Potty Training: Yellow Is the New Green | Seventh Generation
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Potty Training: Yellow Is the New Green

Author: BethArky

ToiletI've taken a very big plunge. Or rather, the opposite. This is the story of how I turned my back on a behavior ingrained since childhood. To be perfectly clear, I am talking about not flushing the toilet.

I can't claim sole credit for this move toward saving water. In fact, the first time my young son walked out of the bathroom and left the latrine slightly citrine, I wondered which naughty preschooler had taught Matthew this new way of rebelling. Hadn't all our potty-training bibles insisted on the flush, even ritualized it?
But when I grilled the kid under the hot lights, I got to the bottom of it: His babysitter was the mastermind, and it was, in fact, an act of conservationism. So there, Mommy.

If I've learned one thing in my six years of doing the mom thing, it's this: Trust thy sitter. Even my DH (Dear Husband), who remains somewhat grossed out by the practice -- even though we are talking only Number 1 here, NOT Number 2 -- knows better than to question our Super Nanny. After all, she had already managed to get our water-lovin' baby, whom you first met in " The Paper Trail in My Kitchen," to turn off the gushing stream from the faucet when brushing his teeth. So her water-saving technique is now policy -- unless, of course, we have company coming. I wouldn't think of submitting even the most intimate of friends and family to our less-than-pristine eau de toilette.

The modern water-saving movement started back in 1995, when the National Energy Policy Act mandated that toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons of water, down from 3.5 gallons per flush (GPF) in the 1980s and a ridiculous 7 GPF back in the booming '50s. Since then, several toilet manufacturers have unveiled a host of options. One is the TOTO, that porcelain beauty out of Japan, which has an even better record on water usage, as I discovered at www.totousa.com! It turns out the company makes three High Efficiency Toilets (HETs), which "should be able to flush using at least 20 percent less water than is mandated by law and should not need to be flushed more than once to do their job."

I can't vouch for the company's numbers, but according to the site, the average American flushes five times a day, and that's just counting home use. (Add the bathroom breaks I took during The Cubicle Years and I'd have to figure in many more mandatory flushes, thanks to those mandatory eight glasses of water per day!) Assuming an average household consists of 3.2 people over 365 days, a standard 1.6 GPF toilet would use 9,344 gallons of water a year. TOTO offers ultra-quiet, high-tech models, including the very cool Duel-Max® Flushing System that allows you to select a "big" flush, which requires 1.6 GFP, or a "little" flush, which uses 0.9 GPF. According to TOTO, using an HET would save 1,869 gallons a year per household.

With its basic model starting at $350, TOTOs don't come cheap, especially compared with the stripped-down American Standard I found for $98 at Home Depot. But to put it in perspective, you can easily spend nearly $400 on a nice Kohler.

Now that I have begun to research this topic, I find that my sitter isn't alone: More people are going green by going yellow. So I had to ask our Super Nanny: What was the source of her water-saving habits?

Over the years, she has shared bits and pieces about her life growing up in a poor South American village, where she did without so many of the things we take for granted, from the nonessential (television) to what most of us would consider absolute musts (electricity, running water). As I pressed her for more details about her youth, I got a fuller picture of just how different her world was fewer than 20 years ago.

As a girl of 10 or 11, she'd rise at 4 a.m. every weekday and bike with a friend and adult to one of the village pumps, anywhere from one to three miles away, haul back two big buckets of water, shower and head off to school. (On the weekends, she had the "luxury" of sleeping in before her water run, a job done mostly by kids.) Her family of five would ration that water carefully, as it was all they had for the day to cook, clean, and bathe. It was not a commodity to be wasted.

Her story confirms many comments made by members of the Seventh Generation Nation: This conservation of resources wasn't about "being green"; it was, as she says, "a way of life." We live in a country of privilege, excess and waste, where being green is still a matter of personal choice, not necessity. I count myself among the millions who could be making more radical changes, and a whole lot faster. I also know I may always fall short of dark green expectations. But in the meantime, I appreciate your patience, advice, and support along the way.

Unfortunately, as stimeystimpkins wrote in response to my "Paper Trail" post, "Having to teach our kids not to be wasteful is probably unique to the Western middle- and upper-classes. But for those of us in those socioeconomic groups, it is what it is, and either we teach our children to conserve or we allow them to continue the grand Western tradition of destroying the earth."

So the lessons continue in my house.

