I have been thinking about yesterday’s post with the surprising statistic that in the US, three rolls of toilet paper per person per week are used. That seemed improbably high and so I conducted a quick survey asking people to estimate how much they think they used per week. The sample was small (just my wife, actually) and she estimated half a roll. She was shocked when I told her that it was six times as much.
The idea that the US uses nearly a billion toilet rolls per week seems preposterous. As commenter anat said, these consumption statistics are usually arrived at not by direct measurement of usage but by dividing the total number of units produced by the total population. In other words, what this statistic maybe shows is not high usage but that a lot of the paper is going for other uses or is being wasted.
But what could be the other uses? It can hardly be from people draping trees at Halloween or children’s science fair projects. It must be waste and it then struck me that whenever I have stayed at hotels, either low—end motels or higher-end hotels, I have never encountered one that had a roll of toilet paper than was not full or almost full. Although they always provide spare rolls, it seems as if hotel management thinks that their customers would not like having to replace a roll on the holder themselves, though people do it in their own homes and think nothing of it.
So clearly the room cleaning staff has been told to replace toilet rolls with fresh ones for new customers even if they have been depleted only slightly. I can only assume that these old rolls are thrown away. Given the large number of hotels in the US and the frequent turnover of room occupants, the number of wasted rolls can add up considerably. But is it enough to explain the high number?
I found this site that said that in 2008, there were 4.6 million hotel/motel rooms in the US with an occupancy rate of about 63%. Even assuming that the toilet rolls are changed every two days, the consumption rate, when averaged over a population of 300 million, is nowhere close to being enough to explain the high number. So that’s not the reason.
But hotels have become more concerned about wasting energy (and saving money), now giving customers the option of not having their sheets and towels replaced with fresh ones each day, a practice that was utterly unnecessary. I used to be also bothered by the fact that those little shampoo and conditioner bottles would be replaced every day, or at least for each new person, even if they had been hardly used. But in my last stay (at a Holiday Inn), I noticed that they had three large containers for shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion, each with a dispenser top like the ones used for liquid soap. The jars were fixed to a rack on the wall in the bath/shower area and so could not be taken away but could be refilled. This strikes me as an excellent move to reduce waste and I hope other hotels are following suit.
I only hope that hotels also shift to realizing that letting a toilet roll run down to empty so that the occupants replace it themselves is as acceptable as them using the same towels and sheets for more than one day. It may not make a big dent on toilet paper usage but avoiding any waste is always a good thing.