A Clean and Green Christmas Gift

One of the fun things we typically do on Christmas Day is catch up with distant friends and relatives – now even more enjoyable since “video” calls are so easy and affordable.  On one of our calls this year, we learned about a gift someone received – and it was associated with Toto.  My first thought was “they got another dog – one like Dorothy’s dog, Toto, in the Wizard of Oz movie.”  I was mistaken.  The “Toto” reference was to the manufacturer of a new toilet seat that incorporates a bidet! 

I was familiar with bidets, having traveled to Europe, where a stand-along bidet (i.e., separate from the toilet) is more common than in the U.S.  But now, you can order a new toilet seat that has a bidet integrated into the seat.  This particular bidet-seat we were discussing was made by Toto, and while I’m not sure of the exact model, you can read all about Toto’s products at this web site.

The installation is do-it-yourself; no plumber or redesign of an existing bath is required.  After installed, the user can adjust the water flow, the water temperature, and the angle of spray, among other things.  And there is a heating feature for drying. As this new product was explained to us, I asked what I thought was a clever question: “Does it have a memory setting for different users?”  Turns out it does and it’s all controlled by a remote control.  We all got a lot of laughs out of this gift, and there were a few “bathroom” jokes. 

Having a bidet reduces the amount of toilet paper a household needs. In early April of 2020, Steven Diaz-Wood, owner of swankyden.com, created a toilet paper calculator.  The calculator determines how many rolls you will need per day, per week and per month; how long your current supply will last and how much a person uses.  For example, according to his calculator, a household of four people needs 1.1 rolls of toilet paper a day, 8 rolls a week and 32 rolls a month. If those four people are quarantined for 50 days, the household would need 54 rolls.  Here are some other toilet paper fun facts:

  • Most people use the toilet 6-7 times a day, but 4-10 can also be “normal.”
  • The average consumer uses 8-9 sheets per wipe for 57 sheets a day.
  • The average person flushes the toilet up to 2,500 times a year.

Having a bidet can ease the worry of running out of toilet paper in the event of a pandemic.  But reducing toilet paper consumption is also more friendly to the environment.  According to an article in Scientific America, Americans use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper annually.  Making this toilet paper requires 473,587,500,000 gallons of water to produce the paper and 253,000 tons of chlorine for bleaching. The manufacturing requires about 17.3 terawatts of electricity annually and significant amounts of energy and materials are used in packaging and in transportation to retail outlets. Switching to bathroom bidets could save 15 million trees annually.

Justin Thomas, editor of the website metaefficient.com, considers bidets to be “a key green technology” because they eliminate the use of toilet paper. He also points out that toilet paper is a public nuisance in that it clogs pipes and adds a significant load onto city sewer systems and water treatment plants. Thomas further states that bidets provide important health benefits such as increased cleanliness and “the therapeutic effect of water on damaged skin (think rashes or hemorrhoids).”

To those who say that bidets waste water, advocates counter that the amount is trivial compared to how much water is used to produce toilet paper in the first place. Lloyd Alter of the website treehugger.com reports that making a single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water, 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity and some 1.5 pounds of wood. Furthermore, Biolife Technologies, manufacturer of the high-end line of Coco bidets, says the amount of water used by a typical bidet is about 1/8th of a gallon, and the average toilet uses about four gallons per flush.

On the public health front, bidet maker BioRelief reports that almost 80 percent of all infectious diseases are passed on by human contact and that only about half of us actually wash our hands after using the facilities—making hands-free bidets a safer alternative all around. “If you don’t have to use your hands at all then there is less chance of passing or coming in contact with a virus,” claims the company.

Once reserved for Europeans, bidets are now popular all over the world—except in North America. More than 60 percent of Japanese households today have high-tech bidets made by Toto called Washlets, while some 90 percent of Venezuelan homes have bidets. Most people use a small amount of paper to dry their posteriors after the bidet has done its job, but more expensive air-drying models dispense with the need for paper altogether.

In summary, I was relieved to learn the folks we were talking to on our Christmas call were not getting another dog, although Dorothy’s Toto was pretty cute.  And the Toto Christmas gift that was characterized as an amusing, new, easy to install gadget – a bidet – turns out to actually provide a great benefit for our environment.  Here’s to environmentally friendly gift giving!

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