The only downside to our new limited-flush policy: I have to scrub those toilets more often.

photo: Salim Fadhley


James picture
I've already known about going yellow, but for us there's a downside: cleaning the toilet. Stuff appears everywhere when we go yellow, and we can't get it out unless we use VERY harsh chemicals. Don't these damage the environment more than our water usage? That's why I go yellow--but only a little.
ringo12147 picture
I enjoy energy drinks. If I flushed after every trip to the loo while consuming energy drinks this house would sound like Niagra Falls. Upon drinking a can or two of energy drinks I'm lucky to stay online for 15 minutes without nature calling. One flush in 3 trips is usually adequate. Toilet is new and a more water conserving than the old one.
langanart picture
My Spouse's Uncle years back during parties used the practice to flush only with #2 because they had a well. We've gone thru our current home using low volume flush toilets and all are saving us money. Even so...during the past year I stopped flushing after every number one. It didn't make sense to do so and the water for my area is extremely expensive and like many have said here I know exactly what I spend on water. Making sure to keep the lid closed so our Lab keeps out of it because that is something I wouldn't want to think about. It seems a little gross and I guess it actually is to some extent but we normally won't do so & leave it to sit if we have company as hope to not "freak" them out, ha, ha. Just this act alone has saved us an enormous amount off our water bill. Now...If I could just get my Daughter out of the shower sooner I'd be one happy fellow. This is a funny blog topic but I am amazed at how many responses to it including my own.
simplicity778 picture
I tried this while I was pregnant (and constantly going to the toilet). Unfortunately, black mold or something grew all over the toilet within a day. Hubby said it was unacceptable. Yeah, I hear you on the put some soap in there and swish it around between flushes. But this stuff was growing everywhere, under the seat even. We hate cleaning the toilet (lucky if we get to it once a month), so this is just not going to happen.
Rachel4576 picture
Plus a couple of drops of 100% tea tree oil helps to get rid of any odors....and smells really fresh and minty! Keep your toilet bowl closed from pets and kids though, if you do this. It's not good for them if they ingest it. I think it might be naturally anti-bacterial as well...
Ratchwhit picture
We now have a well and low flush toilets. I have always talked with the kids about being conscious of their water usage, and for now they do ok. I welcome any idea that would help our well and septic. I do wonder how much extra laundry there would be if we ditched toilet paper? Does that undo all the "good"? Just having a flashback to cloth diapers with three kids. I remember thinking we used a lot of energy and water to keep those diapers out of the landfill...
Rachel4576 picture
My husband and I recently moved from Chicago, IL to Virginia. In Chicago our rent included water usage. In Virginia our rent doesn't cover our water usage and our water bill is itemized so we know how much water we're using every month. After getting an exorbitant water bill when we first got here, we've been doing the "if it's yellow, let it mellow..." and it really makes a huge difference in the bill! Also, I've been turning off the shower to wash up...I'll turn it on at first to shampoo, then off so I can soap up, then on again to rinse off. This also makes a HUGE difference in our water bill!
nicole picture
I highly recommend using cloth for #1 (we use prefold diapers), and soap & water for #2. Its much better for the earth, and its more hygenic for you as well :)
denise picture
pee in the shower every morning, one less flush, just saying!
kenyadee picture
But, that's also why I don't do it now. I vividly remember that our bathroom growing up always smelled bad - of urine. I cannot tolerate that now. It definitely makes me feel dirty. I'd rather find other ways to save on water. Fortunately, I live in a very wet area of the country with plentiful water resources.
norikokimball picture
I am cheap so conserving the toilet water - less flushing - was common sense to me.(I do flush the big business each time, though) By doing so, I am aware how much toilet paper I use each time as well. By not flushing each time but consolidating, our three 20 years-old toilets(2 gallons tank size), otherwise tend to clog once in a while. Each morning I wash my face with hot water. I put an empty milk jug under the faucet until it starts to pour the hot water. Then I use that 2 milk jugs to flush the toilet first thing in the morning. I have a big plastic bucket in a tub and collect the water when I shower each night until it gets hot enough. I use this bucket water to flush, to water the plants and clean the sinks, etc. It is an extra work to water the plants from the bucket, instead of just open the faucet with hose attached, you have to transfer the water and carry the watering container across the room to do so. Yet, I just can't run water carelessly. I am cheap! In Japna, where we have hot water bath to sink every night instead of running water shower, we have a special pump to pump the water from the bath tub to the washing machine. It is a common practice mainly due to the high utility cost there than for conserivng purpose,yet the result is the same. Every little bity things practiced by conscious people make a big difference. I think every school children in the US should have a field trip to the local recycling centers and see and learn how wasteful we are and how to recycle and conserve. And let us start the movement of "Bring Ur Own Shopping Bags To Shop" ^V^
