Is the courtesy flush dead?
Nora’s recent article “Saving the planet - one drop at a time” rang a bell with me as I was sat in the men’s bathroom at work yesterday. All the stalls were occupied and every minute I heard flushing. It was constant. This once kind act of “courtesy flushing” may now be offensive considering the state of the planet…and the price of the water bill.
WiseGeek describes the act of courtesy flushing in some detail:
A courtesy flush can occur during or after the act of defecation, particularly when using public facilities. A courtesy flush is meant to be just that, a courtesy for others. If you know ahead of time you are about to pay the price for last night's overindulgences, you may want to consider flushing the toilet several times during your visit in order to minimize unpleasant odors. The common belief is that most unpleasant odors are generated between delivery and reception, if you get my drift. This type of courtesy flush is supposed to take the offenders out of the game as soon as possible, thus reducing the total exposure time for others.
There are others who suggest a courtesy flush should be coordinated with emanations of unknown origin. Trapped gases or explosive diarrhea can create embarrassing sounds, along with a vapor cloud banned as inhumane after World War I. A well-timed courtesy flush should cover up any unexpected developments both tangible and intangible. Arguments against a courtesy flush of this type generally involve the principles of flowing water and suction. Finally, and I for one cannot use that word quickly enough, there is the post-ceremonial courtesy flush. No one likes to leave a bad impression, and few things qualify as well as an unflushed or underflushed toilet. For some users, the paperwork may not be completely finished, which should prompt a courtesy flush in order to leave a clean bowl behind. Others may find a second or even third courtesy flush may be in order to deal with things which cannot seem to accept their fate with dignity.
I think that covers it. But look at the number of uses contained in that long write-up of the humble courtesy flush. There’s pre-flushing, mid-flushing, post-flushing, stubborn-stain flushing and strategic flushing to cover embarrassing sounds.
In the perfect storm of a bad stomach upset and a particularly embarrassed toilet user, there could be as many as six or seven flushes in one sitting. It could even get into double figures. Even with today’s low-flow toilets that use only 1.6 gallons per flush (toilets in the 50’s used SEVEN gallons), you’re looking at over 10 gallons of water for one toilet visit.
Even if you only do one courtesy flush, you’re still doubling the number of gallons that should be used in a “number two” scenario. Now consider that the average African family uses just five gallons of water per day, compared to the astonishing 176 gallons of the average American (not American family, just one American).
A courtesy flush here or there may seem like nothing, but you’re literally flushing away one of the most valuable commodities on the planet. We use it with reckless abandon while in third world countries, people are traveling for hours in the baking sun for water that we wouldn’t wash our dogs with. This is messed up.
I say the courtesy flush should be no more. Banish it. Forget it. I don’t care if you’re producing noxious aromas that would shame a flatulent elephant, it’s just not worth it. And as for the embarrassment factor, are you serious? Show me one person who doesn’t make sounds in the bathroom and I’ll show you a liar. We all do it. So what?
If the smells are really troubling to you, there are other solutions. You can invest in odor reduction toilets which release small amounts of deodorant during your toilet stay. You can also buy sprays like Courtesy Flush which banish odors with a simple squirt.
Some toilets in Europe have been fitted with two flushes, one heavy and one light, to deal with number one and number two. Makes sense, although some customers have been using the light flush as the courtesy flush. Not good enough.
Bottom line; the planet can’t afford the courtesy flush any more. If we’re down to saving the planet one drop at a time, we can certainly make a difference by eliminating the millions of gallons wasted every year due to politeness or shame. Do your part folks.