I made a little something after encountering a clogged up toilet and a hostel cleaner who looked frustrated. Perhaps you never even considered your toilet paper’s destiny… but should you flush the toilet paper? I made a cool flowchart to help you determine whether to bin it or flush it! Follow these easy steps:
But really. Clogged toilets and sewage systems are a huge problem in many parts of the world – and the traveler isn’t helping the cause. I’ve met a few travelers who were proud to announce they would straight up refuse to bin their used toilet paper when there was a sign kindly asking them not to. They thought not flushing it was gross to put it in a bin, and that was that.
Especially in Latin America, there’s written signs in the stalls to kindly ask you to not flush the paper, but not always. Many people think that the absence of a sign means you can flush the paper, but really, it doesn’t. Get into the habit of binning the paper as soon as possible upon arrival to your destination. It’s really just a matter of flipping a switch in your head, but it will go a long way. Being a ‘responsible traveler’ means more than just not disrupting communities, it also means not disrupting people’s (sometimes basic) infrastructure.
Toilet Paper Flushing World Map
So you don’t like my flowchart? Well then I went and did the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s work and made a world map using the data of Where do I put the Paper? to give you an overview. Conclusion: flushing the toilet paper is rare, very rare.
The green countries would have you flush the paper, red forbid it, in orange countries it highly depends on where you are and icy blue ones don’t have data. Note that this map is purely based on the info provided by the aforementioned website. If the information is lacking/wrong, you’d have to tell the creator Matt Kitson too! Also, Matt, we should drink a beer.
A Little Back Story
In my 3.5 years of being on the road I’ve spent about 2.5 of them in regions where you don’t flush used paper. Already upon arrival in South America, I knew I had to flip that switch in my head. Of about 500 days of travel in South America, I must have spent about 45 days around dysfunctional toilets, of which the far majority was located in some form of tourist accommodation like a hostel where the toilets have to endure a lot of traffic – more than in hotels. In about 90% of hostels is a sign in each stall asking you not to flush the toilet paper. Every time I saw unflushed toilet paper floating in the bowl where it shouldn’t, I was in a hostel.
Once, only once, have I been to a place in Latin America where the stall had a sign on it “PLEASE FLUSH THE TOILET PAPER, DON’T PUT IT IN THE BIN”. That was in a luxury café called Refugio de Navegantes in Dalcahue, Chiloé Archipelago, Chile – far far away not on any particular route. Everything looked a little futuristic. I had to read the sign three times before I understood its message. I was a little shocked. Then I flushed it all.
Then there’s the countries where people wash not wipe. Some of them give you the choice between toilet paper and water (Argentina and Uruguay), others don’t provide paper and expect you to follow suit by washing. I remember childhood trips to France and laughing at the funny thing in the bathroom which my mom explained was a “butt washer”. I never fully grasped the anatomy and function of a bidet until I googled it in fucking 2016.
On a short trip to Morocco in 2012 I encountered my first “hose” (a.k.a. “bum gun”). On my travels through Iran in 2014 I really learned the way of the hose in combo with squat toilets. This time there was really no way around it, but an 8-year-old going to rural France with my parents, I cried every time the only option was a squat toilet. Toilet paper can be a tough find in some places, but I always carry some backup paper with me.
Where I’m from we always flush everything away through our fancy seat-toilets without a care. For 19 years of my life I had never seen a clogged toilet in my Passport Nation. Their toilets are resilient and its flushes are powerful. That was until I started studying, lived in a shared amenities apartment and the yearly carnival happened. Some visitor tried flushing the unflushable and we all had to suffer the consequences. The next day someone came by to fix it.
Back to Latin America, the situation is a lot more fragile over here. I’ve noticed that it takes up a lot of mental space if I can’t just assume I can go to the baño anytime I please. The planning involved takes away the ability to relax about a basic bodily function. I know I’ll never take a functioning toilet for granted again.
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