The Scat is Out of the Bag: The Adventure of Our Butts and Toilet Tips from TreeHugger

After writing a post a few weeks ago about the environmental impact of plush toilet paper production, "The Adventure of Our Butts" was brought to my attention. This Story of Stuff-like video gives a graphic--but not too graphic--narrative of Billy, a pre-fecal cartoon boy who is shown how his choice of plush toilet paper causes the destruction of hundreds of thousands of virgin trees. He is also transported to foreign lands where squat toilets with buckets of water are the only way to clean up to show that most of the world doesn't use the amount of resources Americans like Billy do.

Since "The Adventure of Our Butts" and mainstream media like the New York Times and Washington Post are starting to broach this messy topic, I thought I'd compile some ideas about how to green your toilet habits besides using recycled toilet paper. It it's Yellow, Let It Mellow, Brown, Flush it Down
Since 26% of American household water usage comes from toilet flushing, reducing water consumption is the obvious place to start. And as much as we'd all would love to buy a low-flow toilet, many of us rent or know we won't replace our toilets unless we really have to. So what can you do?


  • Selective flushing aka "if it's yellow, let it mellow, brown flush it down." If this grosses you out, flush every other time, or, better yet, deal with it because it's the right thing to do.
  • Fix leaky toilets. According to the EPA, a leaky toilet can waste about 200 gallons of water every day. It's a really easy fix and makes a huge impact on amount of water consumed.
  • Make your own low-flow toilet by placing a filled bottle inside the tank, thereby reducing the amount of water needed to refill by as much volume as the bottle contains--e.g. a filled one-liter bottle will reduce the amount of water per flush by one liter.


If you had crap on your face, would you rather wipe it off with some paper or wash your face?

Washing with water is not only the more sanitary way to clean up, but it is also the greenest. The most obvious way for most Americans to wash with water is by cleaning in a shower. If you are regular in the time you poop, try to line it up with the time you shower. While showering requires water in obvious ways, using toilet paper uses water in not-so-obvious ways. First is the amount of water used in the flush, and then there is the embedded water use in a roll of TP (roughly 37 gallons per roll); this is ancillary byproducts of toilet paper production: chlorine to bleach the paper, the trees used to produce the paper, or the energy spent recycling the paper, packaging, distribution, etc.

Bidets are a more viable option than most think. There are several very affordable add-on bidet/shower hoses that easily install into your toilet. It may take some getting used to, but if you've traveled extensively outside the US, you know most of the world does not use toilet paper, so it can be done. Bidets are particularly good for women who would otherwise use toilet paper for every time they peed.

I surveyed a number of TreeHugger writers and found many didn't know how to use a bidet. A quick Google video search revealed plenty of G and X rated tutorials.


Take What You Need
An ex-girlfriend of mine would take a section of toilet paper as long as her arm. She'd then crumble it into a big wad, wipe once and repeat the process a couple times. Some people wrap toilet paper around their hand as if it were a catcher's mitt. Why?

While you might not go the Cheryl Crow route of one square per pee, if you must use toilet paper (and I realize there are many times when you must), use what you need. Often times this is not a large amount.

For both peeing and pooping, a way to significantly reduce consumption is folding the toilet paper versus scrunching. This is the practice I incorporate. I begin with one of two squares (depending one whether they are single of double ply) and fold down the middle. After each wipe I fold the paper to cover affected region of paper. I can often get 2 or 3 wipes out for each of these sections. While this is far less messy than you might be envisioning, I follow this practice with a diligent hand washing.

Getting Rough
A couple TreeHugger writers find a fiber-rich diet helps cut back on the amount of toilet paper they need. A healthy stool has the general shape of your colon (called a "baby's arm" by a friend of mine); these well-formed stools require less clean up than hard or soft stools. Diets devoid of fiber--filled with meat and processed foods--are more likely to slow down one's digestion and create harder stools that are more difficult to clean up.

This conversation would be academic in a world of unlimited resources. Even within the ranks of TreeHugger community, there were a few cries of entitlement--as if toilet paper were an inalienable right to everyone in the developed world; as if there were some segments of our habits that were off limits to the scrutiny of sustainability. This ability to look at how all of our actions impact the environment (even if we don't want to smell them) is perhaps just as important as the action itself.

Tags: Bathrooms | Water Conservation

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