luxury | Sustainability

The Evolution of Toilet Paper: Celebrating ‘National Toilet Paper Day’ With a Trip Down Memory Lane

Published: August 24, 2023
Author: Fashion Value Chain

We need to be making more of a fuss about toilet paper, and when better than National Toilet Paper Day on August 26!

It’s a tool many of us literally couldn’t live without, so why is it that we often forget all about it until we need it?

It’s a staple product that plays a crucial role in modern life, contributing to improved hygiene, comfort, and convenience for yourself and your household.

But where did it all begin? Toilet paper has been on a fascinating journey overtime, and that journey deserves some recognition… not just on National Toilet Paper Day, but every day.

Allow Jordan Kelly, brand marketing manager at sustainable toilet paper company Oceans, to take you on that journey today, and discover the evolution of the toilet paper market. After this, why not celebrate further by treating yourself to a new roll!

The toilet paper’s humble origins

Before we had the pleasure of using toilet paper as we know it today, humans were forced to get creative in environments we wouldn’t dream of in today’s modern world.

For example, the Ancient Romans had outdoor communal restrooms (“latrines”) that offered nothing in the way of privacy or proper sanitation. Instead of toilet paper, they had a cleansing sponge attached to a long stick – a “tersorium.”

After a number two had taken place, everyone would use the same sponge to wipe away and get clean, plonking it inside a container filled with saltwater or vinegar once finished.

If you think that’s questionable, wait until you hear what the Ancient Greeks used: stones, called pessoi, and ceramic pottery shards, called ostraka. Ouch.

Throughout history, depending on the environment, humans were also known to have used leaves, sticks, corncobs – even sand.

In 1391, the first modern toilet paper was created for the needs of the Chinese Emperor, but mass manufacturing didn’t begin until the late 19th century!

Thankfully, in 1857, Joseph C. Gayetty created the first commercially-packaged toilet paper, and British businessman Walter Alcock created toilet paper on a roll two years later, in 1859. The rest is literally history.

Technological advancements and what they changed

As technology and preferences evolved, so did toilet paper. Experts worked to improve the material, texture, ply, and packaging, offering a more comfortable and hygienic experience all round.

1900s

In the 1900s, not long after the modern version became widely accessible, toilet paper was made from rough materials such as newspaper cuttings and catalogues, meaning it had a coarse texture that was uncomfortable to use. Our sensitive derrières wouldn’t be able to cope with that today!

Toilet paper was initially only one layer, too, so it was much less durable than what the modern world knows.

Additionally, environmental concerns were almost non-existent in the 1900s, which meant manufacturing and packaging processes were simple and practical, rather than thought-out and eco-friendly.

2000s

Technological advancements caused significant shifts within the world of toilet paper. Today, the product is made from new or “virgin” paper, using a blend of softwood and hardwood trees. The quality has improved dramatically, which provides a softer, more comfortable experience. Thank goodness.

To enhance the strength, softness, and absorption, toilet paper today also comes in two or even three-ply, and more brands have begun to prioritise sustainability.

The shift towards eco-conscious practices was a huge part of the evolution of toilet paper.

Jordan said: “Environmental awareness and consumer demand for eco-friendly products has meant the toilet paper industry has had no choice but to adapt to new ways of manufacturing and distributing. And that’s a great thing!

“From sustainable material sourcing to eco-friendly packaging processes, some brands have shown – and are continuing to show – a real consideration for the health of our planet. Buying plastic-free toilet paper from Oceans, for example, helps to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in our oceans and landfill, protects wildlife from plastic pollution, and preserves precious forests.”

The impact of the digital age

This industry, like so many others, has had to deal with various challenges and innovations provoked by the digital age. Toilet paper companies were not exempt from the fight or flight mode caused by new media.

The power of online customer reviews in influencing purchasing decisions has been emphasised in recent times, and the introduction of subscription services and direct-to-consumer models has created a new, more convenient way of shopping for the product.

Other ways the digital age has improved toilet paper brands and their offerings include targeted advertising and personalisation, customer engagement, market research and data analytics, sustainability communication and transparency and supply chain optimisation and inventory management.

With those tools, toilet paper has become so much more than just a household necessity. Now, it’s a product with its own story and voice, tailored to the direct needs of the customer. A few centuries ago, experts could never have predicted that toilet paper would become so important!

What’s next for toilet paper?

Toilet paper was always destined for bigger things – humanity simply relies on it far, far too much for the concept to have stayed where it was. Could you imagine sharing a sponge on a stick with the rest of your household, or in a public restroom? Absolutely not.

While the product itself hasn’t dramatically changed since the 1900s, we can expect further advancements in the way of comfort, practicality, and sustainability for years to come. As long as trends continue to evolve, so will toilet paper.

This National Toilet Paper Day, spend time celebrating this essential item and giving it the praise that it deserves! Read up on some interesting TP facts or throw a toilet paper-inspired party. It’s not quite Christmas Day, but it can be close enough.

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