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Water

Shit Happens…

toilet training bluesEditor’s note: OK, we’re usually not so potty-mouthed, but, as you’ll see, it’s perfectly (and literally) appropriate this time around. We’re pleased to have Simran Sethi and Sarah Smarsh join us as guest contributors, and share with you their series on the surprising journeys of everyday things.  They will be posting previews on Green Options before launching the posts on Huffington Post.  Here’s a sneak peek at bathroom fun.

What you may not realize, cherie, is that whatever you flush down comes back around. Our waste fertilizes our fields and is pumped back into the waterways that are our major sources of drinking water. Let’s take the journey from toilet to tap, shall we? Oui oui. (We’re affecting French here for a touch of sophistication in a post centering on fecal matter.)

Americans use about 70 gallons of water indoors, every day.  About three-quarters of that is used in the toilette—shower, bath, sink, crapper—and over one-quarter is used whisking away our waste.  You can cut this water usage by making sure your toilet isn’t leaking, using a composting or low-flow toilet or even displacing the water in the tank with a brick or container filled with sand .  Your toilet is not a trashcan, so save cigarette butts, tissues and used condoms for the basket, not the bowl.

We don’t want to bum you out, but cutting water usage means a lot in an era when more than a billion people lack access to safe drinking water.  According to Claudia McMurray, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, “On any given day, approximately 50% of the world’s hospital beds are filled with patients suffering from water and sanitation related diseases. Each year 1.8 million children in developing countries die from diarrheal disease – the second leading cause of death after pneumonia.”

When aiming for more equitable water usage, hippie wisdom comes in handy: If it’s brown flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow.  S’il vous plait. (Our hippie is French.)

The crapper journals continue on Huffington Post.

Thanks to the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Lacey Johnston for research assistance.

Photo credit: gemsling at Flickr under a Creative Commons license




29 comments
  1. Wesley Brault

    my business partner was searching for GBREB RA101 a few days ago and saw an online platform that hosts a searchable forms database . If people have been needing GBREB RA101 as well , here’s http://goo.gl/3POqkc

  2. Erica Grigg

    I think there is a really cultural action stopping us here. I live in a house with 10 people (only share the bathroom with 1, thankfully) but not sure whether I’d like the toilet to smell like pee.. ?

  3. Simran

    Sarah,
    My pal Lauren did some in-my-backyard sleuthing for me. Jim McDaniel at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department says that people can have composting toilets within city limits if it doesn’t create a nuisance (i.e. no complaints from neighbors) and there has to be at least one flushable toilet in the home.
    Hope this helps!

  4. Sarah Hill-Nelson

    My friend in New Mexico has a composting toilet and loves it. Her point is that it is a huge waste to be using potable water to deal with our poop. I wonder how realistic it would be for homes to use composting toilets in the city? Is this the kind of thing that city code could realistically allow?

  5. Greg

    Peter and Sam have it right.

    I can practice “equitable water usage” until the day I die, but it won’t do a gosh darn thing for anyone who actually needs the water. Either I use it or it will evaporate into the atmosphere.

    Leaky faucets and toilets, sure – it makes good general sense to fix them. But leave the *conservation* of water to those in areas with a shortage. Otherwise, I’m only creating a greater load on my local reservoir’s dam, and think about all those people downstream who could get washed away! Oh the humanity!! (eyeroll)

  6. sam

    Conserving water in north america won’t impact anyone who doesn’t have access to fresh water…what a stupid insinuation.

  7. Hippie?

    I think this article has great intentions, but I believe there is much more on a much deeper level. It would require a whole article dedicated to it, but I’ll just try and sum it up.
    I will start with this: While living in Nashville, TN I was mailed a required pamphlet from the water company. I wish I kept it because it was pretty sickening to think about. There was listed all additives to our tap water- human feces being one of the higher percentiles on the list. The only reason for the other additives is to neutralize the feces. SHIT PEOPLE, WE ARE DRINKING OUR OWN POISONOUS SHIT. But I digress, because the only reason it is poisonous is because of what we eat.

