Operation One Less (flush)

Throughout 2011, I am identifying one thing each week that I can do less of. The “thing” need not be huge; in fact, the point is to suggest that even the little things can make a big difference over time. Call it a resolution if you like. I call it Operation One Less.

When I was a kid, my dad owned a small farm out in the middle of nowhere. The house was on well water, and the well occasionally would run dry in the summer months. On a farm, there are a lot of outdoor uses for water – we had a large garden to water and many animals that needed to stay hydrated – so most of our water conservation efforts focused on inside the house, with the toilet being the primary source of hand-wringing and brow furrowing.

It was an old house with an old toilet – the kind that swallows many gallons of water with each flush and then runs until its handle it jiggled furiously. Nearly every flush required a hand thrust into the icy tank waters to fiddle with a this or to yank on a that. We were all – even the children – expert plumbers by the end of our farm days. And we all knew to let it mellow if it was yellow and to flush it down if it was brown. Living with a finite water source was an early (and effective) lesson in conservation.

According to the EPA, the average American family of four can use up to 400 gallons of water per day. Of those 400 gallons, about 70% are used inside the home. Toilets account for about 27% of indoor household water use. So, if I’m doing the math correctly (please correct me if I’m not), that’s about 76 gallons of water every day being literally flushed down the drain. I have no idea how closely my family’s water usage mirrors this average (though it would be a fun little experiment to examine my water bills to find out), but I’m sure it’s more water than I’d like. So this week’s “one less” is flushing.

We sort of unofficially adopted skipping the pee flush when we had some sewer issues a year or so ago (and even more unofficially tried to time our poos to occur during work hours, but maybe that’s over-sharing), so everyone’s already more or less in the habit. The only negative side-effect is that Bug is a little too in the habit and sometimes forgets to flush even when it’s brown.

There are exceptions, of course. We go back to regular flushing when company is over. And we’re allowed to pee flush on asparagus nights. But there I go, over-sharing again.

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