30 April 2007

Flushing away our future

Sheryl Crow made the headlines recently, but predictably enough it wasn't for her music. Rather, she has suggested that we could all contribute to reducing energy consumption by being a little more sparing in our use of the loo roll. One square per session would be her guide, "except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required."

This has provoked surprisingly strong reactions from American commentators, some dubbing her "The Toilet Taleban" as they assert their constitutional rights to use as many trees as possible when "drawing an ace" in the bathroom. For a country so squeamish of bodily functions as to eshew the use of the T-word altogether, this is commendable frankness, though with current average use of 8.6 squares per session by Americans (according to research by Charmin), Sheryl has quite a way to go before she realises her dream.

While doing some work with Kimberly-Clark a few years ago, I found out an important cultural difference between Europe and the USA over the use of loo roll. Apparently in Europe we tend to be "folders" whereas the Americans are "scrunchers". This has big implications for the types of paper manufactured on each side of the Atlantic, and, given that scrunching ought to be more wasteful, I would expect the US to be the most profligate country in this area. Surprisingly, the USA is only second in the list of biggest consumers of paper per head of population - heading the list is... Belgium. Clearly I am not the only person to have suffered the consequences of eating dodgy mussels in Bruges.

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