    Our feces is a HUGE source of compostable material which can be fed into our gardens to create our foods. Screw “energy efficient cars” and the whole lot- nature is THE most efficient engine out there and we will never beat it, only destroy it. We can semi-create FOOD (the cycles of nature does it all) from our WASTES! HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?!?!
    Piss is a GREAT giver of nitrogen. We should all be pissing on our gardens.
    We are flushing away VALUABLE material, including the water itself (minus the additives)!
    The only problem with this is what we as a society eat. ‘Garbage in Garbage out’. If you can’t pronounce one item listed under ‘Ingredients:’ don’t eat it. Know what goes into your foods and you will know what goes into your plants (if you shit on them). If you don’t know what is going in your stomach, how do you know you are fulfilling, not suppressing, you bodies nutritional hunger? We cannot act on hunger alone and eat what money hungry, penny-pinching corporations feed us. We should become aware of our bodies. Do you think the CEO’s, COO’s, and investors of the companies, from whom we consume, eat what they produce/manufacture? Hell no they don’t, and why should you?
    Don’t drink all that soda can, high fructose corn syrup infused, chocolate coated, preservative added, i-can’t-pronounce-it, who-knows-whats-in-this drinks. All you need is water.
    You are all conscious human beings… why, oh why, are you a slave to your brains? Constantly consuming what pleases it.. and working harder and harder to try and please what is an endless boundary.

    If you agree with ANY of the points I have made, I BEG BEG BEG of you to read “One Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka. It’s a free download and will free you from confusion. Here is a link to the book:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/3263005/The-One-Straw-Revolution-READ-THIS
    Print it off and spread the love/logic.

    “If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.” -Masanobu Fukuoka

  8. Sarah Smarsh

    Brenna, my bathroom in Paris was so small that I had to sit crooked on the potty to avoid my knees hitting the wall (I’m 5’3″ in shoes). This seemed to me a symbol of the French mindset about bath time– get in and get out, and don’t waste precious space on a bathroom that could be used for wine storage.

    Bethb, I also grew up on a farm, and if we got too crazy with our flushing habits, the sewage ditch would back up, an unpleasant punishment that always kept us in check!

    Thanks, all, for reading.

  9. B

    “If it’s brown flush it down; if it’s yellow, let it mellow.”

    That’s disgusting. Not only will it leave rings and make your restroom smell, anyone that comes over is going to be grossed out. We have running toilet water for a reason… so we don’t have to smell our waste. Damn hippies.

  10. Gary R. Hess

    Sonya, how often do you hear of someone from Africa going to the hospital for flu? What about someone from China or India? What about Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Utah? Never? Ok then. That should answer your question on why we don’t read about it.

  11. Peter G.

    This is naive. Water isn’t portable. Excess water in one location isn’t worth moving to another location (unless it’s Pellegrino water, in which case, I’ll take it). Many parts of the world have a surplus of pure, clean water, and the parts of the world that need it have no way to get it. So for most of us, saving water isn’t going to help anyone.

    And you also need to face the fact that in most of the world, water used in toilets is a tiny fraction of total water consumption– a percent or two of the total. So get a low-flow toilet and use it when you need to, okay? All this bleeding-heart hand-wringing doesn’t mean shit.

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  12. Rexx

    Yep, thats the spirit… Let your excrement fester to save the planet
    whilst your neighbor shops at the home depot for his “raincloud” shower head
    water needs to cost more than gasoline and then I will do my part to save
    why should I walk around on a 3 shower day a week so celine dion can use 7 million gallons of water?
    rip away
    I’m your straw target

  13. Simran

    I just wonder is the life cycle of desks going to elicit such a rousing response? It is juicy! Stay tuned and thanks for loving on our little series…

  14. sonya

    Fifty percent of the world’s hospital beds?? That number is unbelievable. I have wondered – if drinking water is getting so mucked up, why don’t we hear more stories about people getting sick? This number helps bring the seriousness of the issue to light. I’ll finish my degree and get to work on reporting those stories though so the issue is a little more tangible. And louder- I’m really surprised by that stat.

