Wednesday, March 11, 2015

We call it Mellow Yellow

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 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.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Volunteering is better than watching TV

Something hit me the other day as I was driving back from one of the most effective and fun trainings I've ever attended. This was a training for a program I had signed up to volunteer for. I spent 8 hours of my Saturday learning more about how to volunteer, but it didn't feel like work. It felt even more rejuvenating than if I had spent even a quarter of that time "relaxing" in front of a screen, giving my brain a break.
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 25% of the US population volunteers their time each year.  (Interestingly, most of them are between 35 and 44 years of age, white, with a bachelors degree, and employed). The program that I'm currently involved in asks for 8 hours of our time a month. 8 hours! And in exchange, we could save someone's live. I actually heard a young person say that they learned they could be happy because of the activities she had been doing with her mentor- a woman who volunteered her time. That young woman is completely reanalyzing her life because of 8 hours that one woman puts in (although I'm sure she puts in more than that, just because she wants to).

On a totally different note, I found on Statistic Brain that the average American will spend 9 years of their life watching TV. 49% of American's say that they watch too much TV. Why? Certainly they make it super appealing, trendy even, to catch the latest. It's hard to tear away once it's on. Even very down to earth tree hugger people I know can get caught up in a conversation about Orange is the New Black or Game of Thrones.  

So here's my proposal... turn off the TV, and volunteer. When your 90 year old bones are starting to slow you down, you'll look back and think that you spent 10% of your life sitting in front of an electronic square. For what? Did Top Chef inspire your culinary side to start eating better? Did Amazing Race teach you about alt he places you should go visit? What are you gaining by watching 5 hours of TV a week?
For just 3 hours more in a month you can change a life.

Have I convinced you yet? I know that volunteering isn't always an ideal situation. I have volunteered for a LARGE gamut of events and programs in the last few years, and very rarely have I felt my skills being really utilized. I had many experience where I would show up to volunteer only to carry a shovel a couple of yards and chat with someone, or spend half of my time being shuffled from one station to another, not actually getting to excel in one thing. But going through that experience was helpful in it's own. I learned what types of programs I like, and what type of people I am successful at volunteering with.

I would recommend going to a place that you already like to spend time- like the Library, a museum or a bike shop. As much as we think of volunteering as free services, it's rarely ever free. I've received so many goodies as a volunteer- from fantastic (and not so yummy) food, to bike lights, t-shirts and many wonderful memories.

Ready to act? Check out, or head down to your local food shelter. Some co-ops will give incentives such as discount cards in exchange for some hours worked. Commit to one day a month at first, and try more if you can. The rewards are endless.
But what about my TV?

Pick your favorite show, one that you're really going to get something out of, and spend the rest of the time doing something real for yourself- like a self pedicure, learning a new instrument or writing a letter to a long lost friend, or spending time helping others.