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Monday, December 13, 2010

Saving our planet one toilet paper tube at a time

Photo by Jim Keyworth
Eleven-year-old Phoebe has buried thousands of toilet paper tubes in her relentless pursuit of a greener planet.

Now that all the negative campaign ads are behind us for another two years, we can turn our attention to issues other than whether the U.S. can continue to survive as a democracy when all the politicians do is make up lies about whoever is running against them.

Because while we were preoccupied by the wicked witchcraft of both Christine O’Donnell and Nancy Pelosi (who wasn’t even running for anything) the world kept on turning and momentous things kept happening.

So let us return to the things that really matter, like a stunning new improvement to the lowly toilet paper roll that was announced on Oct. 25. But first a little TP history is in order.

In the early West, before the invention of toilet paper, corncobs and pages torn from newspapers and magazines were commonly employed. The Sears catalog was revered for this reason, and it generated a spinoff called the "Rears and Sorebutt" catalog. The Farmer's Almanac even had a hole in it so it could be hung on a hook to facilitate its employment in the outhouse.

Hey, there’s a new cowboy festival idea for those two hucksters Cameron Davis and John Stanton to pursue. I can see it now: “Come on up to the cool pines for the world’s largest … you get the idea.

Anyway, the familiar rolled and perforated toilet paper we’ve come to know and love was invented around 1880 by the Alban Perforated Wrapping (APW) Paper Company. Over the years improvements were made – additional plies were added and toilet paper became much softer. The double roll could also be viewed as an important innovation.

But toilet paper has never been a glamorous product and nothing all that significant has happened since APW produced its first roll – at least not until Oct. 25 when we were all too preoccupied watching political ads full of lies on TV to notice.

That’s when Kimberly-Clark, one of the world’s largest paper product companies, announced that it was taking toilet paper tubeless. Scott Naturals Tube-Free toilet paper will debut, appropriately enough, at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores. But don’t get too excited, Payson Wal-Mart shoppers, because the test market stores are located in the northeast.

Just like the first rolls of toilet paper produced by APW, Scott Naturals Tube-Free will be far from perfect. The holes aren’t perfectly round, but you will be pleased to know they are round enough to fit the spindle of your local toilet paper holder.

Why, you might wonder, is a big company like Kimberly-Clark so excited about taking toilet paper tubeless? The answer, in a word, is green.

This new breakthrough means that you can use the very last sheet, which is normally stuck to the tube. And, more significantly, if every roll of toilet paper becomes tubeless, we will eliminate 17 billion toilet paper tubes. That, Kimberly-Clark conveniently estimates, equates to 160 million pounds of trash. And if you stretched those tubes end to end, they’d reach to the moon and back – twice.

But how long before all toilet paper is tubeless is a question that currently defies an answer. Because Procter & Gamble, maker of Charmin, the top-selling brand, has apparently been caught off guard by Kimberly-Clark’s breakthrough. When asked for comment, P&G declined.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to the tubeless roll – an alternative that can be found right here in the Rim Country. And if P&G were to avail itself of this opportunity, Kimberly-Clark would be in for a battle. This is so big – even bigger than an ASU campus in Payson – that you have to wonder why Payson Mayor Kenny Evans isn’t basking in this one.

For those of you who know her, you’ve probably already figured out that the secret weapon that could save P&G is a dog named Phoebe, a pooch that lives quite comfortably in The Knolls in Star Valley.

I first met Phoebe, a husky-border collie mix, some years ago when I did a story on how her dog-loving owners adopted her down at the Humane Society of Central Arizona to be a companion for their purebred Golden Retriever Katy. The owners felt a few more dogs might get adopted if others followed their lead.

It turned out to be a perfect match. Phoebe and Katy are buddies to this day. But Katy, like so many shelter dogs, brought something more to the table than just companionship.

You see, Katy has a thing for toilet paper tubes. She eagerly watches each roll shrink in size and once the tube is exposed takes it out in the yard and buries it. Over and over and over. Tube after tube after tube.

You’ve probably figured out where I’m going with this. As good as Phoebe is, she’s 11 years old and she can’t handle 17 billion tubes by herself. But she could be cloned so that each household could have its own Phoebe – or at least each neighborhood.

That way the world’s vast supply of toilet paper tubes would be reduced to so much compost to enrich our soils and perhaps help us solve the world hunger problem. It’s a greener solution than Kimberly-Clark’s, which merely eliminates the tube.

Best of all, people will be able to go on squeezing the Charmin into infinity, or at least all the way to the moon and back – twice.

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