advertisement
advertisement

California Has A Four-Year Drought: Can It Afford Automatic Flushing Toilets?

Sorry, lazy bathroomgoers: automatic toilets end up using a lot more water than they should.

California Has A Four-Year Drought: Can It Afford Automatic Flushing Toilets?
[Top Photo: Henryk Sadura via Shutterstock]

No-touch bathrooms let us use the facilities without encountering other people’s germs. But do they exacerbate water shortages in places like California?

advertisement

It certainly looks that way. We’ve all been in out-of-control stalls that flush when we arrive, as we sit down, then twice before we leave. These “phantom flushers” keep the toilet bowl spotless (allegedly), yet seem to use far more water than a conventional hand-on-handle would do.

Tyler Olson via Shutterstock

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, designer Marika Shioiri-Clark wonders if this convenience is really progress when the Golden State has so little water:

Manufacturers tout increased hygiene as a selling point. But with our shrinking water supply, is the potential risk of germs from a toilet lever worth the millions of gallons of water wasted?

Shioiri-Clark cites a 2010 study of a Tampa office building that compared water usage before and after installing sensor-activated faucets, urinals and toilets. Across two sets of bathrooms, consumption almost doubled, from 654 to 1,243 gallons per day. She argues that places with lots of automated bathrooms, like San Francisco and L.A.’s international airports, must be huge wasters of water:

An airport and an office building are obviously different. But we can extrapolate the data from the Florida study to SFO and LAX and get a pretty good picture. The study found that toilet flushing adds up to about 44% of the water used in restrooms. At SFO, that would amount to about 95 million gallons annually. Switching from automatic to manual flushing could thus result in 54% water savings annually, or more than 33 million gallons just in restrooms, and nearly 9% in water reduction airportwide.

Agriculture is normally touted as California’s most egregious waster of water, and rightly. But our oversensitivity to germs may also be worth looking at. Businesses could easily cover up toilet sensors and ask users to use the manual button instead, Shioiri-Clark says.

Or, perhaps we could just give everyone rubber gloves, so they no longer have to touch anything?

advertisement
advertisement

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

More