Narrower toilet paper rolling out

January 7, 2010 

My New Year’s resolution is to only write serious columns about important topics. So today I’m writing about the incredible, shrinking toilet-paper roll.

About two months ago I started suspecting our toilet-paper rolls were narrower. They don’t cover as much of the roller as they used to. They’re like a man’s pants leg that hikes up and reveals his lower leg when he sits down and crosses one leg over the other.

I couldn’t confirm this suspicion until I remembered the partial roll of toilet paper we had stashed in our car’s glove compartment. (You can’t always trust highway rest stops to be properly supplied.)

I measured that older roll and found it 41⁄2 inches long. But our new toilet-paper rolls measure just 4 inches. My suspicions were confirmed.

I found further confirmation in the new Consumer Reports magazine that arrived Monday. Inside its back cover it has “goofs, glitches and gotchas.” Among them was a picture of the toilet paper we buy, Quilted Northern. The headline said, “Short sheeted.”

A reader had written that she had noticed its rolls were narrower. The article also added that each roll now contains fewer sheets — 286 instead of 300.

Consumer Reports contacted the manufacturer, Georgia Pacific. Its spokesman blamed the shorter rolls on “ ‘the cost factor in today’s economy’ and said the shrinkage prevented a price hike.”

It sounds to me like they wanted to charge the same price for less paper and hoped we wouldn’t notice.

Sure, the sheet size is printed on the outside of each package of rolls. But it’s in smaller, less conspicuous letters than the ones saying “12 double rolls = 24 regular rolls.”

And who’s going to stand in a supermarket and decipher dimension information like this: “12ROLLS/ROLLOS-381.3 SQ FT/PIES2 (35.4m2)” or “4 IN/PULG x 4 IN/PULG.”

There’s no standard size for toilet paper. I checked three other brands in a market. One brand’s sheets measured 4.5 by 4 inches, another 4.2 by 4 inches and the third 4.5 by 3.7 inches.

It’s impossible to be a prudent toilet-paper buyer. It doesn’t come in standard sizes, like eggs do. And the manufacturers obscure, obfuscate and complicate. We can’t readily compare prices and values. Thus the free-market system is thwarted.

Quilted Northern isn’t especially villainous. I just know more about it because it’s the brand we buy and find otherwise satisfactory.

I could also mention Charmin. I think its TV ads, showing the little bear with toilet paper stuck to his rear end, are tasteless.

But at least they’ve answered the age-old question: “Do bears use toilet paper in the woods?”

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.

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