Why I don’t flush when I pee in public, how it’s affected me, and what I think you should do about it.
I found myself standing in a bathroom stall yesterday, just staring at the door, waiting for the woman washing her hands to leave so I could exit the stall. It wasn't a cramped bathroom or anything, quite the opposite-- it was in luxurious hotel where there was a conference going on. The reason I stayed in the stall was that despite how much I have rehearsed my rebuttal, I try to avoid conflict, and I expected this random stranger to react in a way that I have seen so many others do- by giving me a weird look when I walk out without flushing.
The tagline for this post could be #firstworldproblems because I can guarantee you that there are very few countries where a post like this would be relevant. But of course, we're in America, where social norms and cultural opinions dictate our use of things that actually matter- like water.
The reason that no one is blogging about the embarrassment of not flushing in India is because they have bigger problems in India, such as a lack of clean, accessible water for the majority of their population.
So flash back to America, where we are also facing drought conditions and water shortages in many states. Where people are being told what days they can take showers and what plants they can water, and yet people in those same states and cities think its necessary to flush the toilet anytime something is added to it.
I understand it's not their fault. Most people don't wake up with the intention of wasting precious resources for fun. (Except for capitalists...) It's habit. It's what we've been told is sanitary, healthy, and proper. Which is ironic, because urine itself is quite sanitary. When researching for this blog, I saw a lot of message boards where people refused to flush due to worries of "splatter." But one helpful responder on Scienceforums.net reminded us that there is likely more bacteria in the water of a toilet than can grow when there is urine in there, no matter who's it is.
Why all this fuss about toilets, and not 'turning off the water when you brush your teeth'? (Side story: I used to HATE when students would site this as the one thing they're going to do to save the world. 'Come on, kids, think outside the box, we NEED you' I would think every week when one of them would say that. And then I saw kids brush their teeth. Good god, you'd think that water was an abundant resource, the way they let it flow out of the faucet like they were trying to fill up a bathtub... all while they were chatting with their friends with a toothbrush in their mouth. So now I feel that if every person DID turn off the water when the brush their teeth, it would make a significant impact). Most toilets use 3-7 gallons of water per flush. Is my pee really worthy of 10 times the amount of water I'm going to drink in a day, just to make it non-visible. It would be one thing if those 5 gallons turned it into fertilizer or something, but it doesn't even make it go "away", all that water just transports it to a place where it has to be processed, likely with more water.
Despite my adamant values, and undterstanding of the statistics, I too am adjusting to silence the societal norms that dictate habitual flushing. I couldn't get myself to let it mellow at my grandmother's house over Christmas, even though I knew someone would be along shortly to use the loo. As much as I'm armed with stats and figures about water being wasted per flush-- I was worried about the stigma of not following polite rules. But my hope for writing this is to get it out on the table. That even with "low flow" toilets that only use 1.6 gallons of water per flush- that's still 1.6 gallons of water PER FLUSH. So you drink a liter, pee 750ml, and then use a gallon to flush it. That's almost as bad as drinking that liter from a water bottle that took 1.85 gallons to create.
I challenge you to not flush the next time you go to the bathroom. If you get a dirty look- engage in conversation. Afterall, only half of our population even have this problem. Men get to pee in a funnel that automatically makes it disappear without ANY water, or with very minimal resources. Why to women have to be faced with wasting water or being improper. And then there's the whole topic of TP...
PS. Want more? When googling "is it unsanitary...". "Is it unsanitary not to flush" was third down on the list. It seems that most people are downright unconvinced in the importance of not flushing. Maybe someday we'll live in a world where women have urinals, too. Or even better, we'll all "go to the trees" like I get to do in the summer. The only downsize of that is some very highly nitrogonized soil.