Two years ago, I posted an article about bidets, and it generated a lot of healthy discussion. Since that time I've gathered more information on this topic, and I've been testing out a bidet for about three months. I now consider bidets to be a key green technology, because they eliminate the use of toilet paper. They also provide important health benefits. These include increased cleanliness, and the therapeutic effect of water on damaged skin (think rashes or hemorrhoids). But let's look at some figures on toilet paper usage:We use 36.5 billions rolls of toilet paper in the U.S. each year, this represents at least 15 million trees pulped. This also involves 473,587,500,000 gallons of water to produce the paper and 253,000 tons of chlorine for bleaching purposes. The manufacturing process requires about 17.3 terawatts of electricity annually. Also, there is the energy and materials involved in packaging and transporting the toilet paper to households across the country.
Toilet paper also constitutes a significant load on the city sewer systems, and water treatment plants. It is also often responsible for clogged pipes. In septic systems, the elimination of toilet paper would mean the septic tank would need to be emptied much less often.
Basically, the huge industry of producing toilet paper could be eliminated through the use of bidets. Instead of using toilet paper, a bidet cleans your posterior using a jet of water. Some bidets also provide an air-drying mechanism.
In Japan, high-tech bidets called Washlets are now the most popular electronic equipment being sold -- 60% of households have them installed. In Venezuela they are found in approximately 90% of households.
Many who commented on my first post on bidets were concerned about the electricity and water that bidets consume. However, it seems to me that the consumption is minimal, when compared to the amount of energy, water and chemicals consumed in the production of toilet paper. I'm sure that some of the high-tech bidets with heated seats (or the ones that speak to you in a calming voice) are wasteful, but there are also non-electric models available that are quite efficient. I have been testing a $50 bidet that attaches to my toilet. This model uses no electricity or hot water. After using a bidet, most people find cold water is fine, and not particularly shocking on one's rear. Occasionally, a few sheets of paper are needed to dry oneself. To avoid this, you could get a air-drying bidet that would eliminate toilet paper entirely.
I am also interested in creating a toilet that combines a bidet with a composting sawdust toilet. Since these toilets can cope with urine, I'm sure they could cope with the small amount of water that a bidet produces. See the Composting Toilet Systems Book and Humanure Handbook for more information.
This book is a good source of information on bidets: Everything There Is To Know, From The First and Only Book On The Bidet. The book discusses the different models of bidets, the health aspects and ecological benefits.