Posting in Energy
According to the EPA, the average person uses 100 gallons of water a day, mostly in the bathroom. An executive from TOTO talks about saving water with flushes.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average person uses about 100 gallons of water every day, and the largest culprit is the bathroom. The toilet alone can use 27 percent of household water, and a leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water daily. Knowing that, and with all the talk about water conservation, doesn’t it seem like we should all be more focused on upgrading our porcelain?
I recently had a conversation with Bill Strang, vice president of operations for TOTO, an Atlanta-based bathroom products manufacturer with a strong focus on sustainability. We talked about high-efficiency toilets, WaterSense toilets and how old toilets end up recycled in road construction.
So. Toilets. Do you know how many high-efficiency toilets we have in the U.S., or what percentage of all our toilets are water efficient?
It’s not a high percentage. It’s about 15 to 20 percent. That’s primarily because of people not having the wherewithal to change out the toilets that were put in place before 1992. In 1992 there was a change in the flush law for new toilets, which reduced the flush volume to 1.6 gallons. Before, it was 3.5, 5 or 7 gallons a flush. So as you can imagine there’s such a huge infrastructure in the marketplace of embedded products. You have some homes today that have four or five bathrooms in the home, and some homeowners may not change every toilet.
So there are still toilets out there that use 7 gallons for every flush?
There are still toilets that flush 3.5, 5 or 7 gallons. The 1992 law means that homes built after 1992 have the 1.6 gallon toilet by law. So homes built in the ‘40s might have had a high-flow toilet and there was no regulation.
After the Department of Energy’s EPAct law [the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which mandated 1.6 gallons per flush for all new domestically manufactured toilets] came into effect, at first, manufacturers didn’t believe the law would go through, so there wasn’t a strong effort to reduce water flow and reduce efficiency. But in 1992 TOTO was one of the first manufacturers to have a 1.6 gallon product on the market. The main reason we’ve had our success in the marketplace is that our best advocate is the plumber. The plumber finds when he puts our toilet into Mrs. Johnson’s house, he doesn’t have to go back.
Who is leading the way in efficient toilets—residential or commercial customers?
Yes. Both. The push is really not residential versus commercial as much as it is regional–based initiatives, like in Tucson, New Mexico, California. The EPA was really pushed by California to be more aggressive in its water conservation effort. I have to give a lot of props to EPA. A few years ago, EPA did a fantastic job—and I don’t know that we hear that a lot about EPA—with engaging the stakeholders—manufacturers, installers--about analyzing what could be achieved. That began in 2006. The EPA realized if they didn’t set a national standard, we’d end up with a patchwork of solutions, which would make it very difficult for manufacturers to have one solution.
What are the latest regulations?
The EPA’s WaterSense is a voluntary standard launched in 2006. It’s 1.28 gallons per flush (a 20 percent reduction from the 1.6 gallons per flush). In California they have said it’s now mandatory, as part of the California Green Building Code. Our 1.28 gallon toilet flushes very effectively and removes all the things that one would want removed.
What happens to all the old toilets?
Depends on where it’s coming out of. When we converted Hartsfield Airport here in Atlanta--they have about 800 toilets and about 1,000 urinals. We collected them and crushed the porcelain and used them for road construction. In our factory here, if our product has an imperfection, we crush that toilet and give it to companies to make into aggregate --the gravel that goes in below the concrete, below the asphalt. So now they have a recycled content in their raw material, and then we don’t put that product into landfill as we did about three or four years ago.
When people talk about high-efficiency toilets, does that mean a dual flush toilet, or is that just one type of high-efficiency?
There are two different kinds of high-efficiency toilets. One is dual flush, which allows you to flush 1.6 gallons for your solid visit to the bathroom and 0.8 or 0.9 for your liquid visits to the bathroom. For me, that’s a great product. I personally tend to not recommend this for a commercial, institutional or office setting. At home, everyone knows what button to push. My concern abut exposing a causal visitor to that is that the person may not make the best choice and the toilet customer may not get all the savings they could achieve. The user might always chose the heavy flush.
So I’d encourage the 1.28 toilet with siphon jet flush. In a wash-down toilet you take everything in the bowl. We take all the water and put it on top of that pond and push it through. In a siphon jet toilet there’s a jet hole that creates a vacuum underneath a pond and sucks it out.
