More on the toilet paper puzzle

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.


  1. says

    As someone who has a house on a septic system, I can say it’s interesting when I get some city folks as guests and sometimes they try to flush down gigantic wads of paper. I mean, it’s crazy -- they must have very dirty asses indeed.

  2. Bruce says

    I think Mano that you’re on the right track, but that hotels are a small part of the waste.
    When I buy certain things, they come wrapped in fine thin paper, perhaps crushed or shredded or sheets. When fruit is shipped to the store, it sometimes is stacked with paper layers. When I get a burger etc, it often comes with five napkins. A baby diaper has superabsorbants dispersed in paper pulp fibers. Any and all of these could be grouped industrially as being in the same market segment as toilet paper. So probably 85% of paper and pulp in this category is never in the form that would be used at the toilet. I think it’s just industrial jargon being confused with the consumer terms. I doubt the actual product is anywhere near your statistic. I hope.

  3. says

    We have two toilets in the house. There are 3 to 4 people living in it, although during the week the three who live here are away most of the day, so we use toilet paper elsewhere. But even at the weekend, when 4 people piss and poop here all day we hardly make it through one roll per toilet.
    But, and this could account for some, we buy “nice” toilet paper for our pampered butts. Nice toilet paper isn’t actually more expensive, because you use less. With cheap paper you’ll often use a lot because you don’t want to end up wiping your butt with your fingers, especially not when the sink is outside the stall. With nice paper two to three leaves are enough to clean you up without risking mishaps.

  4. lochaber says

    eh, I’m not terribly surprised?
    I remember this being an issue in bootcamp, and some of us quickly learned to pocket a couple of napkins at the chow hall.

    Some people are just really wasteful, and do things like wrap their entire hand in several layers of winded toilet paper. I’m sure there are other interesting ways to be inefficient, but that was one that seemed especially memorable to me.

  5. Sophy Cooper says

    I suspect that a lot of the barely used rolls in hotels end up in the staff bathroom, public bathrooms next to convention room or restaurant or simply heading home with some staff members.
    But toilet paper is also used for blowing noses and cleaning up small messes.

  6. says

    The numbers only work if the average American uses 4-ply toilet paper. We use a Canadian brand:
    Royale Original
    Each 2-ply double roll weighs exactly 5oz (my measurement), and has 253 sheets.
    If you look up American toilet paper usage using Google, you commonly see 50 lbs used per person per year, equivalent to 57 sheets per person per day.
    Using Royale, 50 lbs per year = 160 rolls = 0.44 rolls per day or 3 per week
    So that lines up with Mano’s stats.
    But at 253 sheets per roll, that is 111 sheets per day, twice the quoted sheet usage per day. Which means Americans must use 4-ply to make both the usage numbers line up.
    Something is definitely fishy in the toilet paper statistics world…

  7. Jazzlet says

    Thinking more on this I recalled a conversation with a friend in which he said when he took a dump he first used six sheets, then four, then finished off with two -- this did partially explain why the roll use went up when he stayed, his partner did not share her use, but I suspect that it was also higher than ours explaining the rest of the increase. Since then our consumption has gone up -- though not to anywhere like the amount suggested) -- as TMI coming UP …

    I mean it …

    way way TMI …

    I have to use a stool softener as I’m on opioids and the only way to ensure that I don’t get the associated constipation (along with the pain that would cause) is to use enough stool softener to make what I produce very soft, that is done by keeping water in it which increases the volume, the number of times a day I take a dump and … this bit REALLY IS TMI

    … the messiness, meaning I use rather more toilet paper than I used to.

  8. --bill says

    I poked around on the internet a little bit, and found several different numbers.
    I never found a source for any of them.

    I would take this statement (3 rolls of toilet paper per person per week) to be false, until the methodology is unearthed.

  9. efogoto says


    I agree with your observations about the quality of the paper. The tissue we have at home is thicker than the tissue where I work, so I use more leaves at work to avoid “poke through”.

  10. Narve says

    There’s a typo in the first sentence: ” three rolls of toilet paper per person per day ” is probably meant to be “per week”.

  11. VolcanoMan says

    Regarding the hotel question, whenever I have stayed in hotels in the US (I’m Canadian, so sometimes we go shopping across the border) I HAVE seen half a roll out on the dispenser (usually with the end folded into a little triangle, for some reason). Never have I seen a roll in use that was almost empty, so at some point they must take the old, unfinished roll off, but approximately half (or more) is common. Note that I’m not staying in 5 star places or anything (usually a Comfort Inn or Econolodge or something…clean but less expensive) so it is possible that the higher-budget places are more wasteful.

    3 rolls a week does seem like an awful lot though. I have a bathroom to myself at home and a single roll (of 3 ply) tends to last me…3 weeks minimum (and often more). Also of note here is that in my experience, women use more TP than men do (or at least more than I personally do). That’s probably not universal though…wasn’t it Sheryl Crow who went on record a few years back that 1 sheet is plenty for a majority of bathroom excursions? My mind is telling me that it was her, but it could have been another female celebrity. So there’s obviously overlapping bell curves of usage here -- someone should put on their statistician hat and start surveying people! But I do suspect that the female curve is the higher-usage one overall.

  12. says

    I noticed that in the report being mentioned in the radio program, it says that Americans use 28 lbs of toilet paper per person per year, not 50. I’ve found other industry statistics sites that give that number too. I suspect that the 50 lbs consumption number is of the broader category “tissue products”, which also includes facial tissue and paper towels.
    If we go with the 28 lb figure the numbers become more reasonable. Based on Royale 2 ply (see above), that’s about 90 rolls per person per year, or 1.7 per week, and 62 sheets per day.

  13. Mark Mixon says

    I do trash them but i wonder if that is the sanitary way to do it. I call them the poor man bidet. That is what I should have posted. The bidet is the answer to the toilet paper problem. I’m not sure how they work exactly. I assume that you use your fingers and the water stream to clean yourself. Then wash your hands.

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