I sit on a porcelain throne in the Javits men’s bathroom, mesmerized by the glow of my phone screen. Suddenly, the sea below shifts from its initial calm to a tidal vortex splashing up at me. I turn, flush with embarrassment, to get a glimpse of the perpetrator, and I see the red eye of the automatic toilet blinking back callously. Blink. Blink. Blink.
I finish up and look to the red eye, waiting for it to flush the toilet. Blink. Nothing. I wave my hands. I take my jacket off and wave it as a matador would a cape. Blink. Nothing. In my head, I start hearing the voice of HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey” saying “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” I reach over and push the flush button that so many have pushed before me and so many will push after me, effectively invalidating the purpose of an automatic flush toilet.
As I turn to leave, the toilet flushes. As I close the stall door behind me, the toilet flushes again. A chorus of cascading waters call out from the urinals by my arrival to the sink to wash up. I dry my hands and leave, exhausted from the experience.
Without focusing on my physical discomfort, let’s think about the cost of such wicked flushing.
In Javits, each toilet flush uses 1.6 gallons of water, while each urinal flush uses one gallon. Talk about waste. That means a total of 10.4 gallons of water was used during my trip to the bathroom, more than 10 percent of the amount of water the average American uses per day. Let that sink in.
That leads me to the Center for Global Studies and Human Development bathroom, my favorite public restroom on campus. In 1976, Victor Papanek wrote in “Design for the Real World” a few fascinating ideas for future toilets, one of which would let squatters “select whether a great deal or only a minimal amount of water was needed for flushing.” Thus the dual-flush toilet was born. The toilets of the GLS/HDV Center can flush the standard 1.6 gallons but also have a 0.8 gallon option for liquid waste. Also, the toilets are not automatic, so water isn’t wasted on “phantom flushes.” Even if it went flush for flush against the Javits bathroom, it would have used 0.8 less gallons per flush.
The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water a day, according to the United States Geological Survey. “Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home: nearly 30 percent of residential indoor water consumption,” according to the State of Washington Department of Ecology. To promote water conservation, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation advises putting plastic bottles filled with water in the tanks of inefficient toilets, so as to use that much less water per flush. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources claims that doing this can save more than 12,000 gallons per year for a typical family.
Also, nature calls. As of April 5, 2016, 14 states were in a period of “moderate drought,” according to the United States Drought Monitor. In May 2014, the Government Accountability Office published a study where 40 out of 50 state water managers stated that they expected water shortages in some portion of their states under average conditions within the next decade.
We need relief. In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency began labeling toilets, urinals and more with WaterSense™ logos, certifying their water efficiency. Currently, WaterSense™ toilets use 1.28 gallons of water per flush, or 20 percent less than our current toilets. WaterSense™ urinals can use as little as zero gallons per flush. According to the EPA, WaterSense™ products saved 346 billion gallons of water in 2014 alone. If Javits had these vanities, my bathroom trip would have used only 5.62 gallons of water.
Now that’s taking care of business.