What are you doing at your factory in Atlanta to promote sustainability?
Here at our toilet factory, we produce about 22,000 toilets a month. We figured we wanted to be most effective in making a product that serves the propose of water reduction, but let’s also make a product that’s sustainable. To me, if we’re going to be in the business of conservation, let’s live the life of conservation.
- All our cardboard is recycled, and we sell most of it;
- Our wooden skids are recycled, rebuilt and reduced;
- Our glass and aluminum are recycled;
- Our three main byproducts—water, clay slurry and fired porcelain—are all reused.
How are they reused?
We use 4 million gallons of recycled water per month and we reuse 1 million gallons of grey water back into our operation. We get our clay from Tennessee, and with the clay-mud slurry, we pull out the water, make it into a heavy sludge and truck it to a ceramic floor tile company back in Tennessee. The fired porcelain, if there is an imperfection and we can’t repair it, we crush it and send it to Lafarge, an aggregate manufacture (they mine gravel) and they use it for road construction.
How much has all this saved you?
As a result, we’ve reduced our waste streams by about 90 percent. The only thing we throw away today is food scraps, because we haven’t gotten into composting--yet.
I’ve invited all our employees—about 350 employees-- to bring their recyclables into our factory, and I recycle it for them. Many of them are first generation Americans. We speak about six languages in our factory. But what they are able to do is this small piece that makes this world be a better place.
Sometimes we tend to over-think these issues when really we just need to do just very simple, common sense things. I run two kilns at 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit—red hot porcelain coming out of it. In October, I started taking waste heat from the kiln, and I run it to other parts of my factory and turned natural heat off in other parts of that factory. It required an investment, but now I’m going to save money.
At the end of the day, our overall goal is what are we doing to save water and have an ethic of sustainability embedded in what we do. It’s greenwashing to sell an efficient product but not live the life.
Dec 7, 2010
I hate Lo-Flo!!!! the crap just won't go! now waterless urinals should be mandatory in every men's room in all public and government buildings. which should also use cisterns (rainwater if you didn't know) to supply the commodes (that'd be the crappers for the vocab illiterate). Or even filtered seawater (can't have jellyfish popping out our crappers now can we?), there is no reason that pvc pipe could not be used to transport seawater from coastal areas to homes and businesses to use in their crappers. Not to mention the proliferation of pvc for water these days to prevent people from stealing the copper out of unfinished construction sites.
I agree with those who said "stop a minute and think this through". I am in north east PA and in the country. I have spring water. It comes from across the street and what we all don't use ( four families ) goes into two ponds, and of course into the ground. Is it better if it goes into the ground before or after our septic systems? I would really like to help but don't see much I can contribute. Any suggestions?
Perhaps if we tried a sensible approach. Too often, the legislators beat the technology to the punch. This was the case here. As an owner of a 1.0 gpf early generation, I can tell you that it takes 3-4 flushes to do what the older toilets did in 1 flush. So the extra cost and another toilet in the landfills, due to overly pro-active legislators. Fortunately, I do (doo?) believe in technology, and will try again.
Tell me how my using, for example, 1000 gallons of water in my house is going to help the water supply problem in say California? I live in New Hampshire, I'm pretty sure that if I didn't use the water that I draw out of the river, that that water would end up in the ocean eventually. It still wouldn't help California or the entire African continent much now would it? Water conservation makes sense ONLY when you're in an area that has limited water resources. I happen to live in an area between 2 very large rivers, with a reservoir less than a mile from my home. Conserving water would only help me save money, it's not going to save the planet, because my area of the planet has plenty of water, and you can't move this water to where it's needed any more than you can control the weather.
OK, I hate to stick my plunger in, but there are excellent low flush toilets on the market. They aren't the $69 specials, but they are moderately priced. My American Standard Champion IV toilet replaced an older high volume toilet that occasionally plugged and it has been flawless. My relatively cheap Home Depot brand dual flush toilet flushes solids reasonably well but not as cleanly. It may need adjustments but it came with an incomprehensible and error-ladden installation guide. I wish I had bought the Toto instead of that one! I may be eco-fear-mongering, but I think the impending clean water shortage will be far worse then our impending energy crisis and we should all be responsible.
