Toilet paper and Milton Friedman's four ways of spending money

As we all recall Milton Friedman said there are four ways of spending money:

“There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income.”

Neatly illustrated here in this little tale of toilet paper:

We’re all becoming more aware about the damage single-use plastics and fast fashion has on the environment. Yet there is one product we all throw away every single day that, so far, has not been a major part of conversations about sustainability: toilet paper.

But America’s heavy use of toilet paper – particularly the pillowy soft kind – is worsening climate change and taking “a dramatic and irreversible toll” on forests, especially the Canadian boreal forest, according to a new report by two major environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and

We appear to have a fundamental conflict here between those who would wipe and those who prefer Canada to have forests. Not that there is such a conflict, Canada’s large enough, with enough forests, that they regenerate faster than they’re cut down but still, that’s what we’re told. Leading to:

Major toilet paper brands have refused to use more sustainable materials, the report says, because Americans tend to more concerned than the rest of the world about ideal toilet paper texture in their homes, largely due to decades of marketing around toilet paper softness.

In Churchill’s letters there’s a part where he luxuriates in the soft stuff available on an American battleship compared to that of wartime Britain - this isn’t a new issue.

The authors offer a scorecard system to rate the brands that have the biggest environmental impact. It’s mostly the big brands of quilted paper that score badly, with Charmin Ultra Soft, Kirkland Signature and Angel Soft all receiving F grades because they contain little or no recycled material. Brands that use recycled paper, such as Seventh Generation and Natural Value, received an A grade.

Notably they say that “recycled materials are more commonly used in away-from-home tissue brands, like those found at offices or airports, where marketing for softness is less crucial”. So next time you’re greeted at the departure gate by toilet paper with a texture similar to a handful of gravel, you can take solace in the fact you’re saving the forests.

Or, as we might put it, those stocking the public toilets are spending other peoples’ money on other people, leading to not much concern about what is got…..