for my less than straightforward plumbing setup.
During the research process, I also came across “family cloths.” Lots of zero wasters who use towel diapers for their children have extended the same principle to their own bathroom habits and use cloth for cleaning up instead of toilet paper. Now, the idea of having poop-ridden cloths existing anywhere in my life was horrifying, hence also getting the bum gun. Point and shoot. So any ‘solids’ get washed away and the family cloth is needed only to dry off. Ok, this I can handle. I don’t have to come into contact with or even see my own poop using this method. Excellent. I opted for these cotton terry cloth baby wipes after seeing how versatile they are when friends came to visit with their baby and the whole reusable diaper kit, including these wipes.
The transition from toilet paper wasn’t without hiccups! It took a while to break the habit of dumping whatever was used to clean up, into the toilet bowl…I had to fish out many of my cloths at the beginning! Thankfully I haven’t got as far as flushing any down yet.
Then there’s the matter of cleaning them. Of course, when you’re dealing with family cloths for babies you’re bound to end up with some….leftovers, meaning they need sanitizing and put in the machine without other things to avoid contamination. Combined with the bumgun, I don’t have this issue so they go in with my towel wash on 60.
Dealing with guests was…interesting. I could not expect them to use the bumgun or share my cloths, so I made sure I always had a roll of toilet paper on hand when guests came over. Generally, my answer to the question ‘what is that hose next to the toilet?’ was met with a lot of ‘ew’s’ and ‘gross’ comments.
Now as if this post wasn’t TMI already, I want to add the benefits I have noticed from doing this. I have been doing it for around 2 years now, but after a couple of months, I already noticed a difference. I felt a freshness that I never felt with using toilet paper alone. Also, as someone with quite sensitive skin anyway, toilet paper was quite abrasive on my tushy area to the point that I would get broken and sore skin. Only after switching to family cloths and the bidet hose did I realize that of course, wiping repeatedly with dry toilet paper over the same area is bound to cause some irritation, especially as the skin around there is more sensitive. From a pretty skeptical bidet beginner, I’m now so happy I made the switch that I actually now hate using the bathroom anywhere where I have to use toilet paper!
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Photo: Renee Verbeme via Unsplash; Rose Findley