There are many household items that people use every day, but do they know what they are made of and what it takes to get it to them? Even things people would call “simple” turn out to be quite complicated - things like tooth paste, a cooking spoon, a mop, lotion, and even toilet paper. Toilet paper is something everyone uses every day. But what is it made of? How is it made? What does it take to get it to your bathroom?
First recycled paper is taken to the toilet paper factory and put into the “pulper”. Here the recycled paper is churned in lukewarm water for about ten minutes. This process not only turns the paper into pulp, but also screens out any plastic or metal pieces (such as staples or plastic tabs). The pulp still has ink in it though, and that needs to be removed. This is done by the pulp going through a machine that pumps air into the pulp. The ink sticks to the air bubbles and rises to the top, and after the top is skimmed off, the pulp is left ink free. Next the pulp goes through many different rollers, which dries out the pulp and readies it to absorb the chemicals that the manufacturers use to bleach it. After the pulp is mostly dry, knives chop up the pulp and it is sent into the bleach. After the bleach turns the pulp from grey to pure white, the pulp is spread out onto a flat screen which runs through hot dryers. In less than one second the pulp is dried, turning into fragile paper. After this step the thin paper is rolled onto giant rollers. Each roller can hold 47 miles of toilet paper. After a spool is full, it transfers the paper to yet another set of rollers. These new rollers imprint symbols, either designs or a brand name, onto the toilet paper; making the paper more durable and absorbent
In another part of the factory the cardboard rolls are being made. The cardboard is layered with glue and then rolled into long tubes. The tubes are then cut into sixty-five inch lengths and then ride an elevator to the “toilet paper zone”. Here two large spools of toilet paper feed what’s called the “winding machine”. In the “winding machine” two sheets of paper come together making two-ply, or more, toilet paper. The paper then winds onto the sixty-five inch tubes and is sealed at the end with glue to keep it from unraveling. A giant knife then cuts the sixty-five inch roll into sixteen standard rolls that are four inches wide. The toilet paper is now finished and ready for packaging. Rolls made for commercial use, like hotels, are wrapped individually in paper, and rolls made for residential use are wrapped in thin plastic, with as many as thirty-two rolls in each bag.
But there is a lot more to getting toilet paper in one’s household or hotel room than that. What about the shipping? A truck driver has to take the toilet paper to the stores and has to use gasoline and a truck to get there. What about the glue and plastic wrappings? The manufacturer either had to make the glue and plastic or buy it from someone who did. What about the machines that make the toilet paper? These machines need maintenance on a regular basis. They need to be cleaned, well oiled, and sometimes replaced. What do the machines, lights in the factory, computers, and more, run on? The electricity that a factory has to use is huge. As people with busy lives, we often overlook even the simplest things. Maybe we should take more time to realize and appreciate where our household items come from, and what it takes to get them to us.