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Flushed with success –Toilet Innovations


Is time for the Japanese Toilet?  Why it's an improvement on what most people have in the west


I promised you an article about toilets. If you are wondering why I am thinking about toilets on this fine spring day, it’s because my oldest son has just modified his toilet to make it like a Japanese one.Given that half the country is now in lockdown again because of Covid and the toilet paper wars are starting up again, he is very pleased with his choice. It uses almost no paper; a warmed seat is quite lovely on a frosty Canberra morning and it also has warm water cleansing and a built -in deodoriser. Water consumption is about the same and power consumption is negligible.

A deluxe Japanese toilet includes gentle music or waterfall sounds to mask less pleasant ones and some have little washbasins on top so that wash water can be reused in the cistern. Around 72% of Japanese homes have these and I have also encountered a few in Korea. It made me wonder why the uptake has been so slow in other countries, but to tell the truth until recently toilets and bathrooms have been pretty much the orphan children in Anglophile households. They were cold, spartan and rather masochistic in nature and more often than not relegated to a forgotten corner of the house, if not in fact, in the farthest corner of the garden where they were likely to be infested with redback spiders.

The Japanese Super Toilet



Simple toilet which reuses washwater

It’s true that the flush toilet has served us well for the past two or three centuries. Indeed, one of my lecturers used to say that our present longevity owes more to Dr. Crapper – the man who popularised the flush toilet, than to modern medicine, but times have changed and we must move with them. A trivial problem you might think, but as populations grow and aspire to improved lifestyles and pressure increases on all resources, especially water and forests, the paperless toilet is an idea whose time has come


I was mildly terrified the first time I was confronted by so many options, but the truth is that you can also use use it like a normal toilet i.e. just wipe and flush. That's why it's good to still keep a bit of toilet paper on hand for novices


Enter the paperless toilet


The widespread use of toilet paper is more recent than you might think. Indeed, in the 1950’s and 60’s the use of seasoned telephone books (the previous year’s) was common in many parts of Australia. The first recorded use of paper for personal hygiene was by a Chinese Emperor in 1391, but commercial production in the rest of the world did not begin until the C19th. After that it went through various permutations, until it culminated in the  ‘Splinter free” roll of perforated paper (Ouch!) in 1935, very similar to those many of us use today.

Globally, of the 270,000 trees felled annually for paper, 10% are simply flushed down the toilet. Apart from laying forests to waste, paper -making itself uses vast quantities of water, energy and oil. Bleaching it, especially with chlorine also puts toxins in water or soil, both in manufacture and disposal, not to mention emissions and so on due to the manufacturing process. Read about the full process here.

It’s true that many countries have their own solutions to this problem. Around 2.7 billion people manage to do without toilet paper. There is for instance the Balinese Mandi which uses a tank of clean water and a scoop, followed by a personal drying cloth. Others use only a tap and the hand, but unfortunately those methods are unlikely to catch on in Western countries, addicted as people are to their shiny white pedestals.

Though Japanese -style toilets are becoming more common and less expensive -the full deluxe version still costs around $6,000 in AU, though my son’s only involved changing the toilet seat* at a cost of around $200, it doesn’t mean that we should immediately ditch what we have either, because that could negate any environmental benefits. However, we could start including them in our building codes for new homes, in the same way that we have included dual flush models in the past. The other opportune time is when you are renovating or having to replace your toilet anyway. Meanwhile, if you must keep using paper, consider switching to recycled paper.

[*Unfortunately, not all toilets including mine, lend themselves to this type of modification. You also need an electrical outlet in the vicinity for the full benefit].

Recycled paper vs paper from virgin materials


Are you concerned about our diminishing forests? It takes 24 trees to make one tonne of paper from virgin material and 75% of each tree is wasted. That tonne of paper also consumes a staggering 90,000 litres of water and around 8,200 kilowatts of energy to produce. Paper -making is one of the most water and energy intensive industries in the world. A tonne of recycled paper on the other hand, uses not only between 13 to 24 fewer trees, but 50% less energy, less than half the water, saves 2.5 barrels of oil, uses only a quarter of the amount of bleach and produces 27% less air pollution. It also saves a great deal of material going to landfill. Unfortunately, worldwide only around 10% of paper is currently being recycled.

In consequence, the European Union along with other governments and independent organisations,  is now putting measures in place to curb this appalling waste. The Australian Council of Recyclers says that the industry has the potential to create $912 billion in commodity value and embodies the equivalent of 68,400 gigawatts of power. It would also create green jobs. Government purchasing schemes and schools would be a fine place to start and not just for toilets. For businesses and other organisations see the International Standards for Environmental Management Systems (EMS) for your region to enhance your business or see more here

Learn more about recycled paper here. This article also points out that,” If every American household replaced just one toilet paper roll of virgin-fiber a year with a roll made from 100% recycled paper, approximately 425,000 trees would be saved annually.”


Getting the right recycled paper


Before you buy, look closely at any environmental claims. Some still involve bleaching and the inclusion of things like colour catalogues which still create toxic residues, so it is better to avoid those if possible. Plastic wrappers are also a No, No, even if they claim to be recyclable. Environmental group 1 Million women has a list of preferred brands in Australia. Using the “Who gives a Crap”  brand ticks an extra box because 50% of its profits go to developing countries for water and sanitation. If you also want to support local manufacturing then see also this list by Choice.

Saving water when you flush

In dry regions like ours, where water restrictions are common, you should definitely look at investing in a dual flush toilet. These have been mandatory in Australia since the 1980’s. Since toilet flushing accounts for around 24% of domestic water use, this is very important. Compare the results.

Australian usage is around 9-11 litres per flush for a conventional toilet whereas dual systems use 3 litres for half flush and 6 litres for full flush. In the USA it’s around 5.7 gallons (21.58 litres) in older style toilets, but only 1.3 gallons (4.92 litres) per flush in newer models, saving around 9,000 gallons (34.068.7 litres) per year because of a turbo flush system.


The low tech solution 

Can’t afford a new toilet? No problem. Do what many Aussies used to do before the advent of the dual flush toilet. Put a brick in the cistern to reduce the amount of water needed.


The next frontier

What I would like to see next is an adaptation which allows storm water or grey water from showers and laundry to be easily recycled into cisterns. Why should we use first class drinking water for this purpose when many towns are running out or seeking supplies further and further afield to the detriment of the environment? Come on, Elon and friends. Forget the conquest of space for a moment and solve the everyday problems that are killing this planet first.