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Bidets are making a splash with Canadians worried about waste

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This week:

  • Bidets are making a splash with Canadians worried about waste
  • The environmental benefits of cheap rail tickets
  • First Nations, scientists wrestle with Yukon’s thawing permafrost

Bidets are making a splash with Canadians worried about waste

Someone is holding up a roll of toilet paper and a hose.

In the spirit of maintaining a sense of control and purpose in a time of ever-increasing climate anxiety, you might be embracing subtle lifestyle changes to reduce your carbon footprint. 

Perhaps you’ve incorporated flexitarian eating, cut down on single-use plastics and are relying less on cars for transportation.   

Some people, however, are making more of a splash. 

Bidets — specialized bathroom fixtures that rinse your rear — are making a comeback, and new affordable attachments mean they’re more accessible than ever. Beyond the thorough cleaning perks, bidets are often marketed as being more environmentally friendly than using toilet paper, with manufacturing companies claiming bidets can save trees, water and reduce your carbon footprint.

The average Canadian will use about 83 rolls of toilet paper per year and 6,886 rolls in a lifetime, according to a 2022 study by QS Supplies, a U.K.-based bathroom fitting and accessories company. With a bidet attachment, however, a user can simply pat their rinsed-off parts dry with a reusable cloth or wipe.

That’s something a growing number of Canadians are finding appealing, according to TUSHY, one of the more popular bidet companies. TUSHY’s Canada sales experienced a 101 per cent compound annual growth rate from 2019 to 2022, said Miki Agrawal, the company’s founder and chief creative officer, and sales in Canada are eight per cent stronger per capita in comparison to the U.S.

The environmental benefits are what convinced Lauren Bloemendal, 37, of Kingston, Ont., to make the switch to a bidet last year. She said she was already considering moving to cloth toilet paper because of her concerns about the number of trees used for pulp, and the manufacturing required to produce traditional TP. 

“We were already washing cloth diapers and wipes for our daughter, so it seemed like a good time to make the switch,” Bloemendal said.

Chrissandra Plattner, who lives in Frankford, Ont., estimates that her household only uses about 15 to 20 rolls of toilet paper per year since making the switch. She notes she’s always been environmentally conscious, so switching to a bidet wasn’t a major change. 

“It was more like a logical step in the multi-step process of reducing one’s footprint.”

But are bidets really better for the environment? It’s not a simple comparison.

The majority of the pulp used to make toilet paper in North America comes from Canada’s boreal forests, according to a 2019 report by the U.S.-based National Resources Defense Council. And it can take 140 litres of water to make a roll of toilet paper, according to sustainability site Treehugger. 

Then there’s toilet paper packaging, which is often plastic, and the shipping and transportation required to get the rolls from manufacturers to stores to bathrooms on a continuous basis.

But bidet attachments also need to be produced and distributed, notes Myra Hird, a professor at the school of environmental studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., and author of Canada’s Waste Flows. And many are made from plastics, which are derived from fossil fuels, “which significantly contributes to climate change, mining waste and other negative environmental impacts.”

And moving from toilet paper to bidets does not necessarily mean reducing water consumption, Hird said. “Toilet paper production requires significant amounts of water.… So, however, do toilets.” 

While it’s rarely straightforward to directly compare environmental impacts, Kai Chan, a professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, says that, on balance, bidets are “almost certainly” better for the environment.

“While the bidet will use a little more water at the source, it’s absolutely negligible compared to the water that would go into making the toilet paper,” said Chan, who is also a Canada Research Chair in rewilding and social-ecological transformation. Chan has a bidet attachment in his home in Vancouver, and says it cut down his family’s use of toilet paper by more than half. (Plus, he notes, it’s more comfortable than wiping.)

While it certainly doesn’t hurt to take steps to reduce the amount of toilet paper or water we use, Hird said she thinks environmental concerns could be better channelled elsewhere — like pushing levels of government for a swift transition to renewable energy.

Chan agrees, saying that in terms of our ecological footprint, bidets are small-picture.

“There are some really big things that we have some control over, like our flying behaviour, like our driving behaviour … those are things that make really big differences.”

