Wipe Out

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
If you tried to buy toilet paper in the last few weeks, I suspect you might have found yourself staring at an empty aisle in the grocery store, wondering where all the toilet paper has gone. The first thought I came to my mind was that miserable hoarders took it all. And then I started contemplating the volume of a package of toilet paper, especially those massive, you know, like “the equivalent of 96 rolls” packs you see at Target, and thought, if just a couple dozen people bought one extra package, that would clean out an entire shelf. And buying one extra package is not that unreasonable if your whole family is trapped in the house and not using the toilet at work or at school or out in the world.

Roman Mars:
And this run on toilet paper is not limited to the United States. An Australian man wrote this ballad about the toilet paper shortage…

[Clip from ‘The Ballad of Dunny Roll’]
“Now we’ve faced wars and cyclones, we’ve survived them all as well.
But a toilet paper shortage? Well, it made us come undone.
For the people started hoarding all the last remaining sheets.
There were punches in the aisles, the was panic in the streets.
Me cracks in need of wiping, someone cried in desperation.
What else can I bloody use to solve this situation.”

Roman Mars:
And in the Netherlands, a Dutch worker went viral after he filmed a video of himself zooming around a warehouse stacked to the rafters with toilet paper, laughing maniacally.

[Clip of Dutch worker from YouTube]

Roman Mars:
Clearly, the world has lost its mind over toilet paper.

Stephanie Joyce:
I can confirm that, firsthand.

Roman Mars:
This is 99pi contributor Stephanie Joyce. So Stephanie, what have you seen firsthand?

Stephanie Joyce:
So a month ago, when people really started going crazy over toilet paper, I actually heard about this company here in New Mexico where I live that makes toilet paper. It’s called Roses Southwest. Now for obvious reasons, this is not a company that I had heard of before the coronavirus but when stores started coming out about people running out of toilet paper, Roses announced it was going to start doing public sales of toilet paper from its warehouse in Albuquerque.

KOB Local News Clip:
“For those of you struggling to find toilet paper, we found a place here in Albuquerque with lots of it It’s cash only. 35 bucks for 96 roles.”

Roman Mars:
So they were just starting this. What do they normally do?

Stephanie Joyce:
So Roses doesn’t usually sell directly to the public sale. There’s this funny division in the toilet paper world between “at-home” and the “away-from-home” markets and Roses is an “away-from-home” wholesaler. So when you’re out in the world at a restaurant or a sports stadium or a convenience store, they sell toilet paper to those businesses, but as you said, of course, now fewer people are out in the world using those businesses. Instead, everyone is trying to stock up their paper at home where they’re spending all of their time and that’s part of the reason why it’s flying off the shelves.

Stephanie Joyce:
So in an attempt to help people who are trying to get toilet paper, Roses has decided to sell directly to the public at a kiosk right outside their factory. And I was curious, who’s going to show up to these sales so I decided to go down to their public sale. It was on a Friday morning a few weeks back, I should say before New Mexico’s asked people to stay at home. I woke up super, super early and headed down to Albuquerque to check it out and let me tell you, I was not prepared for the scene. This is tape of me when I arrived.

Stephanie Joyce:
“It is insane. There are cars literally as far as I can see in any direction, waiting in line to purchase toilet paper.”

Roman Mars:
Wait, so there are like multiple lines of cars filled with people all waiting to buy toilet paper from this one kiosk?

Stephanie Joyce:
Yes! Coming from literally every direction. I found out later that the longest line was almost three miles long.

Roman Mars:
Three miles!

Stephanie Joyce:
Yes. Which is crazy! So of course, I started to interview people waiting in their cars in line. And just a warning, the audio quality isn’t super great. I was using this really long pole to hold the microphone so I could stay at least 6 feet away from people and I was talking to people through their rolled down passenger-side window for the most part so, it’s not the best audio quality. But one of the first people I talked to was this woman named Brittanie Perea. She was there with her three-year-old daughter, Azulcena.

Stephanie Joyce:
“How long have you been in line today?”

Brittanie Perea:
“Um, since seven.”

Stephanie Joyce:
“Wow.”