rick455 picture
This is all fine and good, but remember if the person is sick flush. Thousands of people die every year from water born diseases.
jennjenn75 picture
Glad to be reading that others out there do the same! Starting to wonder if my family was the only one, rather myself the only one. Haven't had much luck in rallying up the fam in this conservative effort. Totally agree with company coming over. I do have to remember when I'm at work or a friend's house to flush the toilet. Once you get in the habit, it's difficult to not flush wherever you are! Cheers!
ashleyvet picture
Nothing makes you more conscious of your water usage than when you own your own well and cistern. You learn that water doesn't come from some big neverending supply "somewhere". You become the steward of your resources directly. My own children have never known public water. My 5 year old will tell guests not to flush because its summertime and it hasn't rained in awhile. ;-)
KristinCollins07 picture
My husband and I follow this policy (he's trying not to be grossed out by me!). We are in the middle of potty training our 2 year old and I'm torn. I want to teach him to flush after every time because I have to plan for when he's NOT in our home...at a friend's house or at school, etc. I don't want him to be made fun of or be looked at like he's strange. Adults understand that it's different when you're at someone else's house or when company is over, but little kids might not! On the other hand...his little pee is so non-potent that it just doesn't make sense to flush. I want to teach him the best that I can! Ideas?
jmunger picture
If you're not flushing the yellow you can even toss the tp in the trash to avoid clogs. I spent a short amount of time in South America where flushing toilet paper resulted in clogged pipes and found the habit hard to break when I came home.
elisesarge2 picture
I grew up on a farm with a well, a septic field, one bathroom, and eleven people. You did not flush number 1, only number 2, otherwise the excess water would dilute the bacteria that made the septic field work. Also in the summer, our well would get low and we had to water plants with gray water from the dishes if there was no rain. Showers were limited to once a day. With one bathroom, we learned to undress, shower, dry off and re-dress behind the curtain so others could use the bathroom at the same time. It was wet down, soap and rinse. You had to save the water in the tub to shave your legs. I still have fond memories of the farm!
PNPBaby picture
Love the 'let the yellow mellow' concept! When we switched to using family cloth a good 2 years ago this really helped as well. When using TP you need to flush after a few of the kids have done their tinkling or the TP would pose an issue. With family cloth use we've sidelined that issue entirely!
Dawnica picture
When I was a kid (in the 70's) we had a well, and I remember getting in trouble for flushing on accident! My dad (who also has always been environmental) was afraid our well would go dry, and ours never did even though most everyone around us did end up having to truck in water. I have kept up the practice my entire life. My hubby thinks it a little weird, but my kids are on board (they've never known any difference!). We have two toilets and I think we average 3-5 flushes total in a given day for 4 people!! I'm glad this is catching on and I'm no longer the weird one!
amyclink picture
I learned if it's yellow it's mellow at conservation camp almost 20 years ago and it's stuck with me. Plus it helps on the water bill :)
oldsgt24 picture
if you really want to save water collect the washing water and flush the toilet. You will find that you get more and really save on the water as well as the sewer bill. Not flushing white bowl sometimes can be as harmful. have you thought about the air as well. Since i have a cat and dog I try to keep the white bowl closed. As much as you try they seem to like tha water. I have to protect thier health first. use dish washing pans to wash dishes and then dump in the bowl. I have three bathrooms and only one me. I am trying to make the family go green (smart).
catina1996 picture
We do practice the same method of flushing only when used several times or for #2. We also conserve water by plugging up the tub during showers and later using the water for the toilet. All you do is shut off the valve that brings water into the toilet and dip water out of the tub into the toilet tank. It started to conserve water and money. It then became a habit.
cole_young78 picture
I was always taught growing up not to flush everytime w/the exception of a code brown and that goes down everytime. My parents have a septic system and they started to not flush toilet paper. Even though I live in an apartment Iv started to not flush the TP but trash it. And to this day I still let several p p's go unflushed. I always wondered if I was the only one that did this and if others thought this was way nasty. Guess not and Im glad. Thanks for the blog
Zorra31P picture
We do this too! Glad to hear so many others do as well. We flush for company, for #2, and if there a lot of toilet paper has accumulated from all the #1s. That's it. :) We haven't really had any issues with odor or anything either. If your pee is really smelly, you probably need to drink more water. In a healthy, well-hydrated person pee shouldn't have much odor.
pj2rc picture
Though we do try to use green practices now, growing up we always let pee sit because my mom didn't want the septic to back up. Now I basically cooridinate my bathroom visits with my kids and husband (though hubby thinks it's gross and worries about backsplash -- so I make him go first -haha) and/or just let it sit.
