Skip to comments.Friendly flushing: Water-efficient toilets help make sustainable homes
Posted on 12/06/2012 7:20:37 PM PST by ExxonPatrolUs
Commode, can, the Oval Office, and the Super Bowl. Throne, pot, loo, John. The royal flush.
The toilet, in its illustrious career, has earned a variety of affectionate nicknames. But variety extends well beyond just puns when talking about those porcelain perches: Eco- friendly options, from low-flow to entirely waterless toilets, are an important part of bringing water sustainability into homes. Toilet flushes account for about 30 percent of in-home water usage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Toilets consume more water in American homes than any other individual type of appliance, such as showers, dishwashers, and washing machines.
And with climate change, drought and demand straining fresh water resources, methods of decreasing water consumption are increasingly important to environmentalists and policy-makers. Its easy to think that we have this enormous indispensable water supply, that we do have about 20 percent of the world's supply of surface fresh water right here at the Great Lakes, said Nancy Tuchman, an aquatic ecology researcher and director of the Institute of Urban Environmental Sustainability at Loyal University.
"We have the biggest supply on the continent, but it doesnt mean that its going to be there forever and especially with global climate change and all this evaporation and little precipitation that could build the water back up. So we need to conserve. Studies show that Great Lakes water levels are dropping toward record lows.
One radical toilet-based solution takes water out of the equation altogether. A so-called dry toilet can begin as little more than a bucket filled with a layer of a carbon-rich material such as dry leaves, sawdust or newspaper. For five bucks, or if I find a bucket and have some carbon material, I can actually build out a solution really fast, said Nancy Klehm, who founded a Chicago-based eco-solutions company, Social Ecologies, in 2010. It takes hardly any capital; it just takes some ingenuity and knowing what to do with it.
After a visit to the dry toilet, users cover their wastes with a new layer of carbon- rich material. Once the bucket is full, the contents can be dumped out and composted.
Klehm organized a dry toilet trial-run for a group of 22 Chicagoans from 2008 to 2010, and she continues to work with dry toilets and composting today. For the aptly dubbed "Humble Pile" program, she collected waste from participants for a three- month period, and then composted it with more carbon-rich material for two years. People were really surprised by how much they liked dry toilets, she said. Participants in the aptly dubbed Humble Pile program liked the fact that the toilets were quiet and mobile, and that the toilets could be designed ergonomically. Most of all, they were pleasantly surprised that the toilets didnt smell.
It's important that anyone considering a dry toilet understand how to handle the waste. "People can generally compost anywhere at anytime," Klehm said. "They just need to do it well so not to present a nuisance or attract animals."
When dealing with the dry toilet waste rather than food or landscape waste, it is important to kill pathogens from the human body by composting at high temperature created by heat-generating microbes. "Composting human waste should not be taken on unless someone is a very skilled composter," Klehm said. When done correctly, though, microbial digestion should naturally turn waste to soil and the process should be odor-free.
After the two year "Humble Pile" composting period that Klehm took on for the participants, she returned the compost to its original owners, which she said grew participants appreciation for dry toilets even more. They were really excited that they were building soil," she said. Its a larger issue than just how much water were using, explained sustainable water expert Wendy Pabich, who holds a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When you buy a dry compost toilet, thats all about recycling the nutrients and carbon in our waste, rather than sending them to rivers where the organic and nutrient load drive putrefaction algal groves, fish kills and ecosystem changes.
Dry toilets probably arent for everybody. The yuk factor is definitely there, but that reaction is largely a cultural bias, Pabich said. She added that commercially produced dry toilets have eliminated many of the un- pleasantries consumers might expect. But there are many other, more conventional toilet options for people looking to lessen their lavatorys environmental impact.
If every American home were to swap out old toilets for new, water efficiency- certified toilets, the EPA estimates that it would collectively save 640 billion gallons of water every year equivalent to two weeks flow over Niagara Falls.
Toilets from before 1980 can use up to 7 gallons of water per flush, but federal regulations require that new toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush. Simply by replacing old toilets, people can dramatically reduce their water consumption. And new dual-flush toilets (with one setting for wet wastes and one for solids] or low-flow toilets), marked with an EPA WaterSense label, are certified to use at least 20 percent less water than that national baseline.
A water-efficient home
In her recent book, Taking on Water, Pabich shared her personal experience renovating her entire home to be more water-efficient. The process involved installing meters on every water-consuming element of the house, analyzing the results, and devising ways to minimize water consumption. She chose the low-flow toilets, for instance.
Improving water sustainability at home need not be so involved for everyone, though. I dont think people need to go through all the effort I went through, nor to the level of analysis and understanding, Pabich said. Instead, they can focus on a few core changes that Pablich shared in the form of a Water Cheat Sheet when she spoke at Chicago Ideas Week in October.
Some changes are a matter of updating home hardware. Pabich switched out her hold toilets and self-installed low-flow alternatives. Its not very hard, and its not very expensive, she said. Toilets, though, are only a piece of the puzzle. The cheat sheet prescribes other improvements such as water-efficient washing machines and dishwashers.