Brittanie Perea:
“Well, she needed the bathroom, so I had to go take her to the bathroom and I lost my place in line, had to start again.”

Stephanie Joyce:
“What’s your plan if she has to go to the bathroom again?”

Brittanie Perea:
“We did. We had to. I just opened the door and she used it on the side. I told her, ‘I’ll hold you like you’re sitting and just pee,’ I told her.”

Stephanie Joyce:
“Really?“

Brittanie Perea:
“We did it on the side right here.”

Roman Mars:
Oh my Lord. She had her daughter pee out the door of the car while waiting for toilet paper? There are so many levels of irony to that.

Stephanie Joyce:
Yeah, I know. And Brittanie realized how insane all of this was. She told me that when she had seen the line earlier in the week when she was running errands, she had laughed at the people who were lined up. She thought they were ridiculous. But then she actually started running low on toilet paper and she went to half a dozen grocery stores and they were all completely out.

Brittanie Perea:
“I saw this line last week on Friday and I was like, these people are ridiculous. But I’m down to like two rolls so, I need to. If I had like five or six, I wouldn’t bother. But, I’m on my last two rolls. But it doesn’t make no sense to me.”

Roman Mars:
So she’s not like a hoarder or anything trying to get a year’s supply of toilet paper or even sell toilet paper or anything like that. She’s legitimately out and she was one of those people who – actually, like me – who was like, this is a non-perishable supply, this is a non-perishable product. Why is anyone having to stock up on it? But then she’s just caught and finds out that she doesn’t have any.

Stephanie Joyce:
Yes exactly. And that’s what heard from people over and over again as I walked down the line.

Mary Salas-Sedillo:
“Never in a lifetime would I thought that I’d be waiting in line for toilet paper. I could see waiting for food, a box of food, but…“

Stephanie Joyce:
Okay, Roman so one last person for you. This is a woman named Mary Salas-Sedillo and she was there with her granddaughters, Felia and Amor. She told me they woke up at 4 am to get in line which meant by the time I talked to them, they had already been in line for almost 5 hours. And it’s not like they just woke up and got in line. No, they strategized. They didn’t have anything to eat or drink all morning so they wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom.

Mary Salas-Sedillo:
“I told the girls, I’ll buy you something to eat after we’re done.“

Stephanie Joyce:
“Are you hungry?”

Amor:
“Not really.”

Felia:
“I am.”

Roman Mars:
When I was a kid I used to beg my mom to take me with her on errands, but that’s got to be the worst errand of all time. What’s clear is that people are willing to go to extreme lengths to avoid running out of toilet paper.

Stephanie Joyce:
Yeah, I mean, obviously you get the point, but I find this super fascinating. I mean, toilet paper is like, I guess important, but it’s also not perishable. It’s not food or water. So why were so many people desperate for toilet paper?

Roman Mars:
This is a good question and one of the reasons why we wanted to talk to you. I wanna know actually, how we became so reliant on this one product?

Stephanie Joyce:
Right and so I decided to actually look into the history a little bit and fundamentally, this is a story about the genius of marketing because obviously for most of history, people would have thought it was insane to manufacture something specifically for the purpose of cleaning yourself.

Ron Blumer:
Basically, people would use what’s ever, no pun intended, at hand, including their hands.

Stephanie Joyce:
This is Ron Blumer. Blumer wrote a book called “Wiped.” It’s a history of rear-end hygiene and he says that for most of human existence, people didn’t have anything like paper. They used rocks. They used shells. They used moss. Or they used the original cleaner, water.

Ron Blumer:
The idea is you wet your hand with water and you use your left hand to clean your rear end and then you wash your hand and then you rinse and repeat, as they say.

Roman Mars:
I mean this makes sense. There are some cultures where your left hand is used for ablutions for cleaning. That’s just part of the ritual and then your right hand is for eating and greeting people, so water makes a ton of sense to me. Shells, on the other hand, do not make that much sense.

Stephanie Joyce:
Yeah, I didn’t get into too much detail with Ron about how exactly that would work. The historical method that I, personally, found myself questioning that he described was the Romans.