rb5598 picture
I started doing this myself about 6 months ago. I don't know what made me think about it, i wasn't brought up in a very environmentalist family, though have became one myself. I don't do must in that regard in society, though I would love to become more involved in that regard. But I always try to do my own part at least. I'm a very out of the box thinker, not going with what I'm taught specifically in society, Buddha - "Doubt everything, find your own light." Knowledge is power so I follow that deeply. And one day I just started not always flushing the toilet every time to conserve water as well.
greenmomto5 picture
Instead of flushing the toilet everytime my 2 year old goes in his little potty, I bring the pot out to a bucket just outside my backdoor. Then every three or 4 days I empty the bucket into my compost bin, because it's suppose to be really good for the compost. Thus reducing and needless flushing of the toilet, and in turn making my fertalizer richer! The kids even help dumping into the bucket before my 1 year old can get into it!
hjmclark picture
...my then 18-month old daughter explored the toilet and contracted dysentery. She became extremely sick. I am waiting until my youngest child is out of toilet training and old enough to know better than to reach in the toilet before I consider adopting this practice again.
jfastmover picture
My dad used to delay flushing the toilet after a few uses. I once asked him why didn't he flush after each use. Just to let you know, I was a grown woman when I asked dad that question. He said, "flushing all the time is such a waste and it saves me money on the water bill". Now all this took place years before you even heard about our environmental problems with electric, gas, water, ozone, etc. I always knew my dad was a smart guy!!
ehearnd picture
What I grew up was... "if it's clear, leave it here. if it's brown, flush it down." it's slightly less nauseating than thinking of the yellow 'mellowing' :-) Something I'm genuinely curious about...is it better for TP to go in the trash (landfill) than down the drain and through a city treatment plant? Which makes less of an impact on the environment?
Lillian Robinson picture
Lillian Robinson
Just got back from a cruise with stops in Cozumel, Roatan, and Belize. At all land ports, we were asked to throw toilet tissue in the wastebaskets beside the toilet. I've kept this up since I got home and was happy to see that others are already doing this.
mrray picture
I recently installed a two-flush system, "one2flush", in an older toilet. Not only is it inexpensive, it is well-designed and works really well. The only trade-off is that the tank must be removed in order to install the one2flush hardware, but it's really not that big a deal. Ray B.
Shortround picture
when decorative water fountains, green grass having priority I wil flush- I have installed low level toilets and saved water. The strawberry farmers in Plant City,Fl sprinkle 24hr/continuly during a freeze--now that is for money for them cause we can live without strawberries, but health wise we do gotta go as kidney infections are not profitable for the individual having them. There are many ways to save water--lets hear about them. Using rinse water is great idea. Katie Mae
cowgirlstef picture
We do this too! Actually, it started back on a missions trip to Mexico. Their motto was "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down." :)
danabug269 picture
My Husband yells at me for it, but I dont care!!! I refuse to flush 10 times a day, especially in the middle of the night when its really noisy. Im glad to hear Im not the only one with yellow water toilets. I hate flushing in the public bathrooms as well, who knows how many times they get flushed!!
katiegzap picture
My husband and I have been doing this for years, but I never thought anyone else did! As others have mentioned, we make sure to flush when company is coming over.
epittaluga picture
My husband and I first decided not to flush every time because we both get up a several times in the middle of the night. So we flush in the morning, then every two or three uses during the day if we're both home. I thought the vinegar idea I read above was fantastic and I will implement it! Another solution I use to keep the bowl clean (because let's admit it, it does smell) is to use Seventh Generation toilet bowl cleaner every three days or so. Works like a charm. We also put a brick in our tank but not sure how much good that does. We both abhor wasting water and money, and flushing ever time does both. When you think of all the water people waste this seems like such a small thing to do.
Jplambeck picture
I was so happy to see this article and all the comments! This is something I started doing during pregnancy and continued while potty training my son. I thought what was the point in flushing when my son pees so little each time. My husband was a little grossed out by it, but now he does it too. With regards to vinegar, I use vinegar for washing cloth diapers as it helps to neutralize the proteins of the pee in the diaper so the diapers don't smell and my son and daughter don't get diaper rash either. I noticed a big difference after I started cleaning with vinegar. I always pick up a couple gallons when it's on sale. It's such a great cleaner! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one.
bratil03 picture
