Friday, June 29, 2012

Toilet Paper Ply as it Relates to Efficiency of Usage

The lucrative toilet paper industry has gone largely unnoticed amidst the rest of the chaos which consumes the 24-hour news cycle. In the sea of ads promising Cadillac comforts in the two and three-ply product segments consumers are often blind to the real question at hand - what's the most resource efficient toilet paper outcome? This paper examines the differences in efficiencies between one and two-ply toilet paper, and concludes that one-ply toilet paper is 22.55% more resource efficient than its two-faced counterpart. Additional findings relating to personal bowel movements were also unearthed.

The American toilet paper industry, henceforth referred to as "Big Paper," is a $2.4 billion a year industry with Americans using nearly 24 rolls a year per capita [1]. Big Paper is not only too big to fail but also too important - without it millions of people would be subjected to the discomfort of bidets. This paper investigates the necessity of 2+ ply toilet paper as well as some of the trends behind the author's bowel movements, in hopes of finding ways to minimize our reliance on Big Paper.


There was one male volunteer, henceforth referred to as "the author". The author was 26 years of age at the time of experiment and attempted to maintain a diet of no fewer than 2,000 calories per day.

Four (4) total rolls of Safeway brand "Softly" toilet paper were used, two rolls for each ply, over a period of 132 days encompassing 266 successful bowel movements. The toilet paper was used only for bowel movements of the author in that time period, save a few anomalies which are discussed in the "Results" section.

To help aid consistency between bowel movements, the author focused on optimal (minimal) toilet paper usage during each bowel movement. "Average" usage by normal consumers is likely higher than that demonstrated by the author in this experiment.

To help ensure an accurate and direct comparison, the single-ply toilet paper was simply the two-ply toilet paper gently separated in half, as pictured:

Two-ply toilet paper separated to form single-ply

Each roll was labeled by which ply it would be assigned to in order to maintain accuracy in reporting. Additionally an internet connected mobile device was stationed next to the toilet paper to ensure prompt and accurate reporting.

Experiment supply station

Data was recorded as squares used by ply and normalized to single-ply for direct comparison after the completion of the experiment.


Single-ply vs. Two-ply Efficiency
The results showed that single-ply toilet paper holds a clear advantage in efficiency over two-ply, in spite of being half as thick. On average, post-bowel movement clean up required 6.898 squares of single-ply toilet paper while two-ply required 8.651 squares of toilet paper (single ply normalized). This translates into an efficiency advantage of 22.55% for single-ply.

Usage Over Time

Usage over time, including 1 month gap in data

Anomalies in the Data
Prior to examining the data, the author was made aware of one accidental usage of the experimental toilet paper by a third party. However upon examining the data it would appear that more than just one such instance occurred (the rest going unreported), and each time it occurred the third party chose the single-ply test roll.

Squares Used By Roll
Squares UsedRollPly

Interestingly, all third party non-participants opted for the roll labeled "1". Conclusions relating to this lie outside the scope of the experiment. The effect on the results of the experiment is also determined to be negligible as the single-ply group still saw more total uses (137 vs. 129).

Findings Relating to the author's bowel movements
Other potential points of interest, while mostly limited to the author himself, are included below.

Average bowel movements/day of the week

Bowel movements by hour of the day


While usage patterns outside the author's own could easily alter the difference in usage efficiency between single and two-ply toilet paper, if these numbers hold even moderately across the population, a nationwide switch to single-ply toilet paper could yield great savings. With 26 billion rolls of toilet paper used in the US each year[1], even a heavily moderated version of this experiment's outcome (5%) would yield a savings of of 1.3 billion rolls of toilet paper each year. Such a shift, while unlikely to occur, would help limit Big Paper's role in our society, as well as provide some cost savings to consumers.

Literature cited

[1] Toilet Paper - Wikipedia

Open Data
via Dropbox (28kb)

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