Why Hippies Rule My Bathroom

Saving Water: A Guide For The Non-Squeamish

Ahh, that quote is so awkward it's almost cute. "If it's yellow, let it mellow." What does that mean, anyway? "Mellow" has long since left our vocabulary in urban North America. Am I meant to let the contents of my bowels chill out? Relax? Is it an implication that they're getting high? Do I grab a joint from one of the late-night teenagers in Victoria Park and chuck it in the toilet?

As scandalous as this might sound, I've been following the "yellow mellow" rule for four years now. When I was living in Labrador with a houseful of teenagers, it occurred to me how much water we were wasting on a daily basis. Nine people going to the bathroom up to six times a day went through a lot of eleven-litre (three gallon) flushes. I brought it up in one of our quaint Katimavik meetings and we all agreed to follow the slogan for the sake of the environment (and to prevent our old toilet from leaking due to overuse). 

The Great Lakes
For those of you who don't know, the ditty goes, "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down," which means exactly what it sounds like. Bodily liquids stay in the toilet until someone does a #2 and flushes it all away. It was a saying apparently invented by a Californian politician in the 1970's to promote water conservation. There's a huge debate (which you can find through Google if you care enough to look) about whether or not being selective about your flushes is worth the effort or just weird and hippie-ish, but I prefer like to err on the side of caution in a world where huge quantities (2.5 billion litres) of the freshwater Great Lakes are disappearing every day.

Somehow, GF and I both continued to follow this "yellow mellow" slogan when we moved in together, even though we'd never conversed about it. It's become an unsaid rule. Granted, that rule is ignored when we have guests, because - despite urine being completely sterile - a bowlful of yellow water comes off as a little unsanitary. (Additionally, the con side of the "is it worth it?" argument says that urine sitting in the bowl can dirty your toilet faster, but if you're keeping hydrated, your piss should be both almost clear and less acidic, so it shouldn't be all that corrosive or smelly.) Being as we don't have a fancy low-flow or duel-flush toilet, we're probably saving something like 110 litres of freshwater per day. That's over 40,000 litres (10,500 gallons) of perfectly good drinking water a year.

We're in an apartment building, so we don't pay for our water. Most people with houses do, however. For those people, there is a very small incentive to flushing less when you're charged for it; lowering the amount of flushes can save you anywhere from $10 to $80 a year, depending on how many people you live with. So there's that. But mostly there's a responsibility we're all saddled with, in this world of climate change, to preserve energy. You might walk to work to save gas and turn of the lights in rooms you're not using, but if you're going to the bathroom often you're sending a hundred litres or more to sewage plants every day to be purified, which takes shit-tons of electricity. It's kind of a silly thing to do, when urine really doesn't need much to be turned back into water. 

If you can't deal with the idea of leaving your waste in the throne for everyone to see, consider putting bottles full of rocks or a couple bricks (wrapped in a plastic bag so they don't disintegrate and hurt the plumbing) in the back tank. This will take up space and prevent your toilet from using as much water. The older your toilet is, the more water you'll be saving.

Why should we bother?

1) There are droughts all over the world, and you have water. Be responsible about it. We're all in this together, like it or not.

2) You (should) turn off the water when you brush your teeth/wash your hands, don't you? Why not cut back on something that takes x10 the energy and resources?

- Leah

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