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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
Consumer affairs guru Clark Howard is well-known in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area (where many of us Talopubs editors and correspondents live) because of his regular appearances on radio, television and newspapers in the area. In a recent foray into items for the household he began his column by saying, "Toilet paper is magically shrinking before your eyes.... When I talked about this a couple of years ago, there were a few companies reducing the size of packages by doing tricks like making the tubes fatter and putting less paper on the roll."

Now he is digging into reductions in the size of the sheets on the roll. He quoted a Dallas Morning News report that the average size of a square of toilet tissue has been reduced by 26%. He then went off to several stores to check whether the Dallas report is true. "Turns out it is," he said. He found that the size reduction was practically universal. "It seems everybody has reduced their sheets to a 4.5 by 4-inch rectangle, down from a perfect 4.5-inch square just a few years ago."

It is not our purpose here to get into his scoring of store prices, cents per 100 sheets of various brands at various stores, etc. But we can note from his report that the absolute cheapest option was Kimberly-Clark's Scott 1000, which costs 8 cents per 100 sheets, although it has the lowest score of all on the Consumer Reports tally.

The US spends more than $6 billion a years on 17 billion rolls of toilet tissue, more than any other nation in the world. Americans, on average, use 57 squares of toilet tissue per day, an aggregate of about 50 pounds per year. This is a huge market and competitors fight tooth-and-nail for market share. But pricing in the marketplace must be undergirded by production cost control; ergo, reducing sheet size.

It appears that the next target for cost reduction in the toilet tissue field may be the paperboard core tubes on which the sheets are wound. Kimberly-Clark's Scott Paper division says that the 17 billion paperboard toilet paper tubes thrown away in the US every year, at the rate of 538 every second, is enough to fill the Empire State Building twice. If placed end-to-end, these tubes would stretch for a million miles. Scott has made a big splash in television by such tactics as building, in the middle of a New York City plaza, a 30-foot replica of the building, using only toilet paper tubes. Of course, the replica is prominently featured in television commercials trumpeting Scott's tubeless toilet tissue rolls, first market-tested in 2010 and rolled out nationally in mid-2014.

It is somehow ironic that the Scott brand should be the first to remove the tubes, because it was the first to put them into TP rolls in 1890. In that era, medicated wipes were sold to people who purchased anything for personal hygiene. Scott's TP on a roll quickly became more successful and other wipes faded away. By the end of the 19th century, more and more homes were being built with indoor flush toilets, TP manufacturers such as Scott boasted in advertisements that their product was recommended by both doctors and plumbers.

One feature of today's tubeless TP roll is that one does not have to tear off that last sheet. It just falls off because it is not glued to anything.

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.

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