I have a confession to make. I’m actually quite embarrassed. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. I know most Americans behave the same way. I believe most of us are aware of the consequences. Still, I’m almost afraid to admit it. I feel like if I take this charge, admit my poor decision making, perhaps some of you will too. If I make my guilt known, perhaps I can change. And if I’m truly lucky, perhaps some of you will change with me.
I use toilet paper.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught me one thing it’s this: we use far too much toilet paper and far too much paper-based products in general. I’m ashamed because I know better solutions exist. Many of these solutions have been in practice for centuries in developing countries, and yet we Americans refuse to adopt them.
I can’t help but wonder why. Why do I continue to wipe myself dry with ultra thick toilet paper? Why do I find it appropriate to simply flush this paper down the drain? Why is this behavior normal?
The truth is it should not be normal. The sad part is that I, and I assume many of you, are profoundly aware of the consequences. I’m generally aware of the journey toilet paper takes and where it ends up (if you’re not, click here). I understand the devastating impact toilet paper has on our sewage system (read this). I realize that my regular use of toilet paper contributes to the massive wads of dense, disgusting sewer plugs affectionately referred to in the media as fatburgs. For those of you unaware, fatburgs consistently clog our sewer systems causing back-ups and overflow, ultimately dumping thousands of gallons of raw sewage into our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans each year. We spend millions of dollars each year removing these fatburgs from our sewers.
The most embarrassing aspect of this whole situation is that a better alternative already exists: the bidet (pronounced “be-day”). Many countries throughout the world, including most of Europe, Asia, and much of South America, have fully embraced the bidet. Anyone who has traveled to these continents has no doubt benefited from the experience. Americans, of course, have been woefully slow to adopt the bidet. The reasons for our refusal to accept the bidet are tragically misguided, many of which are closely linked to our nation’s sad history of sexism and misogyny. You can read a more thorough review of why the bidet has not been adopted in America here.
In dealing with my own guilt, I’ve started to think about why I continue to behave the way I do. Why do I, with my full knowledge of the costly results, continue to use toilet paper? Why do I find it so hard to change? Why do you? I thought by listing some of the reasons, and discussing my general thought process, perhaps we might all start to re-think our bathroom behavior.
Fear of the unknown.
To be fair, I too was quite intimidated during my first encounter with a bidet. Let me shed a little light on the subject. There are essentially 3 types of bidets. The most advanced are all-in-one toilet systems, combining the functionality of a toilet and an ergonomically positioned bidet attachment that squirts a steady stream of water on your anus and genitals. The original European version from the 18th century is comprised of a separate wash-basin that you fill with water and cup your hands to wash said regions of yourself. Don’t forget to clean the bidet after use. The 3rd version is a separate handheld that is typically attached to the wall or a toilet, and is essentially a hose with a nozzle. All 3 options are cleaner, more comfortable, and more effective than toilet paper. If you’re one of the unfortunate and initiated, here’s a more thorough breakdown of how to use a bidet.
Now you know.
Smearing feces around with dry toilet paper is less effective and can lead to dryness, rashes, UTIs, and hemorrhoids. Gently washing your undercarriage with soap and water is a far superior personal hygiene practice. I assume, or perhaps severely hope, we all practice a similar hygiene method when taking a shower. And, let’s not forget, Everyone Poops.
Bidets are expensive.
For many years, the American market only had access to a few, more expensive bidet options, such as the Toro Washlet. Thanks to a slowly changing perspective regarding personal hygiene, there are now more affordable options available. The Tushy Classic, for example, is a $79 add-on that provides bidet functionality without the need to install a whole new system. An even more affordable alternative can be found here. People throughout the world have cleaner anuses than Americans using a bucket, some water, and a little soap.
Do I still use toilet paper?
Ideally, no. Remember, the goal here is twofold: to improve hygiene and to reduce the use of paper-based products. Washable towels are preferred. Provide a dirty clothes bin near the toilet to dispense the towels after use, and then wash them as you normally would. If you’re cleaning is acceptable, the towel is used primarily for drying yourself – little to no waste should be present. The fancier bidets often provide a dry setting that blows warm air onto your nether regions. Highly recommended. If towels or an air dryer are not available, use a small amount of toilet paper to dry and throw the toilet paper in a waste bin or, if necessary, the toilet.
Given the current circumstances of the global pandemic, I can’t help but think this is a rare opportunity for design to highlight its true value. Through thoughtful design choices and well-planned business decisions, perhaps we can improve adoption of the bidet in America and unwittingly promote a positive behavioral change – one that is better for the environment and healthier for all our bottom sides. A behavioral change that is, quite frankly, a better experience.
What information, knowledge, or marketing scheme (if that’s what it takes) would finally convince Americans to make the transition? Could the bidet benefit from design changes, additional (or fewer?) features, or modified experiential functions? Are there any distinctly ‘American’ user needs, values, or habits that could reduce barriers to adoption? What’s it going to take for us Americans to fully embrace all the glorious benefits of the bidet? What’s it going to take for us to realize that a bidet is a superior alternative to toilet paper?
What’s is going to take for us to realize that a bidet is better?