Column: But what will we use for "Doot-de-doots"?

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Roger VanHaren

A couple of years ago, there was a very interesting commercial on TV that made use of some amazing computer-generated art. The commercial was for toilet paper (or do you prefer “bathroom tissue”?), except the ad didn’t do anything to extol the virtues of the product. Instead, it was about the fact that the tissue was not wrapped around a cardboard tube.

The Scott Naturals Tube-Free toilet paper ad showed a cardboard toilet paper tube springing free from the holder in a bathroom, rolling down the stairs and out the door into the street, where it joined millions of other tubes and became part of a giant Empire State Building facsimile made up of 8½ billion tubes. Spectacular!

The Scott Paper Co. claims that every year, Americans throw away 17 billion toilet paper tubes — enough used toilet paper tubes to build the Empire State building, twice! So Scott was introducing its new “Natural Tube-Free” toilet paper: “the same great feel and softness you love without the wasteful tube!”

Back then, if you went to Scott’s website, you could take a three-question quiz to see how many tubes your family uses. I figured out that my household’s lifetime use of paper tubes would be 9,170. That’s enough TP tubes to make up a queen-sized bed!

There were also some other interesting things on the website. Did you know that every second, 538 TP tubes are used in the U.S.? Did you know that the average person spends three years on the toilet over the course of his/her life? (I suppose that would be dependent upon how much reading you do there, right?) Did you know that guys use more toilet paper, but gals use it more frequently? They’ll probably never ask these questions on “Jeopardy!”

I grew up about a mile downriver from the Scott Paper Mill in Oconto Falls back in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when the mill was the largest employer in the area. I had a summer job at the mill the summer after I graduated from high school. The mill hired a number of my classmates and me to replace workers who were going on vacation. The jobs we were given were the ones that could be learned with very little training.

One of my jobs that summer was to sit alone up in a little booth high above the factory floor and feed various-sized paper tubes into troughs, which delivered the tubes by gravity down to the machines that wrapped toilet paper, paper towels and waxed paper onto the rolls. I got a real appreciation for how many tubes were going out of the factory every eight-hour shift!

Now if they’re going to do away with the tubes, what are little kids going to do for their “doot-de-doots”? Our kids had great fun pretending that the tubes were musical instruments, parading around the house and yard singing “doot-de-doot” in harmonizing tones. The bigger, longer tubes from paper towels and kitchen wraps were the bass instruments! No more tubes = no more creative fun?

Besides the doot-de-doots, the paper tubes could be used for all kinds of stuff. Our kids used them for garages for their miniature cars and as pencil holders. They decorated them in all kinds of art projects, like napkin holders. You can use them to wrap your pieces of string around. Use a tube to store an extension cord. Use them for indoor plant-starting containers and plant the seedlings, tube and all, when the weather is right outside. There are hundreds of things you can do with them.

Assuming all the other paper companies follow the leader, pretty soon there’ll be no more “doot-de-doots”! Is this progress?

Contact Roger VanHaren at