You can tell a lot about a country from its toilet paper.
As we traveled around Belize recently, I got the impression that, like its beer, this country has one manufacturer/distributor of toilet paper. And like all monopolies, the toilet paper kind of sucks.
Let’s call it the TP Cartel, for lack of any serious investigative reporting.
Toilet paper distributed by the TP Cartel in Belize is thin, stiff and scratchy and comes in very small quantities per roll. At least, that was our experience.
So, I wasn’t too surprised to see toilet paper as the topic of a robust debate on the Belize Forums. I’m not sure how the debate started – OK, I really don’t want to know – but it has apparently reignited with the discovery by one writer that she can buy a 60-roll package direct from the factory on the Western Highway for US$7.50.
Despite the brand’s name – Softy – the writer ranks it as merely “good.” Unlike the brand Roses which is described as “crap.”
No, seriously. This is how it rolls.
Reading deeper into the discussion it occurred to me how really well off we have it here. I mean, who spends time on forums in the U.S. discussing the merits of various brands of toilet paper?
Then again, Belize should be grateful that it is not Venezuela which recently had to commandeer a toilet paper factory to avoid a nationwide shortage of the commode-ity.
A smart Belizean entrepreneur should have flooded Venezuela with those 60-roll packages at 50 bucks a pop.
But that is just an aside. The real inspiration for this blog is the fact that a Caribbean-wide agency, Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), has formulated regional standards for toilet paper and is seeking comment from the general public.
Here’s the start of the Belize announcement:
“The Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) wishes to notify any relevant stakeholder and the general public that the Caribbean Community Standard for Toilet Tissue in Rolls, Single and Two-Ply (CRS 22: 1992) is being proposed for its revision by the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ). The Evaluation of this New Work Item Proposal is out for evaluation by Belize.”
Sadly, I cannot find the proposed standards online, which I gather were last updated in 1992. But in the proposal to create new standards, I did catch a whiff of scandal, to wit:
“There are concerns in the marketplace that consumers are being misled by certain deceptive practices in the industry. In addition, one Member State has raised health concerns in connection with the raw material used in the production process. There is also a need to bring the existing regional standard in line with industry developments.”
TP-gate! Good lord, what sort of deceptive practices? And what sort of unhealthy raw materials – old copies of newspapers, printouts of Fox Broadcast News transcripts? In my fevered imagination, I see large Health Department posters in public places: “Think twice before you wipe.”
There is a ray of hope. In a piece of pure bureaucratese poetry, the standards proposal unspools a Cottenelle fluffy vision for the future:
“The harmonization of standards for toilet tissue in the region would serve to facilitate trade by creating common requirements and test methods.”
I would go a step further. Why not a global standard for all toilet paper, be it single-sheet or two-ply. One world, one standard for toilet paper. World peace, I assure you, would not be far behind …
Accept nothing less than the Ultra Standard — as in Quilted Northern Ultra or Charmin Ultra Soft. Any toilet paper with ultra in its name is a brand you can believe in.
Whatever standards come out of the agency, there is a rigorous process going on in which no sheet of toilet paper is left unexamined. Here is a list of toilet paper aspects being scrutinized:
- basis weight (grammage)
- dry tensile strength
- bursting strength
- testing compliance
To which I would add a 10th tissue issue: comfort. And “ultra.” Don’t be afraid to go “ultra.” Anything Ultra oozes comfort.
In the end, it all adds up to the “Don’t squeeze the Charmin” criteria. If you are tempted to squeeze your TP, it must be good. And dang it, Belizeans deserve a toilet paper that is “squeezably soft.”
Some final words …
I’ll close with the lilting and melodic Belize children’s song, often heard in rainforest villages and coastal cayes alike:
Should you ever sneeze in Belize
Mama will warn you with words like these:
“Don’t wipe your nose with TP, please
It has the texture of mighty hard cheese!”
OK, I completely made this last bit up. There is no Belizean children’s song about toilet paper. Not that I’m aware of.
But I wrote it, so I had to use it.
Let nothing go to waste, that’s my motto. Hey, and it’s probably the same motto used by those toilet paper manufacturers who use suspicious raw materials in their final product ….