A Brief History of Toilet Paper

Who knew that TP has an interesting story?

According to Owlcation.com, the earliest recorded use of paper as a toiletry is sixth century AD China. Not a surprise as the Chinese are credited with the invention of paper. Records indicate the Imperial Court of the Ming Dynasty started having paper manufactured for this purpose in the fourteenth century. In 1391, The Bureau of Imperial Supplies began producing 720,000 sheets of toilet tissue per year to keep up with the demand for this luxury item available only to royalty. Each sheet measured the equivalent of roughly 2 ft x 6 ft. Apparently, the Emperor Hong Wu was particularly delicate in his habits and ordered 15,000 sheets to be made especially soft and perfumed for his personal use.

Some 500 years later, in 1890, Scott Paper Company became the United States’ leading producer of TP after introducing toilet paper on a roll. Scott bought large rolls of paper from paper manufacturers and then converted them to become toilet paper on a small roll. The TP was sold through intermediaries, private labelers and drug stores. The wrappers were labeled and cut according to the specifications of each reseller. The company did not want to be associated with this Victorian era “unmentionable” so they didn’t want their name on the product. The strategy worked and Scott quickly expanded – distributing through over 2,000 reselling customers.

It would take another 40 years before the paper making process developed to the point where wood pulp was no longer a hazardous ingredient. As a result, in 1930 Northern Toilet Paper was able to claim theirs was ’splinter-free’ toilet paper.

In 1964, the Charmin brand added perfume to their one-ply toilet tissue. Then in 1986, to meet consumer demands, Charmin introduced unscented Charmin and Charmin Free products (free of inks, dyes, and perfumes).

Toilet paper made from recycled material was launched by Marcal Paper Products in 2008. All of the products in their Small Steps line, including toilet paper, are made from 100% recycled material and contain a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content.

Today, Reference.com cites a survey conducted by the toilet paper manufacturer, Charmin, which states the average U.S. citizen uses approximately fifty-seven sheets of toilet paper per day; three hundred ninety-nine sheets per week; one thousand, nine hundred ninety six sheets per month; nineteen thousand one hundred fifty-two sheets per year and a staggering one million, five hundred thirty two thousand, one hundred sixty sheets if you live to be 80 years old.

What happens to all that paper after it is used? Most sewage ends up either in a septic system or in a sewage treatment plant. Indiana Public Media’s Moment of Science discusses the decomposition options of landfill vs. sewage treatment plant.

In either case, bacteria process the organic waste and decompose it, and at the same time decompose the cellulose fibers that make up toilet paper. These bacteria release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as a byproduct. Many sewage treatment plants use a process to degrade the solids that settle out of the wastewater. Degradation happens faster in moist environments, releasing methane which has about twenty times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide.

Clearly, the best option is to reduce the amount of paper use in each household. One great way to reduce the waste and save money, is to use Control-n-Roll on your paper dispensers.

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