Everything you wanted to know about toilets and their paper

Reply Thu 16 Aug, 2012 10:13 am
Toilet paper was first introduced in the United States in 1857, but the idea didn't take off---the paper being offered was evidently too much like the paper in the Sears catalog, which is what most people used at the time.

Twenty-six billion rolls of toilet paper, worth about US$2.4 billion, are sold yearly in America alone. Americans use an average of 23.6 rolls per capita a year.

Joseph Gayetty is widely credited with being the inventor of modern commercially available toilet paper in the United States. Gayetty's paper, first introduced in 1857, was available as late as the 1920s. Gayetty's Medicated Paper was sold in packages of flat sheets, watermarked with the inventor's name. Original advertisements for the product used the tagline "The greatest necessity of the age! Gayetty's medicated paper for the water-closet."

Seth Wheeler of Albany, New York, obtained the earliest United States patents for toilet paper and dispensers, the types of which eventually were in common usage in that country.

Moist toilet paper was introduced in the United States by Kimberly-Clark in 2001 in lieu of bidets which are rare.

As of 2009, between 25% and 50% of the toilet paper used in the United States comes from tree farms in the U.S. and South America, with most of the rest coming from second growth forests, and only a small percentage coming from virgin forests.


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Reply Thu 16 Aug, 2012 10:21 am
Bill Gates wants to reinvent the toilet, from the user interface to the back end
August 14, 2012
by Todd Bishop

Gates speaks during the ‘Reinvent the Toilet’ event on Tuesday.

Speaking to a crowd in Seattle earlier today, Bill Gates sounded at times like he was talking about a technology product in desperate need of an upgrade.

Actually, he was.

“The toilet that was invented 200 years ago, the flush toilet, really hasn’t had that many milestones. … Maybe a handle, toilet paper rolls, multiple toilet paper roles,” Gates said. “If Crapper was reborn today, he would go into the toilet and find it quite familiar.”

That was a reference to Thomas Crapper, the industrialist credited with popularizing the modern toilet — the Bill Gates of 19th Century plumbing, if you will. And now Gates himself sees in the toilet a set of technologies long overdue for a revolution.

The problems include the massive amounts of water used by toilets, and the complex and expensive disposal systems and wastewater facilities required for proper treatment. There’s a direct impact on health for people without access to sanitation — who number some 2.5 billion, or 40 percent of the world’s population, according to figures cited by Gates.

Bill Gates checks out a solar steam sterilizer developed at Rice University at the Gates Foundation on Tuesday. Recognize the guy in the beard and glasses, right of Gates?

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is putting up millions of dollars to fund a series of projects that aim to “reinvent the toilet.” The event Tuesday at the foundation’s Seattle headquarters, about a year after the grants were made. served as a status update.

University researchers and other scientists showed the work that they have been able to accomplish thus far with their grants, and the foundation encouraged them to look for was to collaborate.

Gates told the crowd, “A central tenet of my entire career … is that it’s possible to make breakthrough innovations.”

He added, “We don’t just have to accept the way things have been done and try and live within those bounds, but we believe if we bring smart people together, describe the problem, really talk about the requirements of delivering a solution, that big breakthroughs can take place. We saw that in personal computing, in software, and we’re also seeing it in a lot of the critical work that the Foundation does.”

Even though they call it a reinvention of the toilet, it’s really about coming up with an entirely new sanitation system.

Caltech’s Michael Hoffman shows the school’s winning project.

For example, a team from Caltech showed a self-contained toilet and wastewater treatment system that uses the sun to power an electrochemical reactor that breaks down water and human waste into hydrogen gas — which can then be used in fuel cells that provide an alternative power source for the system.

That was the winner of the top prize at the event, receiving an additional $100,000 in money from the Gates Foundation.

Some of the parallels to the high-tech industry were tough to miss. For example, if the Caltech project was all about the back-end systems, some of the other projects focused more on the user interface.

Gates told the crowd, “There’s not just science and engineering here, there’s understanding what humans expect, what’s attractive. So we’ve seen also some very good design work that goes into these.”

