I'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.