I'm sure that there are other ways to dispose of our waste. I recently saw a TV sbhow that had a small ship that used a gas burning toilet. This may not be practical for home use, but possibly chemical or ultrasonic technology could be used to brak down the waste material. Someone should sponsor a contest, with a monetary prize going to the most innovative, green, safe and efficient toilet to-date.
For a people who use their waterways as an open sewer, and then bathe and drink that water (untreated!), Rajesh doesn't have any room to talk. I too, have had problems with the "lo-flo" types of toilets, requiring multiple flushes. If these new pieces of government-mandated trash use 1.6 gallons, having to flush twice to clear the bowl makes them just as inefficient as the old types. Typical bureaucratic hogwash!
I can't believe some people still are happy with their old habits, doesn't want to upgrade and help saving the water!! Regards, Rajesh http://www.unichost.com
Humanure is the answer. We need to quit using good drinking water to flush our poo down the drain, not to mention the poo is a good compost nutrient.
It's not the paper that clogs the toilet. It's the damm large turds that people are sh!tting nowadays. If people would put a cap on their crap, then we wouldn't have a toilet problem.
Frankly, I am convinced that this is one of those non-issues that takes away time and energy from real environmental problems. In places that have a real water scarcity water should be priced as a scarce commodity. If it was, the use would drop accordingly, and people there would buy the low flow toilets. In places like where I like where water is not scarce, then people may go out and look for a low flow toilet and think they are really doing something to help the environment when the truth may be that they are not having much if any impact. Furthermore, in feeling good about themselves they may not examine their lives to find out if they have some habits that are really hurting their local environment. All kinds of environmental policy is pushed that does not in fact help the environment. Just because someone says it is green does not make it true.
I live in a place that has all kinds of fresh water, and the cost of water is a very small part of my budget. It is not hurting the environment or my budget, so I'll go with the cheapest toilet that works. In other words, the big old ones that I still have.
Just remodeled 2 bathrooms and installed 1.28 gal Toto's in both. I find these new toilets much more efficient than my old 3 gallon toilets. The old toilets clogged fairly frequently and routinely needed several flushes.The new ones almost never glog and clear with only 1 flush. In addition my water bill goes down significantly!
jrlambert is right on the money. The porcelain is the input extremity of a complete waste disposal system. The whole system has to work - and it won't if you ignore the way it was designed. You don't have to be a genius to work out what is going to happen .... To start with, nothing much. A few of the many input streams will have less water flow than they were designed for, but the system design was robust, and it is only the 'solid waste heavy' users who will risk a blockage. These will be the users who shower rather than bath, use low flush toilets for above average loads, waste disposal sink units, wash up in small bowls and so on. As more users join the water saving band wagon, some of the more progressive neighbourhoods will start to run solid-heavy and dry out, then block. If everybody joins the party whole networks will become slow running and solid heavy, with major deposition turning into blockages that have to be gouged out by the maintenance crew rather than being flushed out. The somebody will figure that a permanent flush of the main drains is needed to keep them clear ... Or maybe we will send rain water down to do the job Whatever solution is adopted, the volume of water needing treatment has to be the same as the volume needed to flush the solids along the existing system - unless somebody goes down to dig the stuff out of the sewers. And it's not water you are saving. It's treatment costs.
Not to be too gross, but I have been able to plug an old, large tank toilet with no problem. And that is before I start wiping! I get very concerned when I am out and about and have to use one of those tiny tank toilets. Part of the problem is the diameter of the opening in the bottom of the bowl and the bends in the internal pipe. The best toilet I ever used was a hotel in Milan, Italy. I stayed there 11 years and NEVER had a problem. The exit port of the bowl was rectangular and must have been 5" across.
I have two water closets. They are useless for big jobs but will handle wet stuff just fine. I cannot imagine how bad it will be when the next downgrade comes along. I certainly never thought the day would come when an outhouse was more efficient than a nice toilett in a nice house. Very annoying. And I do not think it is very clean to use so little water to flush the bowl.
I have to throw my hat in the low-flow toilets are junk. Rarely does a visit to a bathroom end in a single flush. Usually it's two or even three flushes for me...and I'm very conservative on the paper! Now women? I *KNOW* they love the paper and use lots of it...I keep a plunger next to the toilet because I *KNOW* it will clog.