Other conservation measures
requires behavioral changes, though. From eating less meat (livestock consume an enormous amount of water) to turning off the shower while lathering, small adjustments in daily routines add up. Turn off the sink while you brush your teeth, and dont run your dishwasher until its full. One thing thats become really clear to me is the impact of our aggregate decision- making, Pabich said. If each one of us does something to reduce our direct water use or our larger water footprint, by eating less meat or replacing our toilets, the collective impact is significant.
The big picture: water pricing
Though individual choices have major impacts on water conservation, achieving long-term sustainability will require top-down policy changes too.
There are clearly some major structural problems, Pabich said. Water is entirely underpriced, and the second that price signal is corrected I think things will dramatically change.
Bill Christiansen, program planner for the Chicago-based Alliance for Water Efficiency, agreed. Here in Chicago, the water rates are very reasonable, so thats probably not going to be a motivator for lots of people.
The city of Chicago will charge $2.89 per 1,000 gallons of water beginning Jan. 1, 2013, up from $2.51 this year. The rate is scheduled to increase again for 2014 and 2015 in increments of 15 percent. Sewer rates will be at 92 percent of water bills for 2013, but will hit 100 percent in 2015. I think the public will be most interested in water efficiency when the need is more urgent, Christiansen said.
People such as Klehm and Pabich promote water-efficiency initiatives, but it will take a concerted effort of people to achieve all the necessary changes.
It requires another level of involvement in your home, Klehm said. So your home is not just this passive space that you retreat into at the end of the night with your carryout Chinese food and pop in a Netflix movie.
You have to watch the flows of all the different things that are coming into and out of your house. And there arent a lot of people who want to have that level of engagement in their homes.
But it takes water to get the big logs to go down. What are we supposed to do, keep a coat hanger handy?
I need an angry aggressive flush that lowers the level of the lake for a few minutes.
I don’t know why having a toilet that needs to be flushed 3 or 4 times helps the environment ... but if you say so ...
Warning! Agenda 21 Language Stay Away!
Funny, just this very morning I found myself wishing that I had a toilet from the 1970s.
Warning! Agenda 21 Language Stay Away!
Without reading the entire article, as I assume it’s senseless drivel, I’ll predict the shit won’t be going far in the future.
How many times do we need to flush now, even after ‘light duty’? Twice?
If these idiots have their way, we’ll be flushing 3 or 4 times.....At least until the government implements some sort of controlling device to ration or tax flushes.(It WILL happen)
As they pointed out, they already have.... they just artificially raise the price of water, just like they do everything else. Cigs, gas, electricity... all expensive solely due to fake government taxes and price fixing.
And down and down and down we go go go.
Pretty soon to have the quality of life most middle, even lower middle class Americans had in the 80’s you’ll need to make over 600K a year.
We are growing more pathetic by the day.
After a trip to Skyline Chili the other day, my 1.6 gal American Standard is still mad at me.
http://www.great-lakes.net/teach/envt/levels/lev_1.html This instructs us in the cycles of water levels for each of the Great Lakes as well as Lake St. Claire. There are well described cycles ~ easily modeled ~ and it’s not Global Warming controlling this one. There are locks and dams that make sure the Lakes are navigable under a variety of conditions.
I live at about 9000 feet, way uphill of most of the people on the planet. I have a big old Sir Tomas Crapper copper lined oak tank with a long pull chain on it. I enjoy pulling the chain and knowing that people below our village’s very fine treatment plant will have all that clean water to use!
I once stayed at a hotel near the ocean near San Diego. In the bathroom was a sign that asked me to conserve water.
What is the “thinking” behind such a request? It implies there is a shortage of water. But this is pitifully specious. Next to the ocean but short of water?
No, short of money or the political will to commit the necessary capital to alleviate any capacity issues with the **government run** water utility.
And so we have the next move by government— that somehow it is more noble and more in harmony with nature to “save” water. But the oceans are just as full as ever. In fact, Al Gore is scolding us for not paying attention to his fretting about how much the oceans might rise as all the ice in Greenland melts.
Given how much in resources building a house and then maintaining it for 20 years consumes, saving a gallon of water with each flush is just a silly concern. It insults the intelligence to claim that such savings make the difference between sustainable and not sustainable.
In my experience, not a single scheme of the left to be sustainable ever really is when fully examined.
These toilets are the reason that the Mississippi River is too low for barge traffic. Come on everyone! Flush so the corn can get to Mexico!
We replaced a couple of our older flush toilets about 5 years ago ~ and although a second flush seems to be required the advantage is NO OVERFLOW. Kohler seems to have licked ~ no shouldn’t say that ~ fixed that problem!
If we’re going to compost human waste, it would be far better for the city to collect the sludge and do it, rather than expect every single individual to do it.
With the city, they can burn it and turn it to ash, and then use it for city purposes, like flowers.
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