Rethinking the Toilet

Rethinking the Toilet

Posted on 26. Sep, 2011 by in Other Resources

John. Water closet. Lavatory. Can. Facilities. Powder Room. Gents. All of these terms (and many, many more) are used frequently in place of ‘toilet,’ surely to disguise the ugly truth of the activity that takes place therein.

The toilet might be a tad unglamorous and even a little embarrassing, but it’s something the majority of us use on a daily basis. When we travel to foreign lands, the first phrase we learn is “where is the toilet?”

Humor me for a moment and think about the different types of toilets you’ve encountered in your life.

Without getting too personal, here’s my list: Squatty potty, sawdust, self-cleaning, traditional western at both regular and elevated heights, dual flush and pull chain. I’ve used a toilet on a plane, a train and a ferryboat crossing the English Channel.

Believe it or not, the first squatty potty I ever encountered was in Paris. The sawdust toilet was, for all intents and purposes, en plein air on my friend’s front porch in a Tibetan village outside Zhongdian, China. The dual flush? Germany, of course.

Did you know the earliest form of today’s flush toilet first emerged in 1596? And while ordinary toilets today do what they are primarily designed to do – that is, flush waste away from wherever you are to a treatment plant far, far away – mainstream flush toilets haven’t undergone truly significant innovative retooling in quite some time. Meanwhile, they continue to flush about 4.8 billion gallons of water every single day in the U.S.

But just imagine a toilet that generates electricity. Or one that converts waste to fertilizer or water for hand washing. It’s precisely this level of ingenuity and innovation that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seeks in its Grand Challenges Explorations grant. The waste-to-fertilizer project is currently in the works in Ecuador. Described as waterless and odorless, the toilet is powered by pedals and designed to produce plant fertilizer from human waste.

And hold on to your seat: There’s even a World Toilet Summit. This is a green event and according to the website, “the ultimate goal of the World Toilet Summit is to promote cooperation between government agencies, research institutes, aid organizations and the sanitation equipment industry to solve the toilet problem of the 2.5 billion people who have no access to sanitary toilet facilities.” The eleventh summit is scheduled for later this year in Haikou, China.

Until solar-powered toilets that generate electricity are installed in every bathroom across America, bring a little innovation to your toilet today by retrofitting your current one to a dual flush. There are actually quite a few products that enable you to install a dual-flush system in a single-flush toilet. Prices range from $20 to $60, compared to the $225-$400 range of new dual-flush toilets, which seems like a pretty good deal. Plus, a still usable toilet stays in circulation longer and out of a landfill.

Or, try this DIY approach to reduce the amount of water your toilet requires for each flush. It’s completely free. And it should save a half-gallon of water with every flush.

Do you have a toilet retrofit experience to share?

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