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Toilets: A Better Approach to Water Conservation

Being green is one of those things we read about in magazines or see on TV, but we rarely take the time to incorporate something like better conservation of water resources into our own lives. With an abundance of advertising for eco-friendly low-flow toilets, dual-flush toilets, or composting toilets, we're left to wonder what it all means anyway. You might recycle, plant a garden, or buy earth-friendly products, and, while this is helpful, there are more measures you can take to help the environment that have double or even triple the impact. Say you're ready to invest in a new toilet. Your old one is cracked, leaking, or just not working properly, and you decide to buy a replacement after searching around for the best price. While a standard, water-guzzling toilet might be more economical initially, consider this - conservation of water resources is spreading to this most frequently used of bathroom fixtures.

Unfortunately, conservation of water is not discussed frequently enough, but here are some facts on the matter - 28% of all water usage in the home stems from toilets (1), and 6.8 million gallons of water are flushed down the toilet worldwide on a daily basis (2). With such frightening statistics, it's no wonder that some states and counties in the U.S. are now making dual-flush or low-flow toilets mandatory. In an effort to encourage the purchase of green toilets, the government has established regulations (acknowledging the continued resource conservation and water technology efforts of major plumbing manufacturers) that have made water-efficient dual-flush or low-flow toilets and bath fixtures more affordable and readily available to the public.

A History of Efficiency: Composting and Low-Flow Toilets

While some sources consider the 1970s as the turning point of water efficient toilets, there is one green method that is not often included. The composting toilet, in its most rudimentary form, has been around for thousands of years; however, the first commercially designed model was made for the Scandinavian market in the 1960s (3). While the U.S. has been relatively slow to catch on to this approach to the conservation of water resources, its neighbor to the north, Canada, has adopted the idea almost as its own and is now one of the largest manufacturers of the composting toilet. The idea of a composting toilet sounds rather unappealing but consider this - if a community decided to come together and install a composting toilet in every house, place of work, or community building, there would be no sewage charges, sewage pipe installations, or maintenance costs. The cost of water would subsequently become quite insignificant (4).

Aside from the composting toilet, however, the new low-flow toilets models are now entering their third, fourth, or even fifth generations. In the early days of low-flow toilets, consumers were left unimpressed by their flushing abilities, but manufacturers have now brought the production of low-flow toilets to a near art form. According to one source, Americans save nearly $11.3 million everyday on their water bills due to low-flow toilets (5). Before the 1970s, nobody really cared about the conservation of water, and the only thing that shook the country into a state of reality were the massive droughts beginning a decade before. It was common in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s for water consumption in toilets to reach up to twelve gallons per flush (6). Consider now that the norm is somewhere between one to 3.5 gallons per flush, and then those old statistics are cause for alarm.

Conservation and Water Technologies Efforts in Our Time

With heightened efforts pushing for more effective conservation of water, more consumers are seeing the necessity for green toilets, whether they are low-flush toilets which use six liters of water, dual-flush which uses three to six liters, or composting. The ability to conserve water, save the planet's resources, and eliminate pollution should be a worldwide goal. While eco-friendly dual-flush and low-flow toilets tend to have a higher price tag, the economic benefits pay off in the long run - both your sewer and water costs are reduced, and you might even have a little peace of mind.

More intuitive water efficient toilets are on the rise, however, that use 0.9, 1.28, and 1.6 gallons per flush. Better advocacy through government organizations has taken efforts for resource conservation and water technologies to a new level. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has created a new WaterSense labeling program that denotes High Efficiency Toilets and High Efficiency Faucets as well as the latest bathroom product innovations - High Efficiency Showerheads and Urinals. The advantage of this governmental labeling helps consumers easily identify products that are earth-friendly and have passed strict performance tests as well.

A better approach to conservation of water resources is important - to our communities, our planet, and ourselves. With a current rise in droughts worldwide, there should be more stringent standards and better education on the topic. So, why isn't this information readily available? Earth-friendly dual-flush and low-flow toilets are not as cheap as their traditional counterparts, and while companies are doing all they can to reduce costs, it may be some time before this option is possible. Think about it this way however - your long-term costs will be significantly lower. More importantly, though, easy-to-use products with improved water technologies are helping American consumers embrace water conservation efforts and, in turn, are making them an integral part of their daily lives.   

About the author 

Gunnar Baldwin is a Water Efficiency Specialist at TOTO USA Inc., joining the company in 1990. Baldwin, who specializes in water efficiency and conservation solutions, has been instrumental in creating environmentally-friendly luxury faucets, flush valves, and other bath fixtures