Anyone who as watched a low-flow toilet balk at flushing one kleenex and wondered who approved its production will be happy to know that there are indeed good low-flow toilets and bad low-flow toilets.
Better yet: There is a list!
According to CBC’s consumer protection show Marketplace in 2003,
Roman Kaszczij runs the city of Toronto’s toilet replacement program. He says there are hundreds of CSA-approved six litre toilets on the Canadian market. He hasn’t tested all of them — but only 24 meet his standards.
“We did a test a couple of years ago. We just pulled toilets off the shelf and tested them. Over 50 per cent of them did not flush with six litres,” Kaszczij said.
Kaszczij needs to know which toilets do work. Toronto offers a $60 – $75 rebate for anyone who will replace a water waster with a low-flow toilet. But there is a catch: you have to buy one of the 24 toilets on Kaszczij’s list.
Well, that was 5 long years ago. Now there are more toilets on the City of Toronto’s Hit List:
List of actually effective Low-Flow toilets (updated May 2011!)
By the way, CMHC/SCHL provides a list of some of the bad low-flow toilets in this article. That article also includes a list of good toilets. Here is a link to all of CMHC/SCHL’s toilet-related research to date. These researchers were involved in the study that forms the rationale for the Toronto list and their elaborate testing method is detailed here – complete with pictures and elaborate tables. I am happy to see that there was an effort to test them using some kind of actual shit substitute rather than relying on wishful greenness. A few other non-technical background articles relating to the study (including reactions by some manufacturers) are here and here. It seems that these researchers are actually the vanguard of toilet testing in North America. Now that we can put our plungers down, we can salute them for their valuable work!
Put bulky objects into the ordinary toilet tank
You can experiment with your ordinary toilet by putting objects of various sizes into it to see how little water you can get away with before you have to use the plunger. The idea is that because the toilet tank stops taking in water when the ball reaches a certain level, if you put an object into the tank, it means less water is in the tank. Less water is therefore used in the flush. Avoid using bricks; they are not good for your plumbing. A closed container of liquid would be better eg: a full plastic bottle of Pepsi…or Coke.
Lower-tech than a weight in the tank? Yes, flush less often!
This is the obvious low-tech, low-cost solution to water wastage in the bathroom. The common saying is: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down”. If you pee twice per flush, you have effectively created the same water-use profile as a low-flush toilet. Pee three times and you are at the technological cutting edge….
Separate Yourself from the Pack…perhaps in ‘the bad way’: The Humanure Option
A more specialized approach. This is an option if you live near a sawmill. Build a toilet out of a 5 gallon (20 litre) container and a toilet seat. Use rotted sawdust (but not sawdust from ordinary lumber which has probably been treated with chemicals) scooped directly on top of the excreta. It will not smell and will breakdown the excreta into compost! See the detailed, free online book on the subject: http://weblife.org/humanure/default.html
Waste Water instead of Trees Option
More worried about wasting trees than wasting water? Many Middle-Eastern and Central Asian countries use a pitcher of water instead of toilet paper. The bidet is a European variant of this idea and is used to clean up after the event. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bidet
A Tampon Alternative for the 21st Century?
Since we are already talking toilets and wastewater, municipal processing of toilet wastewater can be helped by the reduction of tampons. Something worth investigating is the Diva cup – a small silicone cup that you can insert instead of a tampon. See: http://www.divacup.com/ for info and advice on usage. Many women find it liberating, financially, environmentally, and physically. It’s about $35 and voilà – no more need to buy feminine paper products.
It may seem that ‘low-flow toilets’ are secretly ‘flush-forever toilets’. Functional low-flow toilets do exist, however. Why do you keep encountering the bad ones? According to one theory, some of these bad low-flow toilets may be attempts by contractors who build new houses to….cut costs by using cheaper ineffective ones. They look good, sound virtuous in a sales pitch, but turn a short nature-call into a 15 minute battle between plunger and porcelain.
If you hate your low-flow/flush-forever toilet, leave a comment with the name and model of the toilet. I will make a list so that the Bad Johns can be known to everyone. Provide a photo of the culprit and I will create a special page so that people who threw away their manuals can know that they are not alone! Let’s get these things off the market and find out which ones are good ones!
Note: Oct 2008 UPDATE with lists is here!
It works just as you suspect. A half-flush for the liquids; another full flush for the solids. Clearly, this is a great idea!
Here is the research by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (‘CMHC’ or ‘SCHL’ for francophones). Note to non-Canadians: Under Part IX of the National Housing Act, the Government of Canada provides funds to CMHC to conduct research into the social, economic and technical aspects of housing and related fields, and to undertake the publishing and distribution of the results of this research. Tax dollars at work!
Here’s their data: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/publications/en/rh-pr/tech/02-124-e.html
Australia has made these the norm because it is drought-prone. For an overview of the subject, see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/17/AR2007011700649.html
A kit for converting my old toilet?
You can buy a kit for about $50 that allows you to convert your conventional water-wasting toilet into a dual-flush toilet. It is simple enough that you can do-it-yourself. See:
http://www.twoflush.com – for Canadians and Americans, won the first place award for industry innovation in the Kitchen and Bath Category at ISH North America’s 2004 new product showcase.
http://www.gaiam.com/retail/product/02-0205 – for $36
http://www.plumbworld.co.uk/1816-0000 – for 14£ , with diagram, based in UK
And thanks to a reader, here’s another conversion kit: