International education organizations encourage their communities to use more sustainable methods of cleaning up after toilet use.
Rabat – Some toilet paper users are thinking twice about their long preferred method of cleaning themselves after using the toilet.
Where There Be Dragons (WTBD), an international experiential education organization based in the US, is encouraging their students and global network to ditch toilet paper for a more sustainable solution Moroccans are all too familiar with—water.
“I am doing the #notpchallenge [no toilet paper challenge] with Where There Be Dragons,” Greg Pettys, a long-time instructor for the organization, said. Currently living in Thailand, Pettys explains his options for clean up.
Pettys calls his first option a “bum gun;” the second is a small bucket of water. “Either is lovely and much more refreshing than simply using paper … Once you start, there’s no turning back.” Greg concludes his post by thanking Thailand for normalizing the practice.
Although many Westerners gawk at the hand and water technique, Pettys asks, “Would you wipe poo off your face only using dry paper?” The question is a common defense for pro-water users and one that may be difficult to argue.
Water is just one of many methods historically used for cleaning up. In fact, it was not until the late 1800s that manufacturers produced toilet paper for popular use. Historically, people used leaves, seashells, corn cobs, stones, or even shared sponges on sticks to clean their posteriors.
People still widely use the water technique today, and medical experts say it is more effective, sanitary, and sustainable than toilet paper.
Commonly, bidets and buckets are the main sources of water and the left hand (thoroughly washed afterward) does the job.
A former WTBD student, Pablo Rivero, who spent three months in Morocco in 2019, said he typically relied on toilet paper throughout his program, but he gave the water method a go while spending time in the Sahara. “Surprisingly, it was quite effective and I was out [of the bathroom] in no time.”
The study abroad organization aims to immerse students in local culture through transformational learning adventures in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Their instructor community is representative of the diverse programs the organization offers, pairing local instructors with foreign instructors who have extensive in-country experience.
Preferring the road less traveled by tourists, WTBD designs educational courses in a way that encourages students to do as locals do. In many of the countries where the organization operates, water is the primary method to take care of bathroom business.
“TP is perhaps one of the best examples of ‘leaving home behind.’ So much of the world lives without toilet paper,” said Tim Hare, WTBD’s Director of Risk Management.
“How did/do humans do without it? Exploring this brings us closer to understanding who we are as humans. In addition, breaking open our judgments of what constitutes ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ can help break down stereotypes. It could be argued, as the beatnik Jack Keruoac did in Dharma Bums, that toilet paper is the dirtiest option available,” he continued.
Hare says his family has “fallen in love” with using water and aside from keeping a few rolls in the house for guests, their household is toilet paper-free.
Water is the more sustainable choice
Somewhere between 70 and 75% of people worldwide use some alternative to toilet paper, a practice that saves thousands of trees.
The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that people flush 27,000 trees a day down the toilet. The paper-producing operation soaks up around 30 gallons of water per roll.
It should come as no surprise that toilet paper hurts wallets as much as it does the earth. The US, one of the world’s largest toilet paper consumer countries, spends between six and nine billion dollars annually on the product.
“Our students are uniquely situated to help build practices on this continent … that are more resource-use-aware,” said Charis Boke, a Vermont-based instructor at WTBD.
“We have to instruct on the use of water to cleanse oneself. And the students, of course, in the first week, students find it hilarious and unsettling, and then by the end, many of them actually like it better than using toilet paper,” she said.
Boke posted a video on her social media offering tips for how to make the toilet paper to water transition. The School for International Training (SIT), another popular US-based study abroad organization, responded to her video with encouragement: “Everyone follow her suggestions, it’s [a] very environmentally friendly way to face [the] no toilet paper situation.”
SIT’s reply referred to the toilet paper panic buying that ensued at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In many countries, people began hoarding toilet paper for fear that amid country lockdowns and shopping frenzies, empty shelves would leave them with nothing to clean themselves after using the toilet.
Although WTBD students have not readily responded to the call to action against toilet paper, it is clear their time spent abroad has taught them a new skill. In response to a prompt the organization posted on social media, one student said while on course they learned “toilet paper is unnecessary.”
WTBD hopes that students will gain flexibility and resilience from the challenge, as well as from their educational programs in the broader scope.
“It is perhaps quite revealing that in the largest crisis humans have faced in modern time, toilet paper and hand sanitizer seem like the key to many people’s understanding of survival. How did humans become so frail and vulnerable that a shortage of these two items causes such stress?” asked Hare.
“These didn’t exist 200 years ago yet, miraculously, humans did, even in their absence! They still don’t exist in the majority of the world,” he continued.
“Living in cultures that are so far removed from this modern commercial (European-descended) reality helps students realize that a bit of flexibility and creativity go a long way in responding to stress and change.”