Flushed with Pride
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Even as water crises loom, Americans flush billions of gallons of water down the toilet. A little sink fixture might fix all that.
Pooja Bhatia is an OZY editor and writer. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Economist, and was once the mango-eating champion of Port-au-Prince.
By Pooja Bhatia
They’ve supposedly vanquished the ugly chemicals from West Virginia’s water supply, but the drought in California continues, and it’s clear that even in the free-flowing United States, water crises loom.
Could funky toilets save us?
The SinkPositive is a fixture with a basin and faucet. It replaces the lid of your toilet reservoir. When you flush, water streams through its faucet for handwashing and drains directly into the toilet reservoir, filling it up for the next flush.
The upshot: You use the water twice, first to wash your hands and then to fill the tank, and substantially reduce water use.
30 percent of household water consumption is used for flushing. That amounts to about $5 billion worth of water down the tubes.
“It just makes sense,” says Deven Griffin, the company’s 23-year-old owner. (Twenty-three? More on that in a second). “There’s just no reason we need clean water to fill our toilets.”
Griffin is biased, but she’s right. The SinkPositive — which we first encountered in the San Francisco home of a university classmate — is a funny little thing that seems like a no-brainer once you try it.
Especially once you learn how much perfectly good water we flush away. Despite a long-term shift to high-efficiency toilets, which use a quarter of the water a traditional toilet does, American toilets are clean-water guzzlers. Some 30 percent of household water consumption is used for flushing, according to the EPA. That amounts to about $5 billion worth of water down the tubes.
The biggest competition Griffin’s business faces is “the status quo.” People just aren’t used to the idea, she says, and some have a hard time understanding how it works. Often they think they’re going to be washing their hands with toilet water, says Griffin. “It’s a perception issue.”
The major market is not water conservationists, but space conservationists.
A basic model retails for $139, and the deluxe, which has a chrome faucet and an aerator, costs $10 more. They’re sold online and in independent stores but not, at this point, at big-box retailers like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Griffin says SinkPositive can’t afford the low margins the mega-retailers require — mostly because she’s committed to manufacturing them in the United States. They’re made in Clinton, Tenn.
It wasn’t just about keeping manufacturing jobs in the U.S., but also because it seemed rather hypocritical to ship fixtures in from China or Mexico: “They’d be dripping in fossil fuels by the time they got here,” says Griffin.
SinkPositive was a pet project of a Tennessee-based plastics manufacturing firm, but by the summer of 2012, its owners were looking to sell off some assets. A developer friend of Griffin’s father, Jonathan Phillips, thought she’d be interested. She was, even though she hadn’t yet started her senior year at Wake Forest University. (“I think he thought I was out of school by then,” she says.)
Nonetheless, she got Phillips, her father and another developer to invest and bought the company almost a year before she graduated. (The political science major ended up adding a minor in entrepreneurship.)
She’s been selling about 70 units per month, and somewhat to her surprise, has discovered the major market is not water conservationists but space conservationists. The vast majority of buyers come from urban markets like New York and San Francisco, where space is at a premium. She’s sold very few in North Carolina, where SinkPositive is based.
There’s another big advantage to these greywater toilets: They encourage people to wash their hands after using the loo.
Aside from do-it-yourselfers, Griffin’s competition comes from two companies abroad that make one-piece fixtures. The Caroma Profile Smart Toilet with Integrated Sink is made by an Australian company and retails for around $500 to $600. Fancier still is the Spanish made Roca W+W — the Ws stand for “water closet” and “wash basin”— which costs more than $4,000. (The Roca sink, unlike the others, sits beside its toilet, which means you need not lean over the toilet to wash your hands.) The Arcola Theatre in London made them a linchpin in its efforts to go carbon neutral and reports that water usage has been cut in half since their installation.
There’s another big advantage to these greywater toilets: They encourage people to wash their hands after using the loo. According to a 2013 study by Michigan State University researchers, 15 percent of men and 7 percent of women don’t wash their hands after doing their business.
Saving space, saving water, improving hygiene and made in the U.S.A.? Now that, dear reader, is some good sh*t.