In summertime an environmentalist's thoughts turn to... water conservation. It's been a long time since a summer passe d without word of water shortages somewhere in the northeast. Here in the city, without lawns to turn brown and remind us of falling water tables, it can be easy to forget: the water just keeps coming out of our taps and showerheads, and we just keep using it.
Short showers are an oft-bragged-about green lifestyle modification, but the number one consumer of water in the home is—dunh dunh!—the toilet. The average person flushes 18.5 gallons of water a day (but only uses 11.56 in the shower). And it's all drinking quality.
So, there are a couple of easy ways to cut your water consumption by thousands of gallons a year, and the first is to follow the 60s maxim, "If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down." I recently joined the Department of Water/Natural Conservation (DWNC) on Facebook: it's a group that's produced some pretty slick stickers bearing that motto, soon to be seen all over town, encouraging more selective flushing.
But no one's going to come and sticker your bathroom (I don't think...), so you'll have to retrain yourself not to hit the handle. If you live alone, you certainly don't have any excuses, but even partners, spouses and roommates can be trained to accept, and even embrace, this rustic practice.
Of course, the brown/down part of the equation requires some water, but why use the perfect NYC drinking water that's piped into the crapper? Toss a bucket or two into the tub, and use â�‚��œem to catch the water you waste waiting for your shower to warm up, or the overspray from the shower itself. You'll be amazed at how much you can recuperate, even if you shower short. Each bucket-full will provide one flush: in our house we have three buckets in rotation, and end up flushing with tank water no more than once a month.
If two people normally flush 37 gallons a day, over a month we save 1,110 gallons of water, or 13,320 gallons a year. If two million New Yorkers could wean themselves off "fresh" flushes, it would save 13.3 billion gallons of water a year. Chez moi we even harvest enough extra greywater (that's what they call used wash water) from our showers to water the houseplants, and a bunch of outside plants too. But heed the advice of one who's been doing this for a while. There will be "mellow" smells, so put a box of baking soda in the bathroom and give a sprinkle every now and then, post bucket flush. That'll help.
Don't forget to be mellow when you're out in public too: just imagine the thousands of gallons a day that get flushed at a full bar or busy restaurant, as patrons line up, hour upon hour, to use the facilities. Resist the urge... and ladies, toss your paper in the bin, to keep the flushlessness on the down low. The drinking water you save may be your own...