Flush Toilet Alternatives That Conserve Water

Though it's not a glamorous topic, the coming era of water scarcity suggests we all need to starting thinking about flush toilet alternatives.


| March/April 1983



flush toilet alternatives

A number of flush toilet alternatives are available that serve the cause of both sanitation and water conservation.


Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff

"While we live, our bodies are moving particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living things."Wendell Barry

Every single time a conventional toilet is flushed, about 40 pounds of potable water is dirtied —usually in the process of carrying away less than a pound of human excrement. Furthermore, each day the average U.S. citizen pushes the "out of sight, out of mind" handle seven times. Over the course of a year that adds up to 13,000 gallons of fresh water disposing of enough nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to fertilize a 50' x 50' garden!

Of course, there's no question that the modern flush toilet (and the effective sanitization facilities to which it's connected) has played a major role in reducing disease in the twentieth century. But as we approach the year 2000, the price of sewage treatment as we know it threatens to become higher than we can afford to pay in terms of both dollars and human health.

Today, about 70% of all U.S. households are connected to centralized waste treatment facilities. And on the average, those plants represent between $500 and $600 of capital per individual served. In fact, sewage treatment is one of the largest public works projects ever undertaken, having absorbed more than $35 billion to date and estimated to require another $115 billion by the turn of the century. Worse yet, despite that incredible outlay, serious questions about the long-term health effects of the use of the residues left after treatment have yet to be answered.

The remaining 30% of U.S. households are served by personal disposal facilities, usually a septic tank and drainage field. When working correctly, these systems don't result in direct runoff to streams — nor do they add to public indebtedness — but they have been singled out as the largest source of ground-water contamination (see Toxic Chemicals and Drinking Water for more about the problems that face our underground water supplies).

So when the numerous liabilities of the Thomas Crapper water closet (yes, that is the name of the man who developed the flush toilet) are considered from water consumption to pollution, and from outright treatment cost to the waste of valuable organic matter, there's little doubt that the commode must change dramatically and soon!





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