Cash for Crappers

by Bill Chameides | September 8th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 7 comments

TheGreenGrok’s Cash for Crappers program asks you to “just say no” to wasteful toilets while stimulating the ailing bathroom appliance industry.

The Eureka Moment

Each day I try to find a few moments for quiet meditation in a small room dedicated for the purpose. That’s where I was yesterday, thinking about the growing scarcity of water resources, when the idea just popped out. The Cash-for-Clunkers program was such a huge success, why stop there? Why not a similar type of program to address one of the most wasteful activities of modern American life, something we participate in several times each day, something that wastes far too many gallons of clean water? Yes. I’m talking about flushing the toilet.

It’s hard to comprehend that we use water fit for drinking to wash our bodily effluent down a pipe to a septic system or water treatment plant. Worst yet, many of us use toilets that require unseemly amounts of water. While the industry standard for toilets is 1.6 gallons per flush, the most wasteful toilets use between five and seven gallons for every flush! The best use under a gallon. To qualify for the government’s WaterSense program:

  • a single-flush toilet must use a maximum of 1.28 gallons per flush;
  • a dual-flush toilet must use a maximum of 1.40 gallons/solid waste and .9 gallons for liquid waste per flush.

For an idea of individual savings, consider this: scrapping a pre-1980 toilet, which flushes away five gallons of water with each plunge, for a WaterSense model, which purges with just 1.26 gallons, would save about 6,800 gallons a year, based on a five-flush day.

The Savings Are Not Crappy

The Environmental Protection Agencyestimates that if all the older, inefficient toilets that Americans still use were replaced with efficient WaterSense toilets, the United States would have almost an extra two billion gallons of water on hand per day. That’s about 640 billion gallons each year we could save — enough water to fill nearly 970,000 Olympic-sized pools or, on a more practical level, to meet the nation’s public water supply needs for almost 15 days (using data from 2000).

Fly You to the Moon?

Here’s another way to grasp the savings. Suppose you were to build a 10-foot-by-10-foot aquarium to hold 640 billion gallons of water. The aquarium would need to reach 162,000 miles high, stretching upward into the sky and beyond into outer space, a full two-thirds of the way to the moon!

TheGreenGrok Challenge: Move Toward a Smarter Toilet

Folks, that’s an awful lot of water we could save and it means that right now each year we flush away far too much clean water. So let’s do something about it, easiest steps first.

  • Follow grandma’s advice: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”
  • Buy a low-water conversion kit or just jerry-rig your old, inefficient toilet so that it uses less water with each flush. Caveat: jerry-rigging can lead to a less-than-satisfactory flush because inefficient toilets are designed to use more water to wash everything away. The purchase of a dual flush kit can help address this problem.
  • Scrap your old water-wasting crapper for a spanking new, low-flow toilet bowl.

TheGreenGrok Steps Up

Getting a low-flow toilet can save a lot of water. TheGreenGrok’s “Cash for Crappers” incentive program can get you started.

America needs to get smarter about saving water and the wants to get the ball rolling. We are also very concerned about the state of bathroom appliance industry during this economic downturn (actually we don’t have any specific statistics about the industry, but we are concerned). Taking a page out of the federal government’s Cash for Clunkers program, we are initiating a Cash for Crappers program. Here’s how it works:

  1. Go out and buy a new, low-flow toilet that meets EPA’s WaterSense criteria,
  2. Then download, print, and fill out this form [pdf], and
  3. Mail in your completed form along with a copy of the toilet receipt to:     TheGreenGrok’s Cash-for-Crappers Program
    c/o Nicholas School of the Environment
    Duke University
    Box 90328-0328
    Durham, NC 27708-0328Please be sure to include the models or better yet the gallons–per-flush of both the old and new crappers, as we will be tracking the water savings success of this program.
  4. Upon receipt of your material, we will send you a cash rebate plus a special gift.

Note Quite ‘Bowl’ing for Dollars

So what are those goodies? Nothing less than a shiny new penny and a special “The Green Grok” ballpoint pen!* OK, that’s not quite the same as the $4,500 cash subsidy in the Cash for Clunkers program, but hey, we’re TheGreenGrok without access to the Federal Treasury.

The good news is that we might not be the only ones doling out incentives for getting a more efficient bathroom “throne.” Check these sites to see what program your state, city or town may have:

I don’t know about you, but I’m so excited … well, excuse me — gotta go do some meditating.

*Offer good while supplies last.

filed under: faculty, sustainability, waste, water
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  1. Dan K.
    Sep 8, 2009

    I’ve taken a que from something I saw somewhere not too long ago and I’ve added bricks (wrapped in foil and plastic bags!) to my water tank of my old-ish water closet. Cheaper than getting new toilets for the time being. Haven’t seen a bad performance but I bet that’s because it holds a lot of water and this displacement isn’t too much of a strain. I’ll do a behavioral test on my roommates, doing the same thing to their toilets. My hypothesis is that they won’t notice until for some reason they have to look ‘under the hood.’ Also, what about compostable toilets? Sure they cost a lot but the Bronx Zoo is using them!!

    • Bill Chameides
      Sep 10, 2009

      Jerry-rigging is a great solution, but sorry, does not qualify for our program — no penny for you.

  2. Dan K.
    Sep 8, 2009

    I won’t even start on the fact that our water system is uber inefficient, has many leaks that’s costing us money, water and energy, but a way to measure water consumption is key too, just like with smart meters. This this one: This is from a guy from Toronto’s design school I think. He told me he’d like to see this idea take off even if he has to sell it. Let the bidding begin, haha!!

  3. Josh Mantooth
    Sep 8, 2009

    Greetings Green Grok! I’m a new reader and really like what you guys are doing! I just wanted to suggest a great book to read on the subject of “sanitation”. “The Big Necessity”, by Rose George, takes a good look at how humans are dealing with the natural by-product of eating. I’m reading this book for my environmental studies senior seminar course at Truman State University and have found it to be very inspiring, outraging and even comical at times.

  4. Jen
    Sep 8, 2009

    You guys are a true inspiration. People Magazine recently asked various movie stars the same question — what’s the next thing after “Cash for clunkers” — and their answers were pretty lame. John Cryer suggested a trade-in program for his 14 or 15 ipods, and Giuliana Rancic wants cash for her outdated awards season shoes. Clearly they were asking the wrong superstars. If I send you a form and my receipt for a dual-flush conversion, will you send me a shiny new green grok pen while supplies last?

    • Bill Chameides
      Sep 8, 2009

      TheGreenGrok always makes good on its promises.

    • Bill Chameides
      Sep 10, 2009

      Hmm …. on second thought, if we did, what would happen to the poor bathroom appliance industry? OK, tell you what, send in your receipt, and we’ll take it under advisement.

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