On the blog

Friday, 24 August 2012

A box of paper for your thunderbox

Summer: it’s a time for camping, visiting festivals or an extended trip off the tourist trail.  Packing… repacking… packing lite.  But some things just can’t be left off the list and top of those must be loo paper. 

In the Western world we rarely think twice about ‘bathroom tissue’ even though many people still have painful memories of those flat sheets of hard, medicated paper, first packaged by Joseph C Gayetty of New York in the 1850s.  But this home comfort feels like an essential piece of kit when faced with camp-site khazis or long-drop loos.

The Chinese were probably the first to use paper for bottom-wiping purposes, way back in the 6th Century AD, although an Arab traveller judged them ‘not careful about cleanliness’ because they did not wash themselves with water after they had done ‘their necessities’. 

At other times and in other places, all sorts of materials have been used for this everyday (unless you are badly constipated) process.  Leaves, grass, moss, corncobs, fur, mussel shells, clay, snow, wool and newspaper have all had their moment of glory, with the Romans – ahead of their time as ever - favouring the relatively forgiving sponge-on-a-stick method.

Modern bathrooms in countries flush with water resources and plumbing sometimes sport toilets with integral bottom-washing and drying facilities.  This ‘progress’ somewhat flies in the face of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent quest to reinvent the toilet in a more environmentally sustainable way. click here

But we digress… paper remains the method of the moment for many of us, and soon you will be able to help flush away poverty by buying an exclusive (!) Toilet Twinning loo roll, printed with pictures of  latrines in Africa and Asia.  Surely the perfect gift for those hard-to-buy-for people.   Watch this space. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Peeing for Britain

Ten thousand loos spread over 362 toilet blocks have been installed at the London Olympics in a bid to outrun the needs of more than 7.5 million ticket holders.

Disposal of human waste was one of the many practical issues at the forefront of the Olympic planners’ minds, particularly as they had a commitment to reduce the amount of drinkable water consumed.  A new treatment plant, opened this year, helps cut water usage at the park: raw sewage is cleaned using bio-membranes and the resulting liquid is suitable for toilet flushing and to irrigate the four Olympic flower gardens.

Athletes’ needs were not neglected.  Gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy, for example, was invited to contribute to the design of the 6,000 seat velodrome, which, along with its waterless urinals, boasts trackside toilets.  Some other venues have rainwater harvesting equipment.

All this looks like good value for money, and indeed sustainability has been riding high at this year’s games despite being lampooned in a very British way on the BBC comedy Twenty Twelve.

But for longer-term change, £60 to twin your loo, and bring about a permanent improvement for people overseas living without decent sanitation, looks like an Olympian-sized winner!