When should we stop flushing?

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Is it time to break the toilet flushing habit to save water? We asked a few environmental experts.Getty Images

The Western United States is suffering from a devastating and record-breaking drought that is threatening to devastate agriculture. For those of us who live outside of the Western world, there is mounting evidence that climate change is coming at us from all directions, and at breakneck speed.

People are being urged to do their bit to save water, such as taking shorter showers, not letting the faucet run, and repairing that leaking sprinkler, among other things. The issue, therefore, becomes: is it time to cease flushing the toilets regularly?

Stephanie Pincetl, professor at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, responds affirmatively: "Oh, definitely."

Isn't there an adage that goes "If it's yellow, give it time to mellow?" The new normal, according to Pincetl, should be a lot like that. Regardless of whether or not there is a drought, I continue to do it since we live in a climate where it makes no difference.

She is also speaking to those who do not live in a drought-stricken region, such as those on the East Coast or in the South. “Wherever you go in the world, protecting our resources is important. Aridity may be found even in the eastern United States. As a result of climate change, we are seeing a tremendous amount of variability.”

An environmental studies professor at San Jose State University said in a recent blog post on the university's website that "the typical individual flushes the toilet five to seven times each day." The reduction to four to six times would be a significant improvement, according to the researcher.

To save water that would otherwise go to waste – such as the water used while waiting for your shower to heat up – Pincetl and others recommend collecting it in a pail and using it later. You may use the water to re-fill the toilet tank before flushing it again. However, you may utilize that water for a variety of purposes, from watering your plants to cooking pasta.

“You're dumping very excellent drinking water down the toilet,” adds Pincetl. My steps are in good condition, and I am 68 years old. I carry my bucket down the stairs. These are not very difficult tasks, but they do need the realization that, when it comes to water, every drop counts.”

Alex Hall of UCLA's Center for Climate Science believes that reducing the amount of water flushed is one way to help the environment. However, if it is something you just cannot tolerate, there are a variety of alternative options for cutting down. Single-family residences consume an unexpectedly large quantity of water outside the residence.

“If you are a single-family homeowner and you are watering your grass, changing your landscaping techniques is the single most effective thing you can do,” Hall adds. “That would unquestionably be number one.”

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