The issues of lower water use for toilets is more complicated than just, dual flush or 1.2 or 1.6 gal flush.... The older homes and sewer systems were designed with certain assumptions... x amount of flushes per day for urine. y amount for solid waste.(typically 15-20x to1y ratio).. with same amount of water being used for both types of flush. no garbage disposal in older homes... net result .. they could make longer runs and used shallower declines when laying sewer lines...without risk of blockage. Many newer homes are built (and cities) using these old (now , wrong ) assumptions. If you significantly change these assumptions.. by using less water per solid waste.. you increase the risk of blockage in the remainder of the system. Certainly there is room for improvement on 5/7 gallon flush.. but taken too far , it will create other problems. Wired Magazine had an article recently on "waterless" urinals.. and the un-expected problems it caused in sewer systems. bottom line ... think the problem/solution through before making change.
You wrote: "f..TOTO, an Atlanta-based bathroom products manufacturer with a strong focus on sustainability. " Toto was founded in Japan in 1917. In 1977 they began a joint venture in Indonesia. In 1980 they began a joint venture in South Korea. In 1985 they established a presence in Hong Kong. In 1986 the began operations in Thailand. In 1988 they began a joint venture in Taiwan. In 1989 they began operations in Germany. In 1990 they established a sales office in the USA. And finally in 1996 they built a US plant and moved the US offices to Atlanta. So tell me again why you think this company (not their US subsidiary) is based in Atlanta?
We have dual flush Geberit carriers with the new Toto wall hung toilet in use for 5 months in our newly remodeled Victorian and they work great. If you're considering wall-hung toilets the Toto is just as stylish as Duravit at a fraction of the cost. Another tip for new construction or major remodel: we dual-plumbed so the toilets are flushed with rain water. Great for this time of the year when rainwater can't be used for an already soaked garden.
If you don't wipe then a small toilet is for you. Folks, bigger toilets work the first time and give less problems. We have lots of water and ways to clean it and the technology is getting better each day. Lets invest in cheap electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar and build the infrastructure needed to clean our water properly, rather all this craziness about amount of water used in flushing. If a toilet or other water leak exists lets fix it right away not only because it will save water but because its likely to cause other damage in our houses and work. Fixing leaking plumbing is a smart and correct approach, however worrying about the size of each flush is silly.
ziajill I will remember what you haver said and try the Toto dual flush. Certainly the older "high efficiency" toilets are a fraud which take much more water than they promise. I am the proud owner of a 40 year old house using the old high capacity toilets.
We replaced a big old toilet with the Toto dual flush last spring. Our water bill has gone down by 1/3. We never have clogs and *everything* goes down the first time for our family of four. I hope to be buying a second dual flush next year. It's much better than the older 1.6 toilets that the folks are complaining about here.
Low flow toilets have to be one of the biggest lies ever pawned off in this world. I have never used one that didn't take two to three (or even more) flushes to do the same job a larger toilet could do in one flush. Who ever is conducting the analysis of these things is only measuring the efficiency of flushing water alone. Solid waste clogs them or doesn't complete the flush. I'd wager we waste WAY more water by using them than if we stayed with conventional toilets.
His ideas to make his plant more efficient to operate are simple, but innovative and good for the environment. Good for them. If more companies simply looked at being more efficient they would likely see the same positive impact on the environment.
I am the proud owner of 3 of those bigger 5 gallon flushers. When we remodeled the bathrooms, we planned on putting our big flushers back. Unfortunately the plumber made a mistake in one, and we were forced to put one of the small flushers in. Well, guess which flusher plugs all the time -- the small one. Only one wipe of toilet paper is able to reliably flush without plugging. Put two wipes in, and the chances of plugging increase dramatically. I've had to plunge more on that one small flusher than all my others combined. I've now asked my household of six to use the larger toilets if possible. Besides, those smaller toilets take several flushes when taking care of solid waste, more than my bigger one that reliably flushes about anything put in. We stored our large flushing toilet in the basement. One day we are going to build a new house, and will use the bigger one stored away. We will also remove our bigger toilets, and put those worthless smaller toilets in when we sell the house, so that our new home has the old reliable large flushers! The one good thing about the smaller toilet is handling liquid waste. I will use the smaller toilet for that, but the bigger ones are for the tougher job!