The Hidden Danger in Recycled Toilet Paper

03/08/2013 04:03 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2013

Would you guess that the product recommendation I struggle with most in my consulting practice is toilet paper? Most of my clients hire me because they are worried about chemical exposure in their homes. Of course, they also care about the environmental impact of what they buy, but when I ask them to be entirely candid, they usually admit that first priority is the safety/health of their kids, followed by themselves, followed by the planet. Normally, what's better for the earth also is better for us, so the Good Stuff is an obvious choice. One notable exception is toilet paper (along with paper towels and napkins and facial tissue). From an environmental perspective, papers with high recycled content are obviously the way to go. Unfortunately, these types of paper generally contain BPA, which is widely used in the paper made for the thermal printers that produce sales receipts (which are then recycled and turned into other paper). The ink in newspaper (which is often recycled) is another source of BPA.

BPA, as you probably know, is an endocrine disruptor. Animal studies link it to cancer and early puberty, and at least one epidemiological study shows that adults with higher levels of BPA in their urine have increased rates of various metabolic disorders (including diabetes and cardiovascular disease). It's impossible to know, of course, what the actual health implications are of rubbing toilet paper with traces of BPA on our nether parts. But it seems reasonable to avoid this exposure to the degree we are able.

My husband was secretly happy when I stopped buying the "scratchy" toilet paper and went back to the fluffy new stuff (just be sure to avoid bleached versions if you go this route). Of course, buying un-recycled paper, the production of which contributes to pollution and climate change, didn't really settle well with either of us, and I needed a better option for my clients.

Here are two good solutions I've come up with -- one of which is sort of easy and the other of which is slightly more complex.

1. Wipe With Sugar
A byproduct of the sugar-making process that would otherwise be disposed, bagasse can be used to make toilet paper, paper towels, plates, and napkins (plus things like burger boxes and printer paper). Sugar cane is the world's number one crop, and it is one of the most readily available non-tree fibers. Best of all, bagasse is completely biodegradable. Unfortunately, bagasse paper products are still relatively hard to find. Here's one toilet paper option.

2.Use a Bidet, Like the Rest of the Planet
You may or may not be surprised to know that people in India see Americans as backwards, uncouth, and unsanitary. Based upon our politics and TV shows, I get the backwards and uncouth part, but unsanitary? We use enough hand sanitizer to overflow Lake Michigan. So of course India's opinion of us has nothing to do with our hands, which are in fact, probably too clean. Rather, it has to do with how we clean up after going number two.

Look at it this way: If you were playing at the park with your kids, and you accidentally fell in some dog poop and got it on your arm, would you grab a piece of toilet paper, wipe it off, and go about your day?

Almost every other developed nation uses a bidet in place of toilet paper. Traditionally, the bidet was a cleaning device that was placed next to the toilet. These days, bidets can be retrofitted into your existing toilet. They can also be plumbed into your hot water supply to make the experience far more pleasant than the old cold water types.

Bio Bidet makes an extensive line of bidets that retrofit to existing toilets. Adding an attachable bidet is obviously a less expensive option. Toto offers a range of bidet options, and I often recommend these to clients who are willing to spend more for the best.

I think Americans need to get going, so to speak, and do our part to improve the world's opinion of us. Our national obsession with cleanliness should not be limited to our hands. It's time to join the first world and clean up our, um... act.

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