Flush the Poo, Not the Planet

What you flush down comes back around — it 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.)

Here's a guide to three reasons and three ways to flush more eco-consciously.

1. Modify your potty (it's super-easy) to save some water.

Americans use about 70 gallons of water indoors, every day. About three-quarters of that is used in the toilette — shower, bath, sink, potty — and over one-quarter is used whisking away our waste. You can cut that usage by making sure your toilet isn't leaking, using a composting toilet or low-flow toilet, adding a water-saving mechanism to your existing toilet, or simply displacing the water in the tank with a brick or a container filled with sand.

We don't want to bum you out, but water conservation 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 percent 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.)

2. Keep toxic chemicals out of your potty — and your food and drinking water.

After the solid and liquid waste leave the bowl, they're routed through your house pipes to what's called a sanitary sewer. This is where the magic happens. Your precious cargo arrives at the treatment plant and passes through a series of mechanical screens. The solids get sent to a landfill, while the smaller bits get separated into sludge and liquid waste.

During secondary treatment, the sludge is pumped into concrete digesters where oxygen-hungry bacteria chomp on our poo and break organic sewage into simpler inorganic compounds. This concoction is drained, and the dehydrated "bio-solids" are sent to farmers to use as fertilizer on our fields.

Unfortunately, these refined poo pellets contain heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs, pesticides and hundreds of other toxic chemicals. They pollute surface water and cause rashes and infections in farmers and livestock. Some green groups maintain that with better safeguards, sludge might be one of the best ways to handle our waste, but until there's better oversight, you may want to seek out certified organic produce grown without bio-solids.

Back in the sewage treatment plant, the remaining water is disinfected chemically and discharged into a stream, river, lagoon or wetland or used for irrigation on golf courses or highway medians. Despite being chemically treated, municipal water is still rife with toxins and contaminants: birth-control substances, antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals we've ingested and wee-weed out. Sources of drinking water like the Puget Sound and the Potomac River harbor trace amounts of caffeine, heart medication, estrogen and more.

What are we to do?

Don't flush your drugs, for starters. Use natural, nontoxic cleaning products to clean your potty. And rejoice in the fact that scientists have now developed a way to turn pee into electricity, sprinkling a few drops onto copper chloride paper and generating about 1.5 volts of energy.

3. Don't kill trees to wipe your bum.

You could get yourself a bidet (those French!). Or, use recycled toilet paper.

Recycled, mon ami, not reused.

The average American uses over 100 rolls of bathroom tissue a year, most of which is made from a combination of softwood and hardwood trees — Southern pines and Douglas firs make the paper strong, while maples and oaks make the paper soft. Zut alors! Oak trees have been felled to give our rears a little more comfort!

Another reason to use recycled bathroom tissue: To ease our eyes, conventional toilet paper is brightened with chlorine bleach, which can lead to dioxin contamination in wastewater from manufacturing. T.P. made from recycled paper is usually whitened with hydrogen peroxide. C'est bon.

Republished courtesy of Intent. Originally published on The Huffington Post. Thanks to the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Lacey Johnston for research assistance.


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Lorislover's picture
User offline. Last seen 7 years 12 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/27/2009

Use caution when putting a heavy brick into your toilet tank. I did this some years ago at another house and cracked the tank - not good.

Vanessa422's picture
User offline. Last seen 7 years 9 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 09/03/2008

What about family cloth? Or is that too gross for most people? Hah!

beachdancer's picture
User offline. Last seen 7 years 12 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/27/2009

Another great way to not use any t.p. is to install a hose to the toilet and wash away in lieu of wiping. Then simply use a washcloth or hand towel to dry with. A mini shower every time...and way cleaner than using paper. Try it out, it's a little weird at first but then you love it!

L. Rae
L. Rae's picture
User offline. Last seen 7 years 12 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/28/2009

My grandparents were very poor - depression era. When visiting, we would notice toilet paper sections on the radiator in the bathroom . . . my dear grandmother, if she only "tinkled", would wipe, let dry and reuse. Talk about conservation!

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