Is it stealing or not?


The question: Is it immoral to take toilet paper from the university I’m at? If so, why?

The context:
I’m living in a foreign country at taxpayer expense, with very large American student loans with a very small stipend. It seems reasonable to assume that the U.S. Department of Education is doing immoral things with their loan profits, such that there is the moral imperative to pay off the loans as soon as possible, not only to minimize their profit, but also to free me to do good with my income (e.g. give it to the church).

I spend the majority of my time at the university, so that my apartment is effectively a locker room with a place to sleep and shower. I don’t consider anything here truly “mine”, but rather the university’s or this nation’s taxpayers.

The toilet paper rolls are replaced when they become low on paper. I don’t know whether the custodians take them home for private use or throw them away. It seems reasonable to assume that they throw them away, and that the garbage is likely burned.

There are stacks of toilet paper in piles in the bathrooms, so that I have at least three options: Replace the toilet paper roll when it is low and bring it “home” myself to use, take home an unused roll, or buy it from the store. It seems the ideal solution is to take home low rolls that the custodial staff may be throwing away.

It seems to me not stealing, but rather, using toilet paper in a different location without explicit permission, and that it would be a waste of time to try to obtain the university’s permission. Moreover, it would cause more pollution (e.g. throwing away the wrapping store-bought toilet paper comes in), as well as extend the Department of Education’s usury, to buy toilet paper from the store.

I don’t see that such action is addressed in the Catechism:

The seventh commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one’s neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods.

The consequences of taking the toilet paper or not:
*]Decrease the usury conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and possibly decrease waste
*]Return taxpayers’ money to a local store and increase waste.

I suppose it is possible, but apparently unlikely, that taking home toilet paper would deprive the custodians of the same, if that is what they are doing. What are your thoughts?

Personally, I find it vexing, because I am trying so hard to get out of debt, and it seems almost wrong not to take it, but a simplistic analysis – which I think we are taught as children – is that it’s stealing because it’s a) not bought from a store and b) taken without permission, and for no other reason. But is this not too simple?

(Another problem may be sleep deprivation.)


What remarkable metal gymnastics! Very impressive.

But I think you know the answer. Yes, it is stealing.

You have no reason whatsoever to think that permission to take small amounts of toilet paper can be presumed (and what if everyone did this?). But if you are so hard up that you can’t afford toilet paper at home, for the admittedly small amount of time you spend there, perhaps you could approach a custodian and ask what they do with the leftover rolls and whether they could hang on to a few for you if they merely discard them?

You could also consider working on the timing of your bowel movements to take advantage of the fact that the university provides toilet paper for your use while on campus.


I understand your perspective, but taking it a step deeper: What is stealing?

I am wondering if one can “think outside the box” here, as with the Nazi thought experiment for the question, “What is lying?” If there are people wanting to kill the Jews you’re hiding, what responses qualify as lying? Some say misleading to a conclusion you know is false isn’t lying if you don’t say false statements while doing it. Others say lying is defined to be misleading someone who has a right to know, and they don’t have a right to know, therefore it’s not lying.

Similar arguments could be postulated regarding theft, i.e. stealing is “taking what someone has a reasonable right to”, and then ascertaining whether an organization has a reasonable right to this or that (and under what conditions). Like if someone has a life-saving drug that they plan to throw away, and you need it to save your friend’s life, is it stealing to take it from him knowing that he plans to throw it away and not give it to you?

Of course, nothing so dramatic here, but a similar argument could be drafted about preventing the corrupt US federal government from committing usury.


I think it would not be so difficult to ask the custodians what they are doing with the low rolls, and if they are throwing them away, ask them if you could take them instead.

I also happen to think that the moment one decides to throw something away is the moment that they forfeit their ownership over it, and to take it would not be stealing.



In other words, if the Nazis come to your door and throw out your life-saving drug…you can take the TP. :newidea:


I agree with you here. If they throw them away before they’re completely finished (no idea why they’d do this but there you go), those part-used rolls are unwanted, and may well go to landfill or recycling. If they give them to you, you will make sure they’re not wasted.

I would also ask if you could have anything else still usable which would otherwise go in the rubbish bins.




Agreed. No matter how you want to spin it or try to justify it, it’s stealing.


Friend, yes. It is stealing. And given by the amount of justification used in your post, I think that you know it is stealing, too. :wink:


“…not stealing, but rather, using toilet paper in a different location without explicit permission.”

