The Bathroom was an Uncomfortable Place before Cardboard Tubes

by Jenny Knodell, IQS Editor

Toilet paper may be the most dispensable item in your home, as well as the most essential. I pity the poor bathroom user who’s run out at a bad time. You might be surprised to know that toilet paper, the kind we use today, is a rather recent invention. Before the mid 1800s, people used sponges, wool, silk and lace. I should clarify—only the French royalty used silk and lace, not everyday people. Commoners and farmers had the pleasure of employing leaves, corn husks, catalog paper and newspaper for the job. Then one day an American inventor thought of therapeutic paper, as he put it, and forever changed using the bathroom. At first, this paper was stacked into pre-cut strips, which was certainly better than using other course and rough materials, but was still somewhat unsanitary. It wasn’t until 1890 until bathroom tissue was manufactured on a user-friendly roll.

Today, all toilet paper is wound onto a paper tube made of wood pulp called cardboard. Referred to as a paper core, these simple little cylindrical rolls make toilet paper what it is today. Without them, it couldn’t be properly rolled and would probably sit in tall stacks beside the toilet. Paper cores allow the toilet paper roll to be placed on a roller, which allows users to pull as much as they need without touching anything else. Unlike hard, thick tubes used for shipping prints and documents, or sonotubes that help form concrete pillars, paper cores for toilet paper do not need a high amount of tensile strength or resistance. They are thin, small and use minimal amounts of laminate or adhesives, since their only job is to spool thin, soft paper.

The manufacturing process for cardboard tubes is very simple. It’s done in the same facility where the actual toilet paper is made. First, two long strips of wood pulp material (cardboard) about three inches wide are manufactured and cut on a series of rollers. Next, the top cardboard strip’s underside is coated with glue. The two strips are then diagonally wound around a hollow metal cylinder to create a continuous cardboard tube that is extremely long. It’s cut up into 65 inch tubes and taken to a winding machine. There, two strips of newly-formed toilet paper are wound around the core. It’s sliced into 4 inch roles by a circular saw and then packaged. And there you have it—a roll of toilet paper!


Photo courtesy of Valk Industries, Inc.

Once the toilet paper has been used up, leaving nothing but the cardboard tube, what is the appropriate action? Recycle! All cardboard tubes are manufactured from recycled paper, and can be used over and over again. Since almost every person on Earth uses toilet paper at least once a day, more than 83 million rolls are used everyday; that’s 30.6 billion rolls a year. Simply tossing them in the trash might not seem like such a bad thing, but when you add it up, that’s a lot of wasted cardboard. Besides recycling, there are many, many other things you can do with cardboard tubes once the toilet paper has been used. Simply do a Google search, and suddenly you’ve got dozens of rainy day crafts, from making kazoos to wall murals, there’s always something you can do with cardboard tubes.

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