  15. bethb

    I grew up on a farm with a well. During the long dry summers, navy showers and mellowing were pretty common. Wash my hair or flush? A daily question.

    Same deal for my life in the islands later where one fresh water shower (cold) per week was allowed and nothing safe to drink coming out of the tap. It changes your perspective, I hope things don’t have to get that bad before people make adjustments.

  16. Brenna Daldorph

    I actually found your use of French realy appropriate. I just came back from a semester in France where everyone is acutely aware of water conservation. I think my time there has completely changed my personal awareness. Not only do toilets waste water, but so do long showers. I learned to turn off water while shaving, while lathering – it helps with your PERSONAL bill as well.

  17. Brian Daldorph

    There are so many things we use in our everyday lives, and don’t question. We expect things to work for us, get very upset if they don’t. Thanks to S & S for making us think a little more.

  18. Simran

    Tony, My pet peeve? People who toss everything into the bowl! As we mention in the Crapper Journals, your toilet is not a trashcan.
    Gavon, My first and last attempt at this kind of improv. . .
    E, Thanks for weighing in. I can’t promise some posts won’t depress you, but the goal is to get us thinking, which I hope this series will do.

  19. Jerry

    There is a growing movement afoot: Save the World, Stop Pooping. From this point forward I will no longer grace the crapper, go #2, or make stinky. Imagine a world where everyone poos one less time each day. Sure we’d all be a little grumpy, but isn’t that a small price to pay for keeping the world safe for our children?

    Seriously though thanks for another thoughtful post shedding light on those little things we do each day that really do have an impact. Love the posts and can’t wait to read more!

    – Readers for a Poop-Free Planet

  20. elizabeth kim

    It is a hard line of trying to get friends and guests on the same page. I like the idea of the sign posted by the loo before a party. I have been reading lots of articles these days about living more thoughtfully. Thank you for making it fun and interesting. It is refreshing to read an article that is informative but doesn’t make me depressed at the end. I can’t wait to share this article with friends and family, esp the ones who don’t seem to be so on board with conservation.

  21. Tony Backus

    The issue of leaking toilets is a big one and sometimes willingly ignored by those who don’t want to be bothered with it. The Portland Water Bureau link shows a great way to easily check on your own situation and gives the cost analysis/benefit that many people will be able to relate to. Even if people don’t quite understand the value of saving water they will appreciate not flushing $500.00 a year down the drain! My pet peeve is watching someone wash dishes with the water running full blast and stopping to talk while they do it, making me an accomplice to their waste. I can’t help but reach over and turn the water off. I tell them it makes me wince to see so much good water wasted. I’m not preaching to them – I’m just letting them know how I feel, and from my observation it makes them think a little bit about water waste.

  22. Simran

    Laprox, I get some of my best thinking done between the throne and the shower. Thank YOU. I am wary of coming off like too much of a eco-warrior in a party setting so I just let people do what they feel comfy with. Some of my friends let it mellow. . .while others don’t. The brick that’s displacing water in my tank keeps me from going bonkers about water usage. If you wanted to make the humble suggest, perhaps a sweet handwritten sign at throne level?

  23. laprox

    I suppose the toilet is often a place to ponder…this post stayed in my mind and triggered a thought process regarding the kitchen sink, other water usage, and made me marvel at how disconnected I am to the easily accessible resources around me. Thank you for this funny, intelligent post that got me thinking beyond this page without feeling preached to. Any one out there have some suggestions regarding party etiquette and/or how to encourage guests to follow the hippie credo?

  24. Alice

    I know just how that kid in the picture feels. And I too have seen “Poop Culture,” in my local bookstore, and now I’m gonna get it! (or, being cheap, take it into the adjoining coffee shop and read it).

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