OPINION: What I learned running an ethical toilet paper business during COVID-19

Thursday, 19 November 2020 13:02 GMT

'Who Gives a Crap' toilet paper is seen in this handout picture from 'Who Gives a Crap' via Thomson Reuters Foundation

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Our ethical toilet paper business saw a 1100% increase in sales during COVID-19 lockdowns. It’s been a tough year but we’re using our profits to prevent the disease spreading

By Simon Griffiths, co-founder of Who Gives A Crap, an ethical toilet paper company, and Lori Goldman, content lead.

You may not realise it, but your loo does a lot more than give you a nice place to check your email.

It safely removes waste so that the water that you drink and wash with is clean.

Without toilets, disease spreads through communities, which has serious impacts on the quality of education and local business.

For vulnerable populations, the situation can turn fatal quickly. Sound familiar?

My co-founders and I started Who Gives A Crap – an environmentally-friendly toilet paper business - because we wanted to find a sustainable way to help the incredible organisations working to bring proper toilets, sanitation and hygiene services to the (then) 2.4 billion people in need.

We built our business model – with 50% of our profits donated to help build toilets in developing countries – to enable us to have a real impact that could increase over time.

Our team are proud of the difference our donations will make to people’s lives all around the world. But we never anticipated how the importance of sanitation and hygiene would find its way into our own personal lives.

'Who Gives a Crap' toilet paper is seen in this handout picture from 'Who Gives a Crap' via Thomson Reuters Foundation

It’s been said many, many times, but 2020 has been quite a year. For those of us in the toilet paper business, there have been many highs and lows. It all started with the onset of panic buying in early March when we saw an 1100% increase in our daily sales.

At the peak, we were selling 28 rolls of toilet paper per second. To reserve stock for subscribers, we marked our site as sold out and ended up amassing a waitlist with over half a million people. It was an exciting (albeit exhausting) time and all of our focus went to getting toilet paper to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

Once we had a handle on stock, our team no longer had the distraction of our business on overdrive. The heaviness of living and working through “these times” was landing on all of us.

We felt the pressure of stress, fear, remote work, partners who’d lost work and all of the other sticky stuff that comes with living through a global pandemic. But amidst all of the uncertainty, the basics of health and safety remained as clear as ever. The cornerstone, of course, is keeping your hands clean. Needless to say, that’s extremely difficult to do without clean water.

We recently conducted a survey in the U.S. that showed 92% of people are in agreement that having access to clean public bathrooms prevents diseases, like COVID-19, from spreading.

These days, needing a bathroom while you’re out at the supermarket or the chemist can create a real dilemma. For 2 billion people around the world, not having access to a safe, clean and private bathroom has been an everyday reality for their entire lives.

I hope that this World Toilet Day serves as a time to pause and reflect on the important role toilets play in our health, safety, communities and economies. We now all have real insight into the dangers of life without proper sanitation and hygiene.

Let’s use that knowledge to do something great. Whether it’s raising awareness on your social media profiles, donating to one of the many organisations doing incredible work, integrating social good into the fabric of your business or just buying some toilet paper, don’t let this monumental World Toilet Day go by uncelebrated.