Of course it’s stealing! But you’d make a great lawyer!



If your finances are so desperate that you cannot afford toilet paper, you should perhaps be re-examining your educational plan and its’ expense.


When I was at college, the hardworking cleaning ladies had permission to keep anything the students threw away or were discarding at the end of the year. Students would abandon stuffed animals, clothes hangers, furniture, etc, rather than packing them up to bring back home and I have a vivid memory of the two cleaning ladies packing some of these items into bags to take home for their children. They were very kind and very hard off. It’s possible that the custodians at your school have the permission you don’t to keep the low toilet paper rolls and that they actually do need them, in which case you would not be stealing from a rich, cold university but rather from the struggling custodian with a family to feed.

Ask permission to keep the leftover toilet paper and if you cannot obtain it, do not presume to take that which is not yours.

[quote=]He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. - Luke 16:10


It’s stealing…but it’s a misdemeanor not a felony…so maybe God may consider it a venial sin & you can work it off in Purgatory. :shrug:

Better get to confession and get permission from the administration to take the low rolls home. :thumbsup:


I’m not going to address the toilet paper issue, but rather your remarkable lack of knowledge about how the government works.

Those loans are funded by American taxpayers. Money is deducted from every paycheck of every worker to fund various government activities, including student loans. They don’t make a profit, they get money from taxpayers to make the loans and fund the subsidies you get.

Moreover, it would cause more pollution (e.g. throwing away the wrapping store-bought toilet paper comes in), as well as extend the Department of Education’s usury, to buy toilet paper from the store.

The Department of Education isn’t paying for it. If you are attending a state university, then it’s the taxpayers of the state who are picking up the tab for everything from toilet paper to professors’ salaries to campus buildings.

You might lose your sense of entitlement and superiority and thank those of us who are funding your education.

And oh yeah, taking something that isn’t yours without permission is stealing.


Oh, come on, you do know this is stealing don’t you? If you take anything from anywhere and anybody without their permission it is stealing, period.


I think its stealing. Technically any sort of stealing can be described as using something in another location without permission… Its still stealing though… As for any possible benefits you described - it is not moral to do a bad action for a good purpose. It has to be a good or neutral action. This is according to moral theology I think… Maybe someone has more info.


You’re not engaging my point, which is the usury of interest rates. Will you argue that the interest I pay every month (I have effectively a 7.1% interest rate at the moment on $137k) is being returned to these taxpayers? Of course it isn’t. Instead, since the federal government is pushing feticide and contraception both locally and abroad with the money they are requiring me to pay in interest (since it goes into one big pool for them to spend), which is my point. They seem also to be pushing the homosexual agenda in public schools with it (as well as “free” contraception and feticide for youths), teaching children to objectify their bodies in pursuit of passion and pleasure.

You can refute my point if you can specify what the Department of Education actually does with this interest money, if it is none of these things.


For the record, I am no longer arguing in defense of the original idea of taking toilet paper, and agree with the recommendation to ask a custodian what they do with rolls running low.

I asked yesterday briefly (during an elevator ride with one), and it does appear they throw them away, so apparently ~1/5 of many rolls are wasted. I will try to have a longer conversation with a custodian again later and seek clarity regarding replacing the rolls myself to reduce waste. (They apparently put on a new roll and throw away the old one.)

I am still interested in two remaining questions: [LIST=1]
*]How should we define stealing? (Or how has the Church revealed it?) Is there a ‘reasonable right to ownership’ involved, or is it strictly a matter of permission, regardless of need or waste?
*]What does the US Department of Education do with interest paid on student loans?


I asked again more recently, and the custodian gave me permission to replace the roll myself when it was running low and bring the leftover back home with me. It’s no longer stealing with her permission, right?

According to Navient,

all the interest you pay on U.S. Department of Education loans is deposited into the U.S. Treasury.

And this money is spent on all sorts of projects, including many evil ones domestically and abroad, right? So while my material cooperation in evil is remote (so I’m not culpable), there’s still the impetus to pay off these loans ASAP to minimize the damage American politicians can do, agreed?


This is an interesting issue. Many people said that it was stealing. But I wonder if we considered another case if they would agree it was stealing. What if you carried a water bottle as so many people do these days. What if you filled it up at a water fountain at the university but consumed some of it off campus. Wouldn’t this be stealing? I imagine many people do this at one time or another.

Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if many homeless people take toilet paper from universities and public libraries. Is it stealing if they do?

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