Well I've never really thought about this in this way of being mellow with yellow and down with brown. However, in our family there have been times when we all need to go at the same time, so unless one of us make a big mess we ask the person who's "on" to not flush cause the next person will when they are "done". I think that with the fact that we have to pay for water around here this will be a new "habit" to easily install within our family. Of course not when there's company of course. This has been an interesting read and say thank you to your nanny for all of us.
nancywayne3 picture
after we bathe, we use the water from our bath in the garden or on potted plants. we do not use oils or other kinds of cream bathsoaps so the water is fine to use even with a little shampoo in it.
ODog picture
Byrdsword, you can definitely stay on top of keeping your toilet clean w/o chemical usage. First, keep a bucket of grey water handy (fill it up with the water from your dehumidifier, washing machine if it empties into a utility sink, or just place it under the faucet while you shower...plenty of places to get water for practical reuse). Second, pour enough of this water down the toilet so that it "flushes" but not so much that you start filling the bowl again. You basically want the bowl empty. Sprinkle some baking soda around the interior of the bowl (I use a sifter but it's not necessary) and let it sit for a few minutes to absorb. Then spritz some vinegar all over the baking soda and it will sizzle and fizzle like a gradeschool volcano project. Then simply scrub the bowl interior with a toilet brush or a sponge (with some forearm covering rubber gloves, of course; sponge method is much more thorough a cleaning) and "flush" down the vinegar/baking soda remnants with your bucket when you're satisfied. Refill the bowl to your liking with the bucket water and Voila--you've just cleaned your toilet without using a single drop of fresh water or any chemicals!
byrdsword picture
I have recentally moved off campus and my roomate and I share a bathroom. We flush about 3 times a day between the two of us. I love walking into the bathroom and seeing yellow toilet water. One question or problem, it's smelly after a while. We got a bowl cleaner but whenever I look at it I just know all of thoes chemicals going into the water and it cracks my heart a bit. Any suggestions to keeping the pee smell down and the chemical useage out of our bowl? Thanks keep on keppin on the green train.
ocmd123 picture
let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." This has been our motto for 25 years. We have a very shallow well. During dry spells, the practice of not flushing every time was essential, or our well would start to pump muddy water. We just made it an everyday habit because it made a lot of sense. I'm going to start using vinegar, too!
iloveanimals picture
This article makes me laugh. My parents used to occasionally use this rule, and it would make me mad! They did it to save money. I understand now, and use it in my home. We flush when company comes over of course. Not to be too gross, but we flush after 2-3 times, or if it's *really* yellow. lol
Farhaana picture
We have found with the low water toilets, that they clog (with #2)easily. Then we have to flush numerous times to get everything down. It can be really frustrating. Any suggestions...
sunsalix picture
This story is great! Way back in 1987 when I was 17, I was trying new things to be environmentally friendly. One thing was to not flush the toilet every time. Well, I remember my younger sister thinking it was wrong, so she called my mother and told her I wouldn't let her flush the toilet! My mom told me I had to let her do it, and this didn't make me happy, so I told the both of them that they were hurting the Earth - LOL! I was pretty mad that they didn't understand what I was trying to do. Now I have my own toilets, and I can flush or not flush, so there!
sitaluna picture
I agree with the vinegar option! also, for women, for simple peeing, the toilet paper can go into the wastebasket to help stop clogging. it sounded gross at first but even w/my sensitivity to smell, it's not. again many folks throw toilet paper away to save public or private systems from overload. also, I use Dr Bronner Peppermint soap .. a little squirt on the toilet scrubber to swish around after a flush. keeps stains from building and has a great smell! ~Sita
vljmolbeck picture
My father lived in rural Wisconsin for 3 years before he passed. He was on a septic system and his saying was..."If it's pee, let it be. If it's brown, flush it down." My daughter potty trained about 8 months ago and I wasn't willing to flush the little bit of urine that would come out. So we'd sit on the toilet and discuss the above saying and where I learned it. After only a few times, she would say "what would Grandpa Tom say? If it's pee, let it be?" I sure hope that my dad is having a good laugh up in Heaven at what I taught my daugher about him!! By the way, thank you, cosmomama, for the vinegar suggestion. I have a highly sensitive nose, and tho I try to be green, sometimes I've just gotta flush!
k9tiger picture
This article makes me laugh. Growing up with a well that could go dry and a septic system that was very borderline. We've been going yellow for years!! Even now that I'm on city water and sewer, I still carry on the practice. I wish there was a way to store and use the gray water from the washer and dish washer to use in the toilet.
yvonneLH picture
...why hasn't anyone mentioned what is, to me, the most significant problem with the noble no-flush policy: the "splash back factor?" In particular, during (*ahem*) number 2 business? Who wants dirty "water" coming back at you? That's why we flush most of the time, especially before more critical times.
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