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toilet paper

Education

The surprising places you can't flush toilet paper, even with fully flushing toilets

Greece, Thailand and dozens of other countries have fully flushing toilets but "no flushing the TP" rules.

Even with fully flushing toilets, you can't always flush toilet paper.

In the U.S., it's normal in women's restrooms to see signs that say "Do not flush feminine products," so if you're traveling internationally and you see a sign that says not to flush paper down the toilet, you might assume it means the same thing.

It doesn't. If you're traveling abroad and you see a "no paper in the toilet" sign, it usually means all paper—including the toilet paper you use to wipe with.

My first time experiencing this reality was in Indonesia. The friend I was visiting lived in a large luxury home, modern in every way—except you had to toss your toilet paper into a bin instead of flushing it. Even rustic campsite pit toilets in the U.S. allow you to put toilet paper in them, so it went against every instinct I had not to toss the TP in the toilet after using it and put it in the little bin next to the toilet instead.

Then I encountered the same thing in Thailand, then in Greece, then in Patagonia in South America. These were all places with American-style flushing toilets, so it was unexpected that TP flushing was a no-no. If this is the norm in such vastly different regions, how common is "no TP flushing" around the world?


Surprisingly common for the 21st century, actually. As many advancements as we've made in engineering and technology, there are still lots of established plumbing systems underground that don't handle anything other than onesies and twosies very well.

For people from always-flush-the-TP countries, the inability to flush toilet paper can come as a shock, especially when the toilets seem no different than the ones at home. It's confusing that the toilet paper will physically flush down at the source, it just shouldn't be flushed because of what can happen on down the line.

In Greece, for example, the plumbing pipes are only two inches in diameter, compared to four inches in the U.S., which means paper clogs the pipes much more easily. Our Airbnb host in Athens told us if we smell a terrible sewage smell and hear a big motor running somewhere in the neighborhood, it's because people had flushed toilet paper and the sewage system had to be pumped. Brazil apparently has plumbing similar to Greece, and there are plenty of other countries in the same boat.

map of the world

Where in the world can you flush your toilet paper?

mindofahitchhiker.com

So where are all of these countries? Well, hard to say exactly, as the most recent map I've seen (from mindofahitchiker.com above) is from 2017 based on information from 2012, and things may have changed in some of those countries by now. On this map, the green countries are safe to flush, the orange are "it depends" and the red are generally no-flushers.

Most places where you can't flush paper have signs saying so, but sometimes they're in another language and sometimes there just aren't signs because the assumption is that you know. Thankfully, mindofahitchhiker.com also offers a handy "Flush or not to flush?" flowchart to help you figure it out:

Should you flush the toilet paper

Find out more at mindofahitchhiker.com

Surprisingly, putting TP in a bin isn't as disgusting as I imagined it would be, nor is it stinky like I assumed it would be. In Indonesia and Thailand, nearly all toilets had a "bum gun"—a handheld water sprayer attached to a hose that hung on the side of the toilet—which helped everything feel a bit cleaner on that front. (I loved it so much I bought one to install at home after my trip.) But even without the hoses, the TP bins have plastic liners and usually fliptop lids you open with your foot, so it doesn't really feel as unsanitary as it sounds. And those bins appeared to be emptied frequently almost everywhere I was, so it wasn't any grosser of an experience than using a public restroom in the U.S. (There's also a generally expected level of courtesy, it seems, to make sure your used TP is folded or wadded in such a way as to not gross out other people.)

It may not be ideal and it may fly in the face of our normal habits, but I'm sure we'd all agree that plumbing working properly is important. So if you're traveling to country you've never been to before, do a little research, follow the toilet signs, and when in doubt, toss instead of flush. The locals will thank you.

Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

When the coronavirus finally subsides and life gets back to normal, we will all praise the heroes — medical workers, grocery store clerks, that guy who gave you a dab of hand sanitizer — and we will shame the hoarders.

The image that bests sums up this strange and terrible era will be the people with gigantic Costco carts filled with sky-high stacks of toilet paper. Their eyes filled with fear that one day they will have to resort to cleansing themselves with Kleenex or, worse, a Starbucks napkin.


The Holly Hoarders struck hardest at Costco, so now the retail giant is striking back by forcing them to live with their selfish decisions. Costco now refuses to allow its customers to return any of the hoarders' favorite purchases: toilet paper, paper towels, water, rice, Lysol, and sanitizing wipes.

Buyer's remorse is a dish best served cold. Costco is serving it in bulk.

Costco cares about its customers so it has a 100%-satisfaction guarantee and usually accepts returns on just about everything but alcohol and tobacco products. But these are unusual times.

Costco has drawn a line and refuses to grant 100% satisfaction to the folks who thought they could take all of the bum wipe for themselves.

As if America didn't love Costco enough, they're heaping extra praise on the company on Twitter.



Some folks suggested that the hoarders can atone for their greed by donating their ill-gotten loot to a local shelter or food bank.


Now that the hoarders are being punished, we need to know what inspired their heinous deeds so it never happens again.

Why in the hell did people hoard toilet paper of all things? Water, food, and hand sanitizer make sense, they can mean the difference between life or death. But toilet paper? Not so much.

Andrea Greenman, the president of the Contemporary Freudian Society, says it goes back to control and, of course, a child's anal phase.

"Controlling cleanliness around B.M.s is the earliest way the child asserts control," Greenman told The New Yorker.

"The fact that now we are all presumably losing control creates a regressive push to a very early time," she added. "So, I guess that translates in the unconscious to 'If I have a lifelong supply of toilet paper, I'll never be out of control, never be a helpless, dirty child again.' "

Costco could maximize profits while helping these hoarders with their fears of regressing into being dirty children by offering them Freudian psychoanalysis. It could set up a chaise lounge right next to the guys who sell air conditioners and solar panels.