Ron Blumer:
They had a sponge on a stick, which was sitting in a pail of water in these communal bathrooms and they would use it to clean their rear ends, and then they’d put it back in the bucket. And then the next person would swish it around, hopefully, pick it up and clean their rear end.

Roman Mars:
Oh my God, that’s horrifying!

Stephanie Joyce:
I actually can’t think about it for too long. I’m telling myself, they didn’t know what we know about germs. They didn’t know.

Roman Mars:
Yeah, totally.

Stephanie Joyce:
There’s all these methods that sound a little wild today but there actually is one part of the world though where disposable toilet paper has been used for a really long time, and that’s China. China is, of course, where paper was invented and starting in 500 hundred or so, there are records of paper being used for wiping. And then starting in the 1300s, there are actually records of paper actually being made specifically for use in the toilet.

Roman Mars:
So when does the idea of using paper catch on in the rest of the world and the west?

Stephanie Joyce:
In the 1600s and 1700s, paper is starting to become really widespread. The first newspapers get printed. You know, paper that’s explicitly meant to be thrown out, and then in the late 1700s, we actually figure out how to make paper out of wood. It was made out of rags before and suddenly paper gets a whole lot cheaper. And most people are still using whatever is on hand but it does also become common for people to use paper. Now, this isn’t paper that’s specifically made for bum wiping. It takes a few more decades before anyone was actually making paper that was intended for that particular purpose. That was in the 1850s and Blumer credits a guy named Joseph Gayetty with selling the first actual toilet paper in the western world. And Gayetty’s sales pitch was basically that using newspaper was bad for you.

Ron Blumer:
And so he decided to make this a form of paper, which was thin and, as he sold it, more gentle on your delicate membranes and helping if you had hemorrhoids.

Roman Mars:
So, this toilet paper, would we recognize it as the toilet paper we have today?

Stephanie Joyce:
I don’t think so, no. It came in a box like tissues and it was made of hemp. And Blumer actually told me he got his hands on an original box of it.

Ron Blumer:
It feels a bit like what we would call tissue paper. I don’t think we would be very happy using it, but it was thin and I guess it would sort of do the job.

Stephanie Joyce:
This was not a hugely popular product. It cost a lot of money so only rich people could afford it and most people really just didn’t see the need when there was so much free paper out there. The Sears and Roebuck catalog cost absolutely nothing. It came in the mail. The whole toilet paper thing just didn’t take seem necessary to most people. And it might not have taken off if not for the fact that around the same time, there’s another big change that happens in the human waste disposal world. And that change is indoor plumbing.

Roman Mars:
So now people not only have toilets inside their houses but those toilets are connected to pipes and sewers systems as a way of disposing of the waste.

Stephanie Joyce:
Exactly. But as anyone who has spent time plunging a toilet before can tell you, you can’t just be flushing newspaper down a toilet. You need something that’s more delicate than that.

Roman Mars:
Like Gayetty’s paper! So fortuitous.

Stephanie Joyce:
Exactly. So, Gayetty actually pivots and he starts marketing his paper differently as good for use for indoor toilets and other people start to get in on the business. Among the early adopters is this guy from Albany, New York named Seth Wheeler. And Wheeler is really the guy who creates toilet paper as you and I know it.

Ron Blumer:
Wheeler came up with the idea and patented the idea of having a roll that was perforated so that you could rip off a sheet at a time and also he had to invent all the mechanisms, the roller, to hold it because people wouldn’t have it. So he would sell the unit as a whole.

Roman Mars:
So this guy is responsible for not only putting toilet paper on a roll but actually dividing it into sheets. It really is the toilet paper as we know it.

Stephanie Joyce:
Yeah, he’s a toilet paper inventor. In the years after, he patents all these other kinds of ideas related to toilet paper. Some of them, I would say, more practical than others. He has the patent on hexagonal toilet paper which he thought would be easier to tear from the roll. He has a patent on half a dozen different kinds of paper holder designs. Basically, he spent the rest of his life thinking about how to improve toilet paper.

Roman Mars:
I love people like that. I love people who are obsessed with these things. I mean, I don’t know if he’s a pleasure to be around as a person but I’m glad those people exist in the world.

