Should We Bring Back The Bidet For The Sake Of The Environment?

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Dear EarthTalk: Wouldn’t a return to installing bidets in bathrooms at home go a long way toward cutting disposable tissue use and saving forests?

Besides being more sanitary than toilet tissue, bidets, those squirty accessories so popular in Europe, Japan and elsewhere that clean your underside using a jet of water, are also much less stressful on the environment than using paper.

Justin Thomas, editor of the website metaefficient.com, considers bidets to be “a key green technology” because they eliminate the use of toilet paper. According to his analysis, Americans use 36.5 billion rolls of toilet paper every year, representing the pulping of some 15 million trees. Says Thomas: “This also involves 473,587,500,000 gallons of water to produce the paper and 253,000 tons of chlorine for bleaching.” He adds that manufacturing requires about 17.3 terawatts of electricity annually and that significant amounts of energy and materials are used in packaging and in transportation to retail outlets.

To those who say that bidets waste water, advocates counter that the amount is trivial compared to how much water we use to produce toilet paper in the first place. Biolife Technologies, manufacturer of the high-end line of Coco bidets, says the amount of water used by a typical bidet is about 1/8th of a gallon, with the average toilet using about four gallons per flush. Lloyd Alter of the website treehugger.com reports that making a single roll of toilet paper requires 37 gallons of water, 1.3 kilowatt/hours (KWh) of electricity and some 1.5 pounds of wood. Thomas points out that toilet paper is also a public nuisance in that it clogs pipes and adds a significant load onto city sewer systems and water treatment plants.

“Basically, the huge industry of producing toilet paper could be eliminated through the use of bidets,” offers Thomas, who has been testing different toilet-seat mounted units for the past two years. He would like to someday pair a bidet with a composting sawdust toilet for the ultimate green bathroom experience.

Once reserved for Europeans, bidets are now popular all over the world, except in North America. Thomas reports that 60 percent of Japanese households today have high-tech bidets made by Toto called Washlets, while some 90 percent of Venezuelan homes have bidets. Most people use a small amount of paper to dry their posteriors after the bidet has done its job, but more expensive air-drying models dispense with the need for paper altogether. Thomas adds that bidets provide important health benefits such as increased cleanliness and “the therapeutic effect of water on damaged skin (think rashes or hemorrhoids).”

On the public health front, bidet maker BioRelief reports that almost 80 percent of all infectious diseases are passed on by human contact and that only about half of us actually wash our hands after using the facilities, making hands-free bidets a safer alternative all around. “If you don’t have to use your hands at all then there is less chance of passing or coming in contact with a virus,” claims the company. BioRelief’s full featured BidetSpa sells for $549, but Lloyd Alter reports that consumers willing to go without heated water and air-drying mechanisms can get a perfectly adequate one they can install themselves for less than $100, such as the Blue Bidet, which retails for just $69.

CONTACTS: MetaEfficient, www.metaefficient.com; Treehugger, www.treehugger.com; Biolife Technologies, www.biolifetechnologies.com; Toto, www.totousa.com; Blue Bidet, www.bluebidet.com.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php. EarthTalk is now a book! Details and order information at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalkbook.

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Comments

  1. I’m afraid I’d have to insist on the heated/air-dry model. Even then, I don’t think it would “sit well” with my visitors.

  2. I’ve been using one of the simple units purchased from Amazon for several months. No heated water, it’s fed by the supply pipe to the tank. The temp isn’t an issue. If the kid in “America Pie” had one of these at home, I understand why he always waited and avoided the school toilets.

  3. You know, I’ve often thought about this. It just makes sense, using water is way cleaner than paper, even Dr. Oz says so.

    I just don’t get why Americans are so phobic when it comes to bodily functions. We are such prudes!

  4. Having one of these would be really cool. I love the simplicity of the Blue Bidet toilet add-on, which doesn’t require moving a huge thing into your bathroom. Hopefully squirting your behind with water will become more popular in the United States.

  5. A hand held bathroom bidet sprayer is so much better than a stand alone bidet or bidet seat and this is why:1. It’s less expensive (potentially allot less) 2. You can install in yourself = no plumber expense 3. It works better by providing more control of where the water spray goes and a greater volume of water flow. 4. It requires no electricity and there are few things that can go wrong with it. 5. It doesn’t take up any more space, many bathrooms don’t have room for a stand alone bidet. 6. You don”™t have to get up and move from the toilet to the bidet which can be rather awkward at times to say the least.

  6. I have always used only portable bidet shower or then “usual shower” on toilet seat (if there has not been bidets or bidet shower).

    It is not nice to travel in America… How they can use toilet paper? And the shower heads are attached high in the walls, so how are people able to wash themselves down there…?

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