Paper or Plastic? — That is the Question, by D.D.L.

A couple of years ago I was watching a commercial on television that showed two young men as they stood in a check-out line at a grocery store with a 6 pack of beer, a bag of chips and a package of Toilet Paper…when the young men found that they had only enough money for two of the three items, they chose the 6 pack and the chips. When asked by checker “Paper or plastic?” the decision was unanimous, “Paper!” 

This stark reality of such a simple decision led me on a journey that would involve many years and begin my search for the answer to the question of how much is enough toilet paper (TP) and where do I store it.  I never really understood just how important TP was and the impact that it could have on our daily lives until that commercial was played out. Oh sure, like many deer hunters and fishermen or any outdoor type we all have had our moment where our lack of preparedness has caused us great concern and given us an opportunity to experience the humility of mother nature without TP and all that it encompasses.   

The necessity of Toilet paper and the amount of storage room necessary for a one to two years supply and the quest to keep it dry even in our homes is sometimes a task that has caused me great concern and some sleepless nights to say the least.  With a family of seven (some may be coming home if the SHTF) and no way to transport two years of their own TP supply plus their family and their gear, I had to find a way to simplify this dilemma.   The one thing that I have learned in the past 28 years is that the simplest ideas most always end up being the best…with that being said, I find myself writing about one of the simplest ideas that my wife has produced for our family, and has ended my search for the perfect ending to the mystery.   

Just a short piece of history first.  About five years ago when we were on a two-week camp out, when a sudden and unforeseen four days of rain descended upon our group of 18 families, who were camped in a narrow canyon with restroom facilities about ½ mile from our camp…even though we have our own toilet facilities (I have, along with a few other families who could afford such… purchased used but in good condition portable restrooms and placed them on 2 wheel trailers…one of which is a handicapped restroom with room enough for a solar heated, black bag water shower and a bathroom cabinet), we decided to use the restroom facilities provided even though we knew we would have to plan our walks for the sake of nature very carefully.  We found that in this situation of being away from these very useful luxuries (our portable outhouses) that the trek of ½ mile in wet and cold conditions early in the morning or late at night, with a roll of TP tucked under our jackets, was sometimes a daring adventure.  I lost count of the times a roll of TP was dropped onto the wet ground or in a puddle of water making it completely useless and of the nature walks that ended half way to the desired destination.  Or of the rolls of TP that were found early in the morning, standing silently alone atop the picnic table, dripping wet, after someone forgot that TP and rain don’t mix      

The use of toilet paper in very damp conditions led many of our group to wonder out loud about ways to solve this problem.  The storage of large amounts of TP seemed to be a major concern for all of our group, but keeping it dry usually came up…the room needed to store such was vast to say the least when you consider a year or two supply of this basic luxury.   I know that many folks on other blogs or survival sites are stacking phone books to use, or they are storing boxes and boxes of TP and well… to be quite honest, the phone book or a color catalog is not quite the best choice of clean wipe tissue if you have ever tried it…and as my wife discovered, the cost of baby wipes was out of the question and our tries of making our own baby wipes (with environmentally safe soap) discouraged us simply because we knew that eventually we would run out of paper towels.     We needed a solution to a problem that everyone will face someday…paper, plastic, a leaf, or well lets just say any port in the storm…whatever it came to we still had a choice, find a solution or suffer someday.  

They say that every problem is nothing more than a solution in waiting… Being born in the 1950s I remembered what many of you may not…It was called the diaper pal and was as common as toothpaste for families with babies…a closed plastic container would hold about 10-15 dirty diapers and if kept clean (which my mother and other moms demanded) would wait patiently until Saturday morning when the pal was drained into the toilet and the cotton diapers were placed in the washing machine, there to be cleaned with bleach and Tide and hung on the clothes line to be sun dried, and returned to diaper basket where once again the cycle would continue…the solution to my problem was as simple as looking to the past for an answer to the future…why not use cotton diaper material, cut into 4 x 9 in. sections, and then sown around the edges of the material with a zig-zag stitch to prevent the edges from unraveling.  My wife and some of her friends chose a Saturday afternoon, had the men load their sowing machines into the truck and cart them over to a local church where an assembly line soon formed…men setting up sewing machines, women cutting material and other women started sewing the edges, where upon we men would then package in bundles of 50 each a finished product that every man and women took special care not to lose.  The cost of this Saturday was, well lets just say that we all enjoyed the day, we have a product now that we are comfortable with and have no fear of it being destroyed by rain or muddy puddles, left outside in the morning dew or blown of a table top.  We can store 5,000 reusable sheets in a medium cardboard box. 

My cost in time and in material was around 20 cents per sheet if we figured $10 per man-hour to complete the task.  Then again this was 5 years ago, but the benefits have out weighted our investment 10 to 1.  The material was purchased at a local box store but as many of our women found out their mothers had a lot of diaper material stored in boxes in their basements and were grateful to have it put to good use.  We have found that it took a few times to get use to not depositing the wipes into the toilet facility but with practice and a few reminders the system works and in a WTSHTF scenario this idea just may save many of us the distress of using a dollar bill (which does not work at all as toilet paper) as a final solution to an everyday problem.   The results of our efforts became a very useful item that we now carry in all our backpacks,  (stored in freezer bags (but we don’t care if they get wet, they are still usable), in our bug out packs also in freezer bags, and stacked neatly in our portable toilet’s cabinets in plastic containers right next to our regular TP that we still use while we can.    I have been able to find diaper pails at yard sales and in some stores, and I have found some that would have really made my mom sit up and take notice; they have two-way entries and are very insect proof.  We have found that this cotton TP also serves as a wound dressing when two are sown together with a famine napkin in between, as a washcloth, a sweat rag, as a famine pad (also when sown together with a sponge material in between) in an emergency situation, and other ways that we are finding each and every trip into the wilderness and around our home.   As a student of outdoor survival and family preparedness for 28 years, I have found that each and every bit of information received, is another thread of the tapestry that will assist us in the days of uncertainty that lie ahead, and that will greatly add to our chances of survival in the world in which we will soon find ourselves.