Stephanie Joyce:
Yeah. I can’t imagine what his dinner conversation would have been like but he was definitely a super successful inventor and he was a fine businessman. His company sold a lot of toilet paper but he is not the person who actually makes toilet paper an American essential. That is one of his competitors at the time, the Scott Paper Company.

Roman Mars:
And this is the same Scott Paper Company that sells toilet paper today that you see… or like you used to see in the toilet paper aisle.

Stephanie Joyce:
Like you used to see in the toilet paper aisle. Yeah, the very same. The Scott Paper Company starts making toilet paper right around the same time as Wheeler but they are much better at marketing. They take that original idea that toilet paper is the solution to hemorrhoids and they run with it.

Ron Blumer:
You’d see these horrifying ads in newspapers and magazines of doctors with scary-looking surgical instruments. And the doctor was saying to the other doctor, “we wouldn’t have to operate on this man if his wife had bought Scott toilet paper.” And they would also attack their rivals by saying, “well, so-and-so has wood chips or splinters in their toilet paper. You wouldn’t want to use that.”

Roman Mars:
Nothing like fear to sell your product.

Stephanie Joyce:
Totally, yeah. They also sold it as this sophisticated luxury item. That was their two-pronged approach. There’s this one ad that’s in Blumer’s book that describes ‘women of intuitive daintiness’ buying Scott tissue.

Roman Mars:
Intuitive daintiness. Oh, I love it. It’s so terrible.

Stephanie Joyce:
It’s so terrible, and it worked! They basically end up owning the market through the 1950s. And they make toilet paper this essential household product for most Americans.

Roman Mars:
So in less than 50 years, toilet paper goes from non-existent in the western world to totally indispensable because of the Scott Paper Company.

Stephanie Joyce:
Yes. So indispensable that people are willing to wait for 5 hours in line for it. Toilet paper now is a $30 billion industry. We use, as Americans – I looked this up – we use 28 pounds of toilet paper a year per person which is 141 rolls. So many trees.

Roman Mars:
So how are toilet paper manufacturers keeping up during this time of increased demand?

Stephanie Joyce:
I wanted to know too. So while I was down in Albuquerque, I actually set up a meeting with the sales and marketing manager for Roses Southwest. A guy named Gibson Archer.

Gibson Archer:
“Good time to be in the bath tissue business for sure.” [laughing]

Stephanie Joyce:
“Bath tissue. Is that the term of art in the industry?”

Gibson Archer:
“That’s the sexy term for it, right? Bath tissue. That’s so much better than toilet paper. Okay. Maybe not. But yeah, we do refer to it in the industry as bath tissue.”

Roman Mars:
So is there actually a short supply of “bath tissue” then?

Stephanie Joyce:
I mean, yes and no. Yes, there is a shortage if you’re trying to buy it at the grocery store but if you take a step back and look at the entire toilet paper supply chain, the answer is no. Unlike a lot of other things that are kind of hard to find at the moment, the toilet paper supply chain is actually almost entirely here in the U.S. or at least entirely in North America. And so, even though the coronavirus has disrupted a lot of things, it actually hasn’t disrupted the toilet paper supply chain. The trees are still getting cut down. Paper mills are still running.

Stephanie Joyce:
Roses has actually added an extra shift to try and keep up with the demand but keep in mind, Roman, it’s not like people are consuming toilet paper any faster than usual. They are consuming it differently. So people are using more toilet paper at home, as opposed to at work or at restaurants but that’s not more toilet paper overall. That’s just a breakdown in where the toilet paper is going and that’s the change that suppliers like Roses are currently adjusting to. So eventually, the supply should catch up to the demand.

Roman Mars:
And in the meantime, hopefully, you have enough rolls to get you through.

Stephanie Joyce:
Hopefully, that or you have to get creative. Even Gibson who is, I will remind you, an actual toilet paper salesman, was willing to admit that when it really comes down to it, toilet paper is not that essential.

Gibson Archer:
“f you had to take society down to like, it’s survival level, we can live without it, but we don’t want to live without it. And so we’re seeing the stockpiling so that they can sort of check that off of their mental list of concerns and move on to the next one if it’s something they can go out and buy.”

