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


BrendaF picture
I am 6 months into my 1st pregnancy and several months ago when I began peeing constantly I couldn't in good conscience flush every time. I do the non-flush in our master bathroom or in our downstairs bathroom when I am working from home and my husband is gone. It grosses me out though to pee after someone else. The good news is that I use a fraction of the toilet paper that I use to because our low flow toilets will clog otherwise so I get some paper conservation in also.
VagabondDanielle picture
I like to call it the "Flush on Two" Rule. If you're # 2 for the bathroom - you flush. If you perform # 2 - you flush. I encountered this about 20 years ago in HS, my friend's family followed this principle to conserve their well water.
cosmomama picture
Started "nonflushing" during pregnancy. However, I didn't like the smelly toilet. It took awhile, but I started adding a splash of vinegar whenever we'd be out of the house for awhile. It seems to help clean the toilet, the vinegar smell is gone by the time we return, and I figure it is better than bleach! Vinegar... not just for salads anymore!
jdv picture
I applaud the effort to save water, I remember putting a gallon jug of water into the tank in the '70's in CA when we had a horrible drought. Same here in TX now, although we have 1.6 gallon fixtures so that does help. My question for bethina is, what about the bacterial growth? We keep our home at 85 degrees during the day and at 80 degrees at night (believe me in TX, that's cool compared to outside) and the water is never really "cold" in the Summer here, more tepid from the taps. Is there anything you can suggest that's environmentally friendly to kill or slow down the bacterial growth between flushes? Thank you for any suggestions :)
bethina picture
Dear jdv: Nation member cosmomama recommends adding a little vinegar to the bowl between flushes. The Seventh Generation science experts say that if the ratio of urine to water is small, odor in warm weather is probably a bigger issue than bacteria.
dianalbarc picture
I heard an actress (forget her name) on tv recite a jingle about her new concept on flushing. She giggled "If it's yellow - let it mellow, If it's brown - flush it down".
motherofpearl picture
I remember years ago when I first heard the suggestion to use a brick in the tank to reduce water. We have low flow toilets at our house, but I had to laugh when recently visiting my mom and grandmother. The toilet at my grandmother's house must easily be more than 60 years old and the tank would take up half the trunk space in my car. I chuckled to myself when thinking of suggesting a brick to them to reduce water usage, but then thought that a cinder block would be better!
wvwoman picture
Be sure to follow those instructions to use rocks or sand in the bottle; I filed a 2-liter plastic bottle with water a while back (read about it somewhere) and all was well until one day I heard the toilet "running"---checked the tank, and the bottle of water had drifted over and blocked the 'flapper' from closing! Oops!
showaltersarah picture
When I finally had my own place after college, I started using the "Yellow=Mello, Brown=Down" concept mostly out of laziness (yes, I said it... who cares when you live alone?!) When I started dating my boyfriend he one day exclaimed "um, you know you ALWAYS forget to flush!" and in my embarrassed state I didn't want to sound gross, so I quickly explained that it was "all for water conservation" and as I've always been good at weaseling my way out of conversational predicaments, he believed me! He believed I was all about the environment! We're still dating 2 years later, and now we're BOTH extremely conscious of our water usage...good thing he caught me in my 'laziness'!
kernling picture
City water users would save money by mellowing if their noses could take it... However I have a vertical flow septic system that flows into a constructed wetlands... This is a great option for all of the rural water users out there and helps rebuild the natural filters which have been mostly destroyed - wetlands... I highly recommend this septic option...
minilady picture
Fill up an empty container, like a soda or ice tea bottle( something like 2 litters, either with rocks or sand and then place it in the tank, each time you flush, the water will refill the tank minus the space taken by the container you placed in it, on a long run that will save water AND you can still do when yellow let it mellow, but if you forget once to mellow it, you will feel less guilty ;)
Sandiacindy picture
I've been trying to let it mellow if it's yellow, but, ugh...here in NM if urine stands a couple of hours, it smells awful. Let's not even talk about overnight... My partner has lived here longer than I so he's used to it. I'm having trouble getting past the odor...it seems to linger for days. And another problem is that we are 2 adults in a house with 3 toilets...sometimes I forget to go around see which one is loaded and ready! I guess in the days of extravagance we didn't consider this when having more than one toilet was the thing. Thanks for everything that's written here...it's inspiring.
Erin Catherine picture
Erin Catherine
There are two flush levels - a very small flush for #1 and a bigger flush for #2. I only have one restroom and would be horrified if a visitor found urine in the toilet! I don't want to waste water either - so this is my alternatuve.
earlysun picture
My mom called it "sharing flushes" when I was growing up. In a household of five, we did it to save money. Inevitably, my husband will point out every time I share or forget. It just grosses him out. We do so many other things to be green, I've decided to let this one go.
Rob Kehs picture
Rob Kehs
Someone taught me if it is yellow it is mellow and if it is brown flush it down.I'm in FL and we are on water restrictions (and expensive) so thats what we do.
Meka003 picture
It all started when I was first pregnant and was peeing every 10 mins and we agreed that it was not eco-friendly to be flushing that often. We flush a lot less now. The only time we always flush pee is if we have company over :)
5webs picture
If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down.
greenmom4 picture
Thanks for the new ideas and "slogans" that will be used in our household!
cksaba@comcast.net picture
The no-flush "movement" unbeknownst to us, we adopted the policy after my husband's company relocated his office to our house. After a month or two of him working at home, we noticed our water bill going up. Showers and lawn watering were constant, so the variable had to be the number of flushes. We, too, make the exception for company.
jillempa picture
I remember hearing the old adage "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" when I visited some friends at Wittenberg University in the early '90s. I was a little grossed out at first, but then recalled my mother telling me basically the same thing as I was growing up. I recently went back to this practice in my own home. Although my husband hasn't really caught on yet, my kids jumped right on the bandwagon. I do have to monitor the amount of toilet paper that accumulates, but, other than that, I'd say we're on our way to a more water-conscious household.
kjwkjw picture
We've been doing this in our house for years. The saying goes, "Yellow is mellow. Brown goes down." Of course, if company is coming over, we do make exceptions.
hhllau picture
I've started not flushing the toilet around 5 years ago when I moved into my current house. My husband got used to it and now he's an alibi. We time our #1 together, and many times with our toddlers of age 3 and 5 too. The cover of the toilet tank is also constantly missing from the toilet since we use greywater to flush toilets whenever possible. However, this is a manual process. I wish I have a greywater system, but it's too pricy. Hope the government will soon hand out incentives on more water conservation solutions.
jo_549 picture
Sterling, which is a budget line of Kohler makes a low-flush option toilet. We have a family of 7 and when we remodeled our upstairs bath we put in the lowest priced model which cost just over $150 from our local plumbing supply store. No need to spend twice that to get a model with a .8 gal flush option. I am waiting for a good reason to throw away the old model in our downstairs bath but for now we just use don't flush rule. Jo
meperez69 picture
We do the same in our house. For me it comes from my vacations in the island of the bahamas (exuma)...a water conscious island that has very little rainfall during the year. The poem goes... "In this land of sun and fun, we never flush for number one" :-)
CPTDisgruntled picture
We replaced all our toilets during a home remodeling project several years ago, and I'm delighted to report that I can count the number of times I've felt the need to double-flush on about two fingers (no pun intended). My grandmother used to live on a small, water-conscious island off the coast of B.C., and when I visited her, she recited to me, "If it's yellow, let it mellow if it's brown, flush it down." Uncharacteristic of my normally rather prim grandmother--it's always stuck with me.