Lucy Siegle wants us to know that the idea of wiping out bums with a piece of cloth, which then needs to be washed, is exciting and thrilling. You’re right, this is idiocy:
Mostly, these are the worst of times, but for loo roll purveyors and disruptors it will never be better. Sales are up and supermarket shelves are empty as more and more shoppers stockpile. So we should not be surprised by the rise of reusable toilet roll – squares of washable textiles that are linked together with plastic poppers and sold on sites such as Etsy.
If you are, like me, invested in a sustainable lifestyle, the idea is quite thrilling. Reusable represents the gold standard of eco-engineering. Everything that is made and used has an eco footprint, which includes the energy used to create the thing in the first place. Single-use products are the worst, recycled a close second.
Given that we’re talking about, in part, twat wiping perhaps we shouldn’t be all that surprised by an outbreak of twattishness. Because that’s what this is, the idea that single use products are worst, recycled nearly as bad. The answer is, as always in matters economic, “It Depends”. Usefully, that also being the name of a brand of nappies which are also solutions to this problem.
For we’ve come across this point of single use against reusable before:
This point is illustrated in microcosm by those trying to get rid of single use plastic bags. The 5p charge for plastic bags has meant the sale of billions of so-called bags for life, which use twice as much plastic as the cheaper alternative. All those bags for life mean we use more plastic than we started with and even, possibly, more bags themselves. This was something that was warned about before the plastic bag charge was introduced, with some observing that even “single use” bags did tend to get used more than once.
So far, then, we have learnt that the planning deployed to reduce plastic has had the opposite effect. That, however, has not stopped the central planners from redoubling their efforts. The necessary charge for a bag is to double, the system is to be expanded to the tens of thousands of small shops that don’t currently have to charge. “It doesn’t work, let’s have more of it”, the cry of bureaucracies through the ages.
But this is the blending of government planning with the fashionable nostrums of our day so of course it gets worse. It’s not even true that the bags for life – and especially not the cotton ones, even less so the organic cotton – are more environmentally friendly than the single use ones. Even recycled ones use more resources than single-use ones – for yes, recycling is an industrial activity using energy and other resources.
We can even construct a little spectrum here. How many times do we need to reuse a bag for it to have as little resource use – and thus environmental effect – as just the one use of those thin single use plastic ones? Obviously enough, the single use that we’re told not to use has a value of one here. The bag for life must be reused 35 times. A bag for life from recycled plastic 84 times. A paper bag must be reused 43 times – yes, paper. A cotton bag 7,100 times and an organic cotton? 20,000.
Which is the environmentally friendly option here? Clearly and obviously the one that everyone insists we must not use. So much for fashionable nostrums then.
So, now we need a method of working this out. Which method of doing whatever uses fewer resources in total? And by resources we do mean resources. Not just trees that are grown in order to be chopped down to wipe bums with. But labour, time, energy, capital and all the rest. What, in fact, is the total cost of this method and the total cost of that?
Umm, we’ve got one of those don’t we? The price system?
How excellent, our problem is solved then. All we need to look at is the price of doing it this way and the price of doing it that. And the answer is?
Well, it ain’t washable cloths for ringpieces, is it? Because if that were the cheaper option we’d all still be using it as we all did before the invention of toilet paper.
Which is why the rumination is that idiocy. Because it’s ignoring that couple of centuries of human trial, error and experience.