, Muskogee, OK


June 18, 2014

Readers write to talk about shrinking toilet paper

— Last week, I featured emails from readers who professed to be in favor of food and beverage product shrinkage for various reasons. While many of us are dismayed when we see less ounces in a package of frequently purchased foods, others felt it helped them maintain portion control or consume less product.

There’s one product, though, which very few readers want to see downsized — toilet paper. Recently a reader complained to his favorite bath tissue brand that the rolls had gotten smaller. The brand replied with an unintentionally humorous email, which read in part:

“We added some fibers back into each sheet – so you have more fibers per square inch in the center ‘performance zone’ where you need them most to get the job done. The reduced width improves the flushability because being slightly narrower allows the tissue to clear the bowl and drain lines more easily.”

As you might imagine, this particular manufacturer’s response elicited a lot of funny replies from readers:

Dear Jill:

Try and imagine this morning, thousands of people, seated for their morning ‘constitutional,’ seeking verification in advance of the ‘performance zone’ of a single sheet from the roll nearby. Was it not for your column we may never have known of the intricacies and engineering that went into production of that item.

 — Jim R.

Dear Jill:

Lots of laughs on your recent column about a humorous subject that tends to get under my skin. My wife and I discovered our own frustrations with toilet paper.

— Bill A.

Dear Jill:

I am sending you this email because of two items close to my heart. I love a good joke and I sold toilet tissue for more than 30 years. These facts give me some expertise regarding the width of the roll of toilet tissue.

Until a few years ago, the standard tissue was 4.5 inches wide and perforated at 4.5 inches. One-ply tissue had 1000 sheets and two-ply had 500. In recent years papermaking technology has allowed paper pulp (the basic ingredient) to be ‘fluffed up’ to the point where the tissue felt as thick as always but with less weight.

The weight is the way we determine how much actual paper is in the sheet. This is called basis weight. It is possible to increase the ‘caliper’ or thickness while reducing the basis weight.

By reducing the weight while increasing the caliper we make it seem like we have more paper. The roll diameter can remain the same. In addition you can reduce the sheet count from 500 to 350 or even 280. By manipulating these factors you can increase the profit without raising the price.

By deducing the width alone from 4.5 to 4 inches we increase our profit by 12.5 percent without raising the retail price. The technology has advanced, but not to the point where the weight or caliper can be precisely varied to increase the ‘performance zone.’ Tissue is made on machines that are wider than 100 inches then slit into four-inch rolls. The challenge is to make a uniform thickness across the web of paper. These changes have been done for the simple reason of increased profitability.

— Steve C.

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