Natalie Stechyson

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The Big Picture: The eco benefits of cheap rail tickets

While the effects of climate change have been plain to see this summer, more attention has been paid to the rising cost of living, which is also exacting a toll around the world. According to some new research, at least one inflation management strategy is having a positive environmental effect: super-cheap public transport.

In Germany, the lobby group VDV studied the country’s experiment with a low-cost public transport ticket, which allowed for countrywide travel on buses, subways, streetcars and regional trains for only nine euros (or $12 Cdn) a month. The program took effect in June and ran out in August. It was part of a broader strategy to help citizens deal with rising energy and fuel prices largely sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

When it was broached, many politicians and commentators warned that it was going to be a costly subsidy for the government. The jury is still out on that, but according to VDV, three months with the nine-euro ticket prevented 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent of powering about 350,000 homes for a year. The carbon savings come largely from commuters not using their cars as much.

Spain announced something similar in July, as it made much of its public transport network free, with a similar eye to protecting people’s pocketbooks while easing the strain on the planet.

A man walks by a train ticket vending machine.
(Leonhard Simon/Getty Images)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • Pakistan’s climate chief has called flooding there “a serious climate catastrophe” that has put one-third of the country under water and killed more than 1,000 people.

  • There have been no hurricanes powerful enough this summer to earn their own name. That’s a rarity — and here’s why.

First Nations, scientists wrestle with Yukon’s thawing permafrost

An aerial image of a landslide into a river.
(Yukon University)

First Nations, scientists and climate change experts are sharing how the Yukon’s landscape — shaped by permafrost — is thawing and what that means for adaptation, land use, industry and wildlife.

The issue was the main theme of last week’s North Yukon Permafrost Conference, a collaboration between the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin and Vuntut Gwitchin governments, the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun and the Canadian Permafrost Association.

The permafrost shift is especially noticeable in Dawson City, said Jackie Olson, a Tr’ondëk Hwëchin citizen who has lived in the community her whole life. 

“Buildings are starting to twist. You can see it in the old buildings that have never been touched … how they’re starting to lean in,” she said. “So the evidence of permafrost is there.”

Olson said sharing more information about climate change will push decision-makers into action.

“As an individual, it may seem like an impossible task, but if we all start to think about it … we can bring that information with us and speak more … intellectually on it, so that people who can make the change will hear it.”

Olson said weather is getting more unpredictable, fires are burning more intensely, glaciers are changing and so are the animals. 

“I think it’s very important the message gets across that First Nation [and elders’] voices matter and they have a huge amount to contribute and they need to be heard,” she said. “The youth are on it. I just have to say, ‘Don’t give up. Don’t lose faith, because our ancestors stand behind us and they will continue to guide us everywhere we go.'”

Chris Burn, a permafrost and ground ice expert from Carleton University in Ottawa, organized this conference and has spent four decades studying permafrost in the Yukon. 

Burn said while large conferences that require flying and driving cause their own emissions, they allow scientists and First Nations to build relationships and deepen their understanding of the first-hand impacts of thawing permafrost.

“This is not something that is commonly appreciated in the training of many Western scientists,” said Burn. Roughly 20 years ago, there was little permafrost disturbance on the Dempster Highway.

In the northern end of the traditional territory of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun, there are “numerous” permafrost disturbances that can be seen for “miles and miles.”

“Things are happening that haven’t happened for 14,000 years,” said Burn, and many of those changes pose risks to fish and wildlife.

The photo above is an aerial image of the site of a 2021 permafrost slump that caused a landslide into the Yukon River near Whitehorse. 

The Vuntut Gwitchin in Old Crow have a front row seat to climate change, where permafrost thaw is causing land to slump into the river. Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm said eventually the permafrost thaw will affect the fish and wildlife.

“We really need to come together because the decisions we make now are exponential and will resonate, and those decisions are based on the quality of the conversations today.” 

Bill Slater has worked in water management in the Yukon for 30 years and as a consultant to Indigenous governments on the impacts of mining and mine cleanup projects. 

He said climate change conversations are often centred around vehicle emissions or burning of fuel, but rarely on the type of emissions that could be created by digging up a wetland and releasing carbon that has been stored for thousands of years. 

“We need to be more comprehensive … in our consideration of the implications of the projects that we do and how they might affect permafrost” and traditional uses of land, he said.

Avery Zingel

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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