In my review of Mark Kurlansky’s Paper I did criticize him for ignoring this ubiquitous, and no doubt fascinating product. As I suspected there’s lots of fun to be found in that innocent looking roll. Who knew that bleaching the stuff also made it softer?

As a general introduction the following video delivers more than its title might suggest, though the color issue (strange that one has never thought about this) does provide the main theme.

The manufacturing process is basically the same as for any paper  — only the formula for mixing the pulp will vary.

If you don’t see two videos here. please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

The stuff was, perhaps predictably, first used in China, and is said to have been introduced to the USA in 1857. Wikipedia, in a notably po-faced article, informs us that Americans each use an average of 23.6 rolls of toilet paper per annum — no wonder I seem perpetually to be wheeling vast packages back from the supermarket. Why did it become an essential of hospitality welcoming that the end sheet of the toilet paper roll has to be folded into an arrowhead by hotel room cleaners? Wikipedia gives no hint. Another exciting and thought-provoking fact that they don’t cover, which I found out from watching Steve Harvey’s vital quiz program, Family Feud, is that American users break down into three categories, folders, clumpers, and wrappers.

I am old enough to remember visiting houses where paper for this use consisted of neatly torn up sheets of newspaper. Handy for reading too. I recently made the observation that in France the perforations into sheets are further apart on a roll of loo paper than they are in the USA: our American sheet — self-evidently the greatest in the world now we’ve been made so great again— is 3.7″ long and 4.1″ wide. This has the advantage of saving trees! A recent innovation, which may not stick, seems to be the omission of that cardboard roll in the middle.

Can it be long before the ultimate threat to the tissue industry reaches our modest western shores? Early adopters are already saving wiping energy and paper, and prices are coming down. Another invasion from the east, the Japanese auto-wiping toilet seems set to be an inevitable addition to all our bathrooms. (It works by squirting water followed by warm drying air. Who could resist such decadence?) Will this solve our ecological problems by saving lots more trees from pulping?