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Going Green – The Waterless Toilet

May 29th, 2009 · No Comments

Most people don’t realize it, but it is not washing dishes or taking a shower that uses the most water during the day. It is actually the act of flushing a toilet. Older, less efficient toilets operate by passing over three gallons of water through the plumbing system with each flush. As water resources become more scarce, ways to cut down on some of the water that is literally being “flushed away” are being sought.

One method gradually becoming more popular is the use of a waterless, or composting, toilet. These toilets are rare in cities and suburbs because of the difficulty in securing appropriate building permits, but they are more common in rural areas. Composting toilets convert human waste into compost, which can be utilized as fertilizer once it has been treated.

Waterless composting toilets (also known as biological toilets) are waterless systems which rely on the principles of composting by micro-organisms to decompose human waste, paper and other materials.

In this type of system, chambers or bins are installed below floor level. Extra organic matter such as wood shaving, paper or lawn clippings, are added to create an ideal composting environment. Micro-organisms decompose the collected material, with about three-quarters being converted to carbon dioxide and water vapor. Air drawn through the pile removes these gases and assists the micro-organisms with the decomposition.

Waterless composting toilets do not treat wastewater from showers, sinks and washing machines, an additional system is required for their treatment. A waterless toilet can range in price from as low as $400 to nearly $3,000, depending on the type and features. Many models look like regular toilets and are available in a wide array of colors.

Until the use of waterless toilets becomes more common place, removing and replacing an older toilet with a more efficient one can save the average homeowner 4,000 gallons of water per year. If every older, inefficient toilet was replaced with a WaterSense-labeled toilet, nearly 640 billion gallons of water could be saved each year.

What is a WaterSense toilet? It is a toilet given a label by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifying that it uses 20 percent less water per flush than current federal standards. Typically, a WaterSense toilet uses 50 to 60 percent less water per flush than older models.

The water efficiency of a toilet depends on its age and type. Most toilets installed prior to 1992 are considered inefficient by today’s standards, and typically use more than three gallons of water per flush. This means that a leaky, constantly running or simply inefficient toilet is the largest water-waster in a home, since toilets are by far the main source of water use in a home. In fact, flushing toilets accounts for as much as 40 percent of residential indoor water consumption.

WaterSense labeled toilets are not only water-efficient but are also financially efficient. Because they use substantially less water, it is estimated the installation of one toilet could save a family of four more than $90 annually, and $2,000 over the lifetime of the toilet.

Why is there such interest in the amount of water used when flushing a toilet? The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that water managers in 36 States expect water shortages in the next 10 years, even under normal, non-drought conditions. High efficiency toilets, also HETs, are one way to help preserve our diminishing fresh water supplies.

A few of today’s greenest homes use rainwater or grey water for toilet flushing instead of clean drinking water. Grey water is water that has been used for washing dishes, laundering clothes, or bathing. Although this used water may contain grease, food particles, hair, and any number of other impurities, it may still be suitable for reuse. Recycling grey water can help reduce the amount of freshwater needed to supply a household, as well as reduce the amount of freshwater needed to supply a household, s well as reduce the amount of water entering sewer or septic systems. About 65 percent of domestic wastewater is grey water, with bathing and laundry generating the largest quantities.

Until an older toilet is replaced, a water-filled plastic bag, bottle or a brick in the tank can be used to displace water volume. A toilet dam can be also be easily purchased and installed, and works by closing before the tank completely empties.

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Tags: Energy Saving · Going Green · Plumbing Issues

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