Stephanie Joyce:
So when I was outside the factory interviewing people, I did actually ask everyone that I talked to in line what their backup plan was in case they did run out of toilet paper. Honestly, a lot of people were just like, “Nope, not going there. That’s not possible. They will not run out of toilet paper.” But a few people had actually thought about it and had some interesting answers including Brittanie Perea, the woman who I told you about who had her daughter pee out of the door of the car. She told me that as a kid, her family actually used newspaper.

Brittanie Perea:
“You know, we grew up a little poor with my great-grandma and we’d soften up the newspapers.”

Stephanie Joyce:
“Oh, wait, tell me more about that. How does that work?”

Brittanie Perea:
“Just get the newspaper and you know ruffle it up a little bit to make it soft.”

Stephanie Joyce:
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Brittanie Perea:
“That’s how we used to back when I was little.”

Roman Mars:
That is a good tip. Although I should stress that you should not flush newspapers down the toilet, but if you want to support local journalism and have a backup cleaning system all at the same time, you know, subscribe to the paper.

Stephanie Joyce:
Yes, all for supporting your local newspaper. The other thing a lot of people said is that they’d just use water if they ran out of toilet paper, which surprise, is actually still how most of the world clean themselves after going to the bathroom. 70 percent of the world doesn’t use toilet paper. And most of those people just use water. In some places, they use bidets. In most of the Muslim world, people clean themselves with water and their left hand. And I think that sounds, maybe to some people, like it’s unsanitary but, let me remind you, that toilet paper sounds really gross to a lot of the rest of the world, like you’re just smooshing things around down there. Not actually getting clean.

Stephanie Joyce:
A few studies have actually shown that toilet paper does very little to stop germs from getting onto your skin. Like not actually more sanitary. Not to mention that, I’m sure you remember, the original claim that made toilet paper so popular. That it prevents damage to your delicate regions. That is not true. Toilet paper can actually make hemorrhoids worse. Doctors are not fans.

Roman Mars:
Yeah, I had a friend who had some surgery down in those areas and he always washed himself thoroughly with soap and water rather than with toilet paper cause it was so sensitive and he needed to get it more clean. He said this thing that just always stick with me, it’s that if you got feces on your hand, you wouldn’t use a piece of paper to clean it off. You’d clean it off with soap and water.

Stephanie Joyce:
I mean, that is what I’m saying. It’s not good design, it’s just good marketing.

Roman Mars:
It’s just good marketing. That’s exactly right.

Stephanie Joyce:
Although bad design can be comforting especially in these times. If it makes you feel better, go out and buy your toilet paper but if you can’t find any, then maybe consider joining your friends and the rest of the world and use water, and then you can wash your hands.

Roman Mars:
Which is another thing we should be doing a lot of. Everyone, keep washing your hands. Well, thank you so much, Stephanie. This was really great. I learned a lot.

Stephanie Joyce:
You’re welcome.

Roses Employee:
“Good morning.”

Customer:
“Can I get the 400 sheet 2 ply, please.”

Employee:
“Yes, sir. That is $35.”

Customer:
“Okay.”

Employee:
“All right. One second. All right, so out of 40 you have $5 change. Here’s your receipt. Drive up this way. Give it to the fine gentleman over there who will get you loaded. Make sure to stay in your vehicle for me, sir. Thank you.”

[BREAK]

Roman Mars:
Here is Avery Trufelman.

Avery Trufelman:
After its journey, from a tree – to a factory – to a store – to your closet- to your bathroom – into the basin, toilet paper flushes into your private sewer lateral. And that wastewater goes to a public sewer line, to a facility where it gets cleaned.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
The first part is collection and we screen it. We take out all the big pieces. Sometimes we find boots. Sometimes we find animal carcass…

Avery Trufelman:
Did you say boots?

Nelsy Rodriguez:
Yeah, like a boot, like a foot boot.

Avery Trufelman:
Nelsy Rodiguez is a public information representative with East Bay Municipal Utility District, also known as East Bay Mud. East Bay Mud provides fresh water from way up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and then after the water is not so fresh, they gather it up again.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
And we treat it. We disinfect it, we take out bacteria and virus, we clean it so that it is safe to be able to release to the San Francisco Bay.