One project that stood out for its user interface design was a vertical toilet, cleansing and water recycling system that can transform from one use to another by stepping on a big button in the base. The Gates Foundation awarded the project, developed by Swiss researchers and designers, a special $40,000 prize for its user interface.

Here are members of the team showing me the system. (Story continues below.)

There were dozens of projects on display at the event, and Gates said he believes elements of some of the projects could be combined. He said he hopes to see the initiative result in systems being deployed in significant numbers over the next two to four years.

Eventually, he said, these new technologies could also change toilets in the developed world.

“If we do it right, it’s even possible that some of these designs, because of their environmental properties — that is, not requiring as much water, not being nearly as complex — it’s possible that these would be solutions for even rich countries and middle-income countries. The potential for impact is very, very broad.”

A computer on every desk … and a toilet in every home.




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Reply Sat 29 Sep, 2012 10:07 am
For Best Toilet Health: Squat Or Sit?
by Eliza Barclay
September 28, 2012

A contractor designed the Squatty Potty to help his mother get closer to the squatting position on the john.

We at Shots don't shy away from talking about poop, as Michaeleen Doucleff demonstrated last month with her post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's investment in fake feces.

Poop talk may strike some as juvenile, but many people in the world don't have a safe way to do their business. And by age 50, about half of American adults have experienced hemorrhoid symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Which brings us to a discussion that's been simmering since at least the 1960s. Is the modern toilet at least partly to blame for problems like hemorrhoids and constipation?

Some architects and doctors have posited that squatting may be the more natural position for us to do our business. That's spawned a sort of squatting counterculture and a budding industry to go with it.

As neuroscientist Daniel Lametti wrote in Slate in 2010, squatting allows the, er, anorectal angle to straighten, so that less effort is required for evacuation. And today there are lots of squatting evangelists on the Internet who marshal scientific evidence, limited as it may be, and ample cultural evidence of the practice enduring in many parts of the world to make their case that squatting is superior.

But not everyone who might want to experiment with squatting can actually squat safely or comfortably, especially elderly folks with bowel movement issues. Enter Squatty Potty, a product launched by Robert Edwards, a 37-year-old contractor and designer in St. George, Utah. The story really starts with his mother, who was suffering hemorrhoids and constipation and had resorted to lifting her feet with on a step stool while on the john, for some relief.

The bulky step stool took up too much space, so Edwards offered to make her one that would fit snugly around the base of the toilet when not in use.

The family experimented with different prototypes and soon realized there was a market for such a product. In the last year, Roberts says without any advertising he has sold 10,000 Squatty Pottys (they start at $34.95) — a testament to the revival of squatting in the U.S. And he says he has become more convinced that the modern toilet is the cause of many people's bowel issues.

"The modern toilet has been sold to us as civilized, but the straining that sitting causes is not healthy," Roberts tells Shots. Squatting, on the other hand, or getting closer to squatting with the help of the Squatty Potty, can end hemorrhoids, prevent colon disease, improve pelvic floor issues, and offer numerous other benefits, he asserts.

We wondered what doctors had to say about all this, so we called up Rebekah Kim, a colorectal surgeon at the Center for Pelvic Floor Disorders at Virginia Hospital Center. Kim sees a lot of older women like Roberts' mother who've developed conditions that make defecation difficult.

Kim says one of the first things she tells patients who struggle on the john is get a stack of telephone books or stool to rest their feet on – an option not unlike the Squatty Potty. But she says many of the claims Squatty Potty makes haven't been well tested.

"Squatting on a stool can reduce the amount of straining on the toilet, which may mean less hemorrhoids, but there are no clinical studies proving that," she says.

So does this mean everyone should consider abandoning the more comfortable position of sitting for the potentially preventative position of squatting? No, says Kim.

"For most people, the modern toilet doesn't cause any problems," she says. But if you're to believe Slate's Lametti, squatting on top of the toilet could be a time-saver — he managed to drop his 10-minute routine down to a minute.
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