Sunday, 25 January 2015

How Much Toilet Paper Does the Average Person Consume in a Day?

Over on MarginalRevolution, Tyler Cowen had an amusing remark the other day on a figure for average daily toilet paper consumption in the USA. The article he cites has it that the average American uses 46 sheets of toilet paper in a day and Cowen thinks that is excessive. In hindsight it's hard to know what would have been my guess had I not read the article, but I believe I would have though 46 sheets a fairly good one for reasons which I will come to below.

I believe estimates of these things comes from knowing how many sheets there are on a roll and counting how many rolls are sold during a suitable time period. This become an understatement since not all Americans buy all the toilet paper they use in the US throughout the year (some travel abroad on holiday and don't take any toilet paper with them), and it is an overstatement since some of the usage is due to tourists, but if this is the way they estimate things it seems very reasonable to me.

So why might 46 sheets a day be a good estimate? I believe women and so-called "germophobes" in particular will appreciate the fact that public bathrooms are disgusting though one cannot always tell without the aid of a microscope. This necessitates the use of paper covers for persons who need to go and sit down while doing so. I counted the number of sheets required for a decent paper cover in the shared bathroom at my department and reached the figure 17. If somebody goes at the office or on public bathrooms three times in a day, that is 51 sheets that are not really used in the expected way. Not everyone works and not every day is a workday, and of course not everyone has the respect that they should have for germs, but this little calculation might go some way towards explaining the 46-a-day figure.

Toilet paper also acts as a substitute for kitchen towels or similar products, though I am not sure to what extent this drives up the average daily usage estimate since by the same token kitchen towels can substitute for toilet paper.

Anyway, this is an interesting issue because the fact that people like Tyler Cowen question the 46-a-day estimate indicates that not everyone can be equally efficient users of toilet paper. Many people would of course like to be more efficient but the nature of the issue makes it difficult to try to learn from others how to reach peak efficiency.

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