The impact of human activities on the environment is well-documented. Many people are concerned about how their daily lives can have a negative effect on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the health of ourselves and of our children. My background is in environmental science: it began in high school when I worked to institute a recycling program in the lunchroom. I went on to earn my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from Michigan State University.
While there’s nothing we can do about having inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), there is something we can do about how it impacts our environment. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis need treatment over a lifetime and this comes with a variety of choices. Environmental responsibility may be pretty far down on the list of things most people with IBD are concerned about, but there are some simple choices we can make that can have an impact.
The place were we have a lot of control as patients is in our own home and in how we manage our disease (alongside our healthcare teams). A few little changes can make a positive impact in how your IBD affects the word around you. I present some areas where we can think about making choices in regards to our IBD that may help us leave a smaller footprint.
Consider Choosing Recycled Toilet Paper
Toilet paper is a hot topic in the IBD community. Most people have their favorite brand and don’t much deviate from that. However, it’s worth noting that most brands we find readily available in our stores do not use any recycled content whatsoever. It’s possible to include recycled materials and even post-consumer recycled materials, but many companies choose not to do this. Further, they’re usually super white, which means that they were bleached: a practice that adds to pollution and water waste. Because toilet paper is something that most people in the United States consider to be a necessity, environmental groups have made recommendations on the brands of toilet paper that are less wasteful. There are brands that don’t have the middle cardboard core, or use a high percentage of recycled or post-consumer recycled content, or aren’t bleached. A small change you can make is switching to a brand that has made these choices in their process can help cut down on the waste involved in the process of manufacturing toilet paper.
Bigger changes you can make: A change which may be helpful for people who are living with perianal disease or who have a j-pouch is to switch to using cloth. There are many options for using cloth wipes in the bathroom, and the result is a cleaner bottom with less irritation. There are flannel wipes made specifically for this use, or even washcloths or repurposed t-shirts will work. If there’s a need to use soap and water to clean up after going to the bathroom, using a flannel or a washcloth makes that easier to achieve. Put your used cloths right in the washing machine to soak, or use a bucket. Wash them every day or two and dry outside, if possible.
More about choosing toilet paper:
- A Shopper’s Guide to Home Tissue Products
- Household Paper Products Buying Guide
- Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide
Install A Toilet That Uses Less Water
Toilets use water. A lot of it. And as people who live with IBD, we do a lot of flushing when we’re in a flare-up. Many environmental groups agree that a dual-flush toilet is the best at saving water. What dual-flush means is not that the toilet flushes twice, but that there are two options for flushing. The first option is often called a “rinse” and it may use a gallon of water or less. This is useful for liquid waste which will go down the toilet easier. The second flush choice is for more solid waste, like stool. While it may seem like a small thing because people with IBD might use the solid flush more often, over time these toilets will use a lot less water. And if you’re working hard to keep hydrated, you are doing a lot of urinating usually and all those flushes add up.
But what if you don’t need a new toilet? Older toilets can be retrofit to turn them into dual-flushers. It’s a cheaper, do-it-yourself option that can help turn those older models that use a lot of water into one that’s more environmentally friendly. Another option is to convert older toilets into low-flow, which would use less than 2 gallons of water per flush.
Bigger changes you can make: A waterless, or dry toilet, is a truly green option. These toilets use no water at all, and are often also called composing toilets. These are not common but they might be a good choice for areas where there are not sewer lines and septic tanks are used. In addition, for those who garden, the output could be used as fertilizer.
More about toilets:
- Convert a Toilet to a Dual-Flush
- How To Convert Any Toilet to a Low-Flow Toilet
- Composting Toilet Systems
Choosing Cleaning Products
Many people with IBD like to keep the bathroom clean and smelling as fresh as possible, so after paper and water, this is another area that can be tweaked to include environmentally-friendly options. Sometimes it’s thought that “green” cleaning products don’t do as well to kill germs but that’s not often the case. Check with your care team if you have, for instance, a serious bacterial infection like Clostridium difficile, on how to clean your bathroom. Cleaning is not the same thing as disinfecting. But for everyday washing up, there are good choices that will kill the bugs and will not pollute and/or are manufactured in a more environmentally conscious way. Myself, I’ve been using the same bottle of Simple Green for everything: I dilute it with water and it’s usually all I need. I save so much money on cleaning products!
Bigger changes you can make: The cleaning product industry has us all thinking we need to buy their products to clean our homes and businesses but in fact, we can make our own cleaner fairly easily. Baking soda, lemon, borax, and other common household substances can be used to make your own cleansers. This is not only environmentally responsible, but also saves money, keeps chemicals out of your home, and can be customized to your own needs and how you like your house to smell. Save a spray bottle from a store-bought cleaning product and use a Sharpie to label it so you know what homemade product it contains.
Properly Dispose of Medication
Most people with IBD receive medication to either put the disease in remission or to keep it there. On occasion, there could be leftover medication or expired medications. There is a correct way to dispose of medication, and an incorrect way. At issue is the traces of medications that are ending up in our water supply around the world. In most cases, water is not treated to remove trace levels of medications. This is a long-term problem that requires a more comprehensive solution, but we can take steps as individuals to avoid adding to it. Proper medication disposal is usually done by handing them over to a pharmacy or a local government source. Most communities have medication take-back days: check with your local officials to find out when they happen in your area.
Bigger changes you can make: Volunteers are always needed at these and other events. Reach out to your local IBD support groups to let everyone know when take-back days for prescription drugs are scheduled.
- Dispose My Meds Locator
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) coordinated National Take Back Day (updated prior to national events, typically in April and September)
- Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs