Civilization’s Most Important Paper: Unrolled


Watching the TV commercial where the Cottonelle puppy chases an unfurling roll of toilet paper across the house left me wondering again where our toilet paper is disappearing. I’ve been buying double rolls, but I swear they disappear twice as fast as single rolls. I think the tissue companies have come up with this double roll business so we think we’re getting more, but they’re rolling it looser so we’re really getting less.
According to Kenn Fischburg, president of (where you can stock up on the stuff), I should pay attention to the “ply”. Obviously, 1 ply is a single layer of tissue where 2 ply is two layers, but manufacturers don’t simply double-up 1 ply in order to make 2 ply. 1 ply is made of a #13 thickness paper; 2 ply is 2 layers of #10 thickness paper. You use about the same amount of sheets with 1 ply, but the price of an industrial roll of 1 ply (1,000 sheets per roll) is usually a bit more than those of 2 ply (500 sheets per roll) so 1 ply is more economical to use since there are twice the amount of useful sheets on a roll of 1 ply. (This also depends on who’s using it – something my scrutinizing eyes keep tabs on since I’m generally in charge of the tissue supply at our house.)
Fischburg reports that Charmin is now the best selling tissue in the world, but this commodity – oft taken for granted in today’s world – has quite a history. Earliest forms of toilet paper were used by Chinese emperors around 1391 AD. Packaged bathroom tissue was first produced in the U.S. by New Yorker Joseph C. Gayetty in 1857. His “Therapeutic Paper” contained aloe and sold in packs of 500 sheets for 50 cents. In 1890, Scott paper company was the first U.S. company to make tissue on a roll. In 1925, Scott was the leading toilet paper company in the world. (Scott became part of Kimberly Clark in 1995.) A soft 2 ply was produced in London in 1942, the first of developments that led to today’s standards.
Key to the best texture is the right combination of softness and strength. New technology makes tissue softer by blowing air into it during the manufacturing process and “puffing’ up the tissue. Adding chemicals to the process, a tissue becomes stronger and will not readily fall apart when it becomes wet. Kleenex (Kimberly Clark) designed the “cushy ripples” that make Cottonelle the tissue of choice at our house. Its special texture is the result of a patented technology that dries the tissue during the manufacturing process without compressing or embossing it.
To take some of the confusion out of selecting toilet paper, don’t just consider economy. Check how many sheets are on a roll, and check the size of the sheets (standard size is 4.5″ x 4.5″; some are as small as 4″ x 3.8″).
Tissue trivia. Fischburg’s research cites that bathroom tissue is ranked third among all non-food product categories across the food, drug, and mass merchandiser outlets.
Major manufacturers in the U.S. are Kimberly Clark, Georgia Pacific, Fort James, Marcal, and Procter & Gamble.
All toilet papers today break down well in septic systems.
Consumers use an average of 8.6 sheets per trip (these figures according to Charmin surveys); a total of 57 sheets per day – that’s 20,805 sheets annually, and a standard roll of toilet tissue in five5 days (less than half this in our bathroom).
Once an unmentionable product during the 20th century, today’s consumers can carry themselves and their toilet paper nonchalantly to the check-out. Target will even slap a tape-like plastic handle on your bundle to help you carry it proudly to your car in style.
Let us conclude with an anonymous Turkish proverb:
“May your life be long and useful like a roll of toilet paper.”


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