Friday, August 28, 2009

Toilet Greenification- Apartment Style

Living in the city, in an apartment, makes certain eco changes difficult. Urban living does makes it easier to drive less (unless you live in Halifax, where the public transportation is SO abismal), access farmer's markets and I guess these tiny compacted apartment living stacked one on top of another results in leaving more Earth untouched. However, making changes like having alternatively sourced power and hydro, having a garden or replacing appliances for energy efficient alternatives are impossible... or highly unadvisable in case your landperson would get slightly cranky. (view of the Atlantic in Hubbards Nova Scotia that I took pre-yoga class)

We do our best, Andrew and I, in our infinitesimal box we call home and Wednesday we did the unthinkable. We tampered with our toilet.
(the culprit and if you look closely... my red socked-foot)

Living surrounded by the ocean my entire life (except for those few dry years stranded in the middle of the Okanagan) has resulted in some weird, obsessive attachment to water. I love water, I LOVE the ocean. Perhaps as a fisherman's daughter I've also grown up with a keen understanding of just how ruthless and powerful She can be. Many fathers, brothers, sons and even a few friends in my fishing community have been taken throughout the years.

Our oceans are our Earth's life and all Her inhabitants, every single last one, may thank the ocean for our existance. The ocean is where life began and the water cycle continues to nourish and sustain our world. As North Americans we are so wasteful with water, as if it has an unending supply that we can use and pollute.

According to Ecoholic, up to 65% of the water we use in our homes happens in the bathroom (Ecoholic 2006, p.156). One third of that number is from our toilets. If we had our own home, and could save some moolah, Andrew and I would totally invest in a low flow or two flow toilet. Unfortunately, swapping our current beaut and leaving it to hang out in the hall might ruffle a few feathers....

Our lovely toilet uses 13.2 litres with every single flush (3.5 gallons). Wow. Seems a bit excessive, especially for pee. Andrew and I both figure we flush the toilet about three times each a day (erring on the side of caution... we do often "let it mellow"), so in one year that would be 28 908 litres (7636 gallons). Whoa, twenty eight THOUSAND litres a year of water. As letting it mellow isn't always an option and pooing less is also not really an option, and buying a new toilet isn't up... what to do?

A water bottle! Vanessa from Green as a Thistle inspired us to make this eco-change. I know it's weird, but I was a little nervous about altering any appliance that wasn't "ours". The idea, place a filled water bottle in your toilet tank so that it displaces water, giving your tank less water to accomplish the flush. Bricks are a no go as they may eventually break down and damage stuff (I've heard differing opinions on this one, but since we don't have any spare bricks laying around it wasn't really an issue).

I gotta admit, it took a few months of thinking about it before following through. The main issue, we don't buy bottled water or bottled anything. Hardly ever. Strangely enough, I have this aversion to plastic bottles... So I was struggling with WHAT exactly to place in the toilet. Should bottled water for this one change? Andrew, being the practical guy that he is, picked up an stainless steel water bottle and announced our victory. It had been a "gift" from my job, but it's ugly, made by a no-name company in China with our company's name painted on the side. Who needs to be reminded with every drink where they work? So it's been hanging out in our cupboard for about three months.

And now it is in our toilet- WOO!

Andrew assured me that it wouldn't rust, break anything or spontaneously combust (he's so nice) so we filled it with water and (he) found the perfect spot. It's only a 500ml (16fl oz) bottle which changes our toilet to a 12.7 litre toilet. Which in a year will save 1095 litres. I can't even tell the difference when I flush, in one way a good thing, but a little bit of a let down. SO I'm considering (if it can fit) to put the OTHER stainless steel water bottle (600ml) I got as a present from a client in there as well. If I can make it fit- toilet tanks are pretty darn minimalist. Combined that would mean 1.1 litres less per flush which would more than double my water savings in a year!

Other options include buying a "toilet dam", costing less than ten dollars and can save up to 3 litres per flush or a water bag (the "toilet tummy"- seriously, who came UP with these names??). Because I'm lazy, it made more sense to simply use something we already had in the house (plus it means cheaper, and less eventual waste). I'm not sure how anyone could fit an entire 1 litre juice/milk jug in their toilet tank though... Also, I have read filling the receptical with sand or rocks may help it sink.

The next step: shorter showers.... gah.


article and photos by EcoYogini at


  1. What a cool idea!

    We already have a low-flow toilet by default (slow well) and my only complaint it's not always up to *ahem* [cough] certain..."downloads". Keeping a plunger nearby is a necessity.

    Still, less water usage is always a good thing!

  2. i've been meaning to do this for a while. thanks for reminding me. and what an excellent use for that particular water bottle - i have one i need to get rid of as well.

    i think this would also be a good use of an old nalgene bottle - if anyone has one lying around still.

  3. i wanted to do this after reading about vanessa doing it but my boyfriend had some reason not to, thought it would f* with the toilet somehow...forget what it was. will ask and report back! also bad news -think my sigg has the old liner. back to the glass it is. maybe the sigg can go in the toilet;-)

  4. This is a great post! I never would have thought of this, and I DO have a nalgene bottle somewhere... (living on St.Thomas we became professional "if it's yellow" kind of people)

  5. We have a very old yogurt container in ours and my boys always get excited when I take the tank lid off to pour the shower warm up water in. They shout "Mommy's yogurt!!"

  6. We put some rocks in our cistern some time ago - I can't imagine why they thought it all needed so much water when they first designed them...

  7. Wahoo! I've been meaning to do this for six months now...I really need to stop procrastinating!

  8. Excellent job!

    We've got one of those dual flush micro-systems in our bathroom already, so we don't need to alter anything, but when we buy a property (eventually!) we want to put in a composting loo.

    Re the shorter showers, you might want to get something like this shower timer. There are others on the market that use batteries, but I think simpler is better, don't you? :-)

    I also remember reading that hot water accounts for about HALF of your electricity bill - another reason for getting your shower time down!

  9. That is a FANTASTIC idea! And so easy! Thanks for the tip! I'm going to do this in my home, too!

  10. The water bottle displacement technique is great! Thanks for such a practical post.

    As for shorter showers, depending on your lifestyle and body, you may find it more rewarding to simply wash less often. Every other day when you're not exercising and getting sweaty is a good way to start, and after adjusting to that you may even be able to go a few days without a shower. Most people don't smell bad unless they're unhealthy or really sweaty - you'd be surprised how long you can go without a shower! Of course, you have to get used to how it feels, and your body needs time to adjust as well. The more often you wash yourself the more often your body replaces your natural oils. The same is true of shampooing your hair, which often makes showers take longer. Just some things to think about!

    Also... gravity-flush squat toilets!!! I hope some day they'll catch on in this part of the world.


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