Avery Trufelman:
They run it through what they call digesters. There are 11 of them on the plant. They’re these circular massive basins that are just constantly churning.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
You put the wastewater into this digester and then we put microbes in there and the microbes feed off the bacteria in there so they’re getting plump and they are then producing methane gas which we convert and use that gas to help run the plant.

Avery Trufelman:
I went on a tour of this facility once. It is as awesome as it is disgusting. I mean, it smells like sewage. But the machinery is objectively extraordinary.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
This machinery is big and expensive. And so when we have issues of something that shouldn’t be in the wastewater system coming up and slamming into our filters, it can take a filter out of service for a while, while we have to replace it. And that’s just money that we’re really just throwing down the drain.

Avery Trufelman:
Which is why they filter out bike tires and boots and other big objects. But it is ALSO why East Bay Mud would like you to use toilet paper.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
Because it’s thin it breaks down almost instantaneously in water. A paper towel, not so much. Even less with a wipe

Avery Trufelman:
Even the wipes that say that they’re flushable?

Nelsy Rodriguez:
Yes. Especially the wipes that say that they’re flushable. It’s an advertising campaign. It’s a marketing scheme that is not true.

Avery Trufelman:
Do not get anyone at your local utility started about “flushable” wipes!

Nelsy Rodriguez:
Those wipes when they are flushed, they collect because they’re kind of floating in water and then they all start to bunch together and they create these huge — we call the, in the industry, we call them ‘turkeys.’

Avery Trufelman:
Because they look like turkeys.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
They’re these huge gobs of gross wipes that just slam into our filters and they can be really disruptive to the machinery.

Avery Trufelman:
Since the shelter-in-place order, when there was the sudden demand for toilet paper, Nelsey says they’ve seen a lot more wipes show up in the wastewater.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
We’re really asking the public to please do not flush those things.

Avery Trufelman:
But if you don’t have access to toilet paper, what do you do? What’s your next best option?

Nelsy Rodriguez:
Facial tissues are decent enough. They’re still not preferred, they’re not as thin as toilet paper. It may be a last resort, but an actual cloth with soap and water. Jumping in the shower. We’re really asking for those kinds of things. You can still use the wipes, for sure use the wipes, but throw them in the trash, not in the toilet.

Avery Trufelman:
I mean, that’s what East Bay Mud is going to do with them anyway.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
We just toss that thing in the garbage anyway. So you can save – you can help us save – public wastewater rates, public money, by not breaking our system with these wipes.

Avery Trufelman:
Nelsy is one of the East Bay Mud employees who is able to work from home. And East Bay Mud is putting some of their major projects on hold. But they can’t put everything on hold.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
We certainly can’t stop treating water, we can’t stop fixing pipes that are broken.

Avery Trufelman:
So I was curious. Last time I went to the store, I saw that people were buying big packs of toilet paper and also buying gallons of water. I didn’t really get why but because I saw everyone else buying water, I bought some too. I assumed we were all bracing for some sort of Mad Max dystopian future where water would become currency. Which is a future I don’t want to rule out completely, but Nelsy says it’s not imminent. At least we’re lucky here in Northern California.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
It’s understandable that people get panicked. But there’s no need to when it comes to your water. Our water is fine, we’re great. We do, however though, this is a really important point, we do recommend that everybody should have emergency water.

Avery Trufelman:
It’s just that East Bay Mud can’t control what happens underground. A pipe could still break. And they would still have to come fix it.

Nelsy Rodriguez:
I could mean we may have to turn your water off for, I don’t know, 4 to 12 hours. And in those instances, you will need your emergency water supply.

Avery Trufelman:
And we can all help avoid this in the first place by not flushing wipes. Or tires, or boots. Or anything else that’s not toilet paper. There are two things you can flush down the toilet: things that come out of your body and toilet paper. That’s it. That’s the PSA. Sorry if you can never eat turkey again.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
99% Invisible was produced this week by Stephanie Joyce and Avery Trufelman, edited by Joe Rosenberg. Mix and tech production by Sharif Youssef. Music by Sean Real. Katie Mingle is our senior producer. Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director. The rest of the team is Emmett FitzGerald, Delaney Hall, Chris Berube, Vivian Le, Sofia Klatzker and me, Roman Mars.

Ron Blumer, our expert on the history of rear-end cleaning, wrote the book ‘Wiped’ which is full of interesting details about toilet culture that we didn’t get to include in this episode. We’ll link to it on our website.

We are a project of 91.7 KALW in San Francisco and produced on Radio Row in beautiful downtown Oakland, California. 99% Invisible is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, a fiercely independent collective of the most innovative shows in all of podcasting. Find them all at Radiotopia.fm.

Credits

Production

Reporter Stephanie Joyce spoke with Ron Blumer, author of Wiped; Gibson Archer, Sales and Marketing Manager of Rose’s Southwest Papers.

  1. Brook

    Women who give birth in hospitals in the US are sent home with a perineal irrigation bottle to help clean delicate areas for days or weeks after birth.

  2. Hi, I couldn’t help but notice that you did not actually credit the performer of the “Ballad of the Dunny Roll” by name. So a shout out to comedian Sammy J from me.

  3. Kristian Winston

    I’m a wastewater operator in training; thank you for including the public service announcement regarding wipes.
    Wipes are the bane of utility employees everywhere. From small towns like mine to huge metropolitan areas like yours.
    We unclog pumps weekly; we go fishing in basins and tanks for things that look like small intestines on a daily basis. It’s horribly disgusting.
    If only the general public knew. In Washington state, where I live, there is legislation to ban the label ‘flushable.’ We’ll see what happens.
    Education and outreach seem like the best solution and that’s why I’m so thankful for the short addendum to the episode.
    Cheers.
    Stay safe.

    1. Dan Walsh

      FWIW, in Oaxaca Mexico (probably most of Mexico) if you didn’t poop it, pee it or puke it, it doesn’t go in the toilet. Toilet paper goes in a bin beside the toilet and then goes out with the trash.

    2. A question that’s always confused me: waste food being slipped into the waste water system.

      The thought is when we’ve eaten and finished the meal and have some left over, or had soup that’s been left in fridge too long; mainly the more medium viscosity liquid stuff that you wouldn’t want to put into a refuse sack; gravy; bit a cheese source and not much of it; too little to be saved or too old for safe consumption – can that organic, bone free and largely chuck free material be disposed of down the toilet? This is material that wouldn’t be much more than excreted in fecal matter or similar consistency anyway – it’s just that it’s skipped the human and going straight to the bowel.

      Is that a respectable to dispose of this material? I always think of the bin sack for solid wastes, or if there’s a chance of using an absorbent for the more liquid wastes, but if I have a liter of bone free chicken stock that’s gone off, is the toilet an appropriate disposal route??

  4. Sharon Casey

    Scott is so ubiquitous that here in Quebec, French-speaking people call paper towel “Scott-towELLES”. The accent makes it.

  5. Martin B

    The comment about tracing paper reminded me of Izal toilet paper, though that was actually harder and shinier than tracing paper so was even less useful than tracing paper at cleaning up anything, it just sort of spread stuff around, apologies for the mental image that just popped into everyones head, that’s the only way I can explain it.

    The armed forces in the UK used Izal, or at least something very similar, well into the 1980s, possibly later, I may need to have therapy because of the memories this episode has bought up.

  6. 2WarAbnVet

    October 12, 2035 was a red letter day for Sam Smidlapp. It was the day he opened the last roll of toilet paper his parents had bought in 2020.

  7. Joshua Coales

    This is quite pedantic, but that later patent of Wheeler is octagonal, not hexagonal

  8. Neil L.

    I wish this report had mentioned that a HUGE player in the toilet paper market is Georgia-Pacific. They have brands like Quilted Northern, and also make a lot of the products sold at big box stores. And GP is privately, not publicly owned. By the Koch Brothers, which owns it to this day.

  9. Jahan Sagafi

    We love your show. Question — how can Americans use 141 rolls per year per person? That’s a roll every 2 days or so. Umm